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Equitation Takes Center Stage

by Katherine Hansil

During the week in Kansas City equitation becomes paramount. These riders have trained their bodies and worked countless hours with their trainers and horses to perfect showmanship and patternwork. This week there is no room for error. Riders must come prepared and exude confidence as they tackle whatever is put before them. Once again this week’s list of riders competing for the finals and the national championship read like a who’s who.

The equitation division kicked off on Tuesday in the second class of the show with the Mo-Kan Saddle Seat Equitation. Once again Abigail Mutrux was back in the spotlight. Aboard Blackboard, she was polished to earn the blue for the DeLovely banner for the third year in a row. Under the direction of Kent Swalla, the up and coming Kailin Elizabeth Baechle captured the reserve honor with Caroline Moeller earning a strong third among the 10 teams.

The finals began early Wednesday morning, the only warm day of the week, with Phase I of the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup National Championship. Michael Craghead, Tammy DeVore and Helen Robertson marked the cards for the 13 junior riders who made the trip to Kansas City to compete for their top equitation honor. In Phase I, rail work and pattern work were required. After critiquing each rider, judges decided to bring all 13 back for Phase II that evening. Riders hit the ring for Phase II’s rail work portion, performing at the top of their game. Those riders included: Kailen Elizabeth Baechle, Hunter Chancellor, Emily Chapman, Gavin Gagnon, Kara German, Taylor Rhea Haas, Courtney McGinnis, Abigail Mutrux, Taylor Newton, Belle Owen, Paige Ross, Hallie Sansbury and Tayler Walters. After the conclusion of rail work and lineup, riders exited the ring and awaited the announcement of the top 10 finalists which included Kailen Elizabeth Baechle, Hunter Chancellor, Emily Chapman, Gavin Gagnon, Taylor Rhea Haas, Courtney McGinnis, Abigail Mutrux, Taylor Newton, Belle Owen, Hallie Sansbury and Tayler Walters. Once all 10 riders had been presented, Belle Owen was called to receive the reserve national championship honor under the direction of DeLovely. Owen delivered two outstanding performances aboard her partner Chanti’s Prayer. Then announcer Peter Fenton announced that Taylor Newton would be crowned the unanimous national champion. Newton has had an outstanding season adding the win to her pair of world’s champion titles.

Once again equitation got up early, this time on a cold Thursday morning for Phase I of the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup. Michael Craghead, Tammie DeVore and Helen Robertson had the judging duties again as the seniors vied for their national championship. Fifteen riders were on the schedule for Phase I that included rail work and pattern work. Judges narrowed the 15 down to 12 for Phase II that evening including Angela Darrow, Deanna Lanigan, Sarah Lawson, Rachel Machamer, Meaghan MacQueen, Jessica Moctezuma, Callie Smith, Sarah Jane Smith, Casey Morgan Tibolet, Eleanor Watkins, Ellen Medley Wright and Faye Wuesthofen. With the huge talent in this class of seasoned riders what set them apart was precision, and during Phase II, form and ringmanship. Once again after the completion of the rail work and lineup, riders exited the ring. After the scores were tabulated the top 10 returned to ring including Angela Darrow, Deanna Lanigan, Rachel Machamer, Jessica Moctezuma, Callie Smith, Sarah Jane Smith, Casey Morgan Tibolet, Eleanor Watkins, Ellen Medley Wright and Faye Wuesthofen. Next Peter Fenton called Jessica Moctezuma into the spotlight for the reserve national championship title. Moctezuma was thrilled with her performance and awards, as she is one of those aging out of division. Then it was time to crown the national champion as Fenton called Ellen Medley Wright to the winner’s circle. Wright has had a remarkable year adding this win to 10 other wins including the Senior Equitation Championship at Louisville and the NHS Good Hands National Championship.

After Phase I for the seniors, Phase I for the UPHA Exceptional Cup was held with 10 riders competing for overall, non-physical handicap and physical handicap titles. Riders from as far as California to Florida to Michigan came to compete, some for the first time ever. Liz McBride Jones, John T. Jones and Jimmy Robertson had the judging duties for the championship. This class is a true inspiration as riders who are 12 years old and over with a mental or physical handicap perform rail and pattern work. The group of 10 riders returned Thursday evening to kick off the session with Robert Castellitto, Vincent Cotton, Megan Cyr, Sergey Douglas, Megan Kehoe, Krista Koch, Caitlin O’Reilly, Andrew Paquette, Jeane Whittenburg and Carrie Ziff being awarded their top 10 awards.

Awarded next were the reserve champion and champion titles for the physically handicap with Megan Kehoe earning the reserve and Jeane Whittenburg capturing the tricolor. Sheila Meyer at Missouri’s Therapeutic Horsemanship instructs both riders. Next in the spotlight were Carrie Ziff and Andrew Paquette for the top awards in the non-physical handicap. Ziff, coming all the way from California, earned the top honor under the direction of Gloria Hamblin from Ride On. Under the direction of Nancy Heussner, Paquette captured the reserve honor after making his trip from Michigan with the group from Offering Alternative Therapy With Smiles (O.A.T.S.). As anticipation built, it was then time to award the overall national and reserve national titles with Robert Castellitto, another rider from Therapeutic Horsemanship under the direction of Sheila Meyer, earning the reserve title. It was Megan Cyr’s night was she was called to the winner’s circle. Just a year ago Cyr earned the reserve title and this evening the top honor belonged to her. Cyr rides under the direction of Betty Gray from Stirrups And Strides Therapeutic Riding Center.

Friday was a demanding day for the equitation riders. First thing in the morning 20 10 & Under Walk & Trot riders prepared for Phase I of their UPHA Challenge Cup National Championship. With the abundance of riders, management split the class into two sections. Back to mark the cards were Michael Craghead, Tammie DeVore and Helen Robertson. After the sections, judges tabulated and brought back the top 10 finalists. After the qualifying rounds, everyone enjoyed a breakfast with Kate Codeanne speaking about the division and her experience as an equitation rider and the mother of an equitation rider. The top 10 then returned to the show ring for one more class of rail work at the end of Friday afternoon’s session. Those riders included Aleia Brown, Molly Codeanne, Kaitlyn Creekmore, Holly Hein, Julia Lee, Macey Joan Miles, Madison Peyton Miller, William Nalty, Vanessa Patch and Alice Rowland. Each rider hustled down the rail in top form and after the scores were tabulated Peter Fenton announced Aleia Brown as the reserve national champion. Brown, under the direction of Cape Cod, added the title to an undefeated last season in the walk and trot division that included wins at Louisville and Lexington. With a near perfect season as well, it was Macey Joan Miles garnering the national championship. This too was Miles last appearance in the walk and trot division. She amassed an incredible season with wins from Louisville, Lexington, Asheville, St. Louis and more.

In between the walk and trot phases, age group qualifiers were held for the Saddle Seat Equitation National Championship. Twelve riders were on the schedule for the 11-13 Saddle Seat Equitation. Hunter Chancellor was polished and precise to capture the blue ribbon unanimously. Reserve honors went back to the Fairfield South with the always-confident Gavin Gagnon. DeLovely continued to dominate as ever-solid Brittany Ann McGinnis topped the 14-15 unanimously. From Knollwood, Cori O’Brien turned in a nice performance for the reserve. In the 16-17 qualifier, Jacqueline Beck captured the blue with Jessica Moctezuma earning the reserve title. Both riders showed at the top of their game, as this week both would finish their senior equitation careers. During the evening session, 13 qualified riders returned for the Saddle Seat Equitation National Championship. After rail work and line up inspection, four riders returned for pattern work and just as she had done a few hours before, Jacqueline Beck earned the top spot. Jessica Moctezuma was thrilled as she was called out for the reserve title with Brittany McGinnis garnering the yellow streamers and Sarah Lawson carrying out the top fourth spot.

Saturday marked another busy day for equitation as 20 riders were scheduled for Phase I of the USEF Medal National Championship. Once again management decided to break Phase I into two sections for judges Anne Judd, Liz McBride-Jones and Jimmy Robertson. This is an arduous event as riders are asked to perform rail work and pattern work in Phase I at 8 a.m. and then the top riders called to return must perform not only rail work but also pattern work in Phase II at the end of the daytime session. Of the 20 riders, 10 were called back for Phase II including Jacqueline Beck, Deanna Lanigan, Jessica Moctezuma, Taylor Newton, Belle Owen, Callie Smith, Sarah Jane Smith, Eleanor Watkins, Ellen Medley Wright and Faye Wuesthofen. The talent was extreme for the coveted title, considered to be the top title in the division, and there was no room for error as the best of the best competed. After rail and pattern work, scores were tabulated with placings called out in reverse order. Claiming the top 10 spot was Deanna Lanigan under the direction of Knollwood. In the ninth spot for the second year was Eleanor Watkins under the Zubrod Stables banner. Callie Smith carried out the eighth place ribbon as one of the four DeLovely riders. Taylor Newton garnered the eighth spot with Jessica Moctezuma earning the purple seventh place ribbon. Sarah Jane Smith, another rider aging out of the senior division, claimed the top fifth place with Faye Wuesthofen garnering the white streamers. When the group was down to the top three, you could have heard a pin drop before Peter Fenton called Ellen Medley Wright to the bronze medal for the second year in a row. That left Belle Owen and Jacqueline Beck standing. Then Fenton called Belle Owen to the silver medal. Owen was the youngest rider among the finalists and was honored earlier in the presentation for that distinction. Wrapping up an incredible week and a great season, it was Jacqueline Beck called to the winner’s circle for the gold medal, besting the field under the direction of Cindy Boel and Anne Speck.

In between the two USEF phases, 11 riders made the gate call for the 10 & Under Saddle Seat Equitation. For the second year in a row Courtney McGinnis commanded the spotlight this year aboard Amandari for the victory. Aleia Brown made her first walk, trot and canter appearance to garner the red streamers. The 10 and under riders from the walk and trot division always had a chance to shine and qualify for the 2009 finals in their UPHA Walk & Trot Challenge Cup. Kaitlyn Creekmore turned in a confident performance for the blue with Molly Codeanne capturing the reserve. Both young riders were Top Ten Finalists this week and while Codeanne will return in the division in 2009, Creekmore plans to move in the walk, trot and canter division.

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