Jun 01, 2021

VIDEO: What To Expect at a Classic Series Event from Back-To-Back Winner, Michael Willham

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff

The first USEA Classic Series event of 2021 will kick off later this week at the IEA Horse Trials on June 3-6 in Edinburgh, Indiana. The USEA Classic Series offers the long format at the Beginner Novice through Preliminary level. Instead of cross-country, a Classic Series Event offers four phases on Endurance Day (two roads and tracks, steeplechase, and cross-country). Understanding what to expect is the key to success for a Classic Series first-timer.

Michael Willham competed in his very first Classic Series event in 2015 at Hagyard Kentucky in the Training Three-Day (T3D). The following year, in 2016, he went back to Hagyard Kentucky Three-Day Event to compete in the Preliminary Three-Day (P3D). He won start to finish both years with Fernhill Cayenne. Now, a successful Intermediate/3* rider, he explained his back-to-back Classic Series wins is an achievement that he values the most.

After competing in 2015 in the Training Three-Day, Willham wished to have a video beforehand to prepare himself for what to expect. When he went back in 2016 to compete in the Preliminary Three-Day, he turned his helmet camera on and recorded everything from Endurance Day.

Willham put together the videos below to promote awareness of Classic Series events and help competitors understand what to expect when competing.

2016 Hagyard Kentucky P3D - Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne (Phase A-C guide):

In the video above, Willham shows what it's like to complete Roads and Tracks, Steeplechase, and the 10-minute box. Endurance Day comes with four phases: Phase A - roads and tracks, Phase B - steeplechase, Phase C - roads and tracks, and Phase D - cross-country. Watch Willham navigate the first three phases while at the same time providing valuable advice.

Willham explained, "I made this video of phases A, B, and C to show everyone what to expect at your first [USEA Classic Series] event! I read as much as I could, but the one thing I felt missing in my preparation was a video explaining everything. We got through just fine, but my nerves about the experience inspired me to wear a helmet cam the next year to document everything for the next generation of riders coming through who haven't done a long format yet."

"This video is quite long, but I tried to speed up where I could, while also giving explanations of what is going on and what to expect. The only thing I didn't think about capturing was the 10-minute vet box between phases C and D. It was quite a cool day, plus Cayenne was super fit, so not much happened there. Overall, the horse gets checked by vets coming into the box, you can sponge them down and walk them, take a breather, and then they will get checked before you are allowed to go to Cross Country to make sure they have recovered enough and are still sound and ready to go!"

2016 Hagyard Kentucky P3D - Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne (Phase D guide):

In the video above, Willham shows what it's like to complete the Phase D (cross-country). Endurance Day comes with four phases: Phase A - roads and tracks, Phase B - steeplechase, Phase C - roads and tracks, and Phase D - cross-country. Watch Willham navigate the final phase of Endurance Day.

Willham explained, "This video is fairly typical since this is the phase we are all used to! However, I will point out a few items to note. First is that your horse (and you) have already been working for almost the past hour. You will have a different horse than what you normally have at the short formats. Depending on their fitness level and how well you did your homework, they may or may not be as reactive to your aids as your normal cross-country rounds. This also leads into the next note that cross-country at a [Classic Series Event can be] a little more straightforward. [There might be fewer] combinations and/or more straightforward combinations. Think of the [Classic Series Event] as a little more of a test of endurance and fitness. You also have to remember that your weekend doesn't end here. You still have to pass the [final] inspection the next day and show jump."

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne (All phases) - 2016 Hagyard Kentucky P3D:

In the video above shot by RNS Video, watch Willham compete in every phase of the USEA Classic Series Event including Dressage, Endurance Day, and Show Jumping.

"It honestly was a blast," said Willham of his experience at the Hagyard Classic Three-Day Event. "As far as I know, I've been the only person to win the Hagyard Kentucky [Classic Three-Day] Event in back-to-back years. I still look back to them as one of my biggest accomplishments. I got into riding and eventing too late to get up the levels to Young Riders and as someone with a full-time job outside of horses, I probably won't be representing the U.S. on any teams. And getting to a CCI5*-L is a long shot. So, the [Classic Series Events] were basically my own 'achievement of a career.' I just absolutely loved competing in them (regardless of winning), and I already have plans to compete in them once again when I have younger horses that I am bringing up!"

"Those who know me personally know that Cayenne has been the horse of a lifetime for me. It hasn't been easy, I fell off of him I think ten times in the first year or so. Despite what people typically see at a competition, he is not the easiest horse to ride, so being able to accomplish something so difficult was just the best feeling in the world."

Want to experience the thrill like Willham? Click here for the 2021 USEA Classic Series calendar.

About the USEA Classic Series

The USEA Classic Series keeps the spirit of the classic long ­format three­-day events alive for Beginner Novice through the Preliminary levels. Competitors can experience the rush of endurance day, including roads and tracks, steeplechase, the vet box, and cross­-country, as well as participate in formal veterinary inspections and educational activities with experts on the ins and outs of competing in a long ­format three-­day event. Riders who compete in a USEA Classic Series event during the year will have the chance to win a variety of prizes at the events from USEA sponsors. Click here to learn more about the USEA Classic Series.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, FITS, SmartPak Equine, Parker Equine Insurance, and Stackhouse & Ellis Saddles for sponsoring the USEA Classic Series.

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