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First Triple Crown Winner Since ‘94

by Bob Funkhouser
A couple of riders have completed the Triple Crown of equitation over the past decade, however, 15-year-old Sarah Thordsen of Waukesha, Wisc., became the first rider since Amanda Arrick in 1994 to make a sweep of the Triple Crown events in the same year. In fact, Thordsen is the second youngest rider to hold this distinction behind DeLovely Farm’s Jama Hedden who won all three finals in 1982 at the age of 14.

While the American Royal has several year-end national championships and many of the nation’s top performance horses, the blood, sweat, and tears of the UPHA and AHSA National Finals are what define this great show. This is where riders, instructors, and parents lay it all on the line and sometimes it all comes together at the right time to provide subject matter worthy of the history books.

“I never thought anything like this would ever happen to us,” reflected Thordsen’s instructor Scott Matton, who along with his wife Carol and Ray Krussell, head the training team at Knollwood Farm. “At the start of this year we thought, ‘maybe we had a shot because of Sarah [Thordsen] and the horse [CF First Light Of Dawn].’

“Five awesome workouts in two weeks. It was thrilling.”

From Milwaukee to Madison and Midwest to Lexington and then Louisville, Sarah Thordsen and “Forbes” cut a path as one of the leading equitation contenders after having shown junior exhibitor three-gaited with much success last season. The 2001 Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Reserve Grand Champion marched into New York and Madison Square Garden for the first time ever to nail the first of the big three: the NHS Good Hands National Finals. A week and a half later she defeated 33 other riders for the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup National Finals. All she had to do was go out there and deliver solid rail work and two more workouts for the AHSA Medal Finals. It was something she took in stride.

“I tried not to worry about the Challenge Cup. It’s just a big mental game,” explained Thordsen. “And then for the Medal, I kept telling myself it’s just another ride and another workout. The secret was not to make it bigger than it was. I had a job to do and it was just another class.” Maybe it was just another class, but it was a class with a lot of meaning. The Helen K. Crabtree Trophy was unveiled and there was a big ceremony surrounding its inaugural presentation. And even bigger, by putting her name on the trophy first, Thordsen became one of just a few to sweep the Triple Crown.

“I didn’t know what to tell her for the Medal,” said Matton. “We got to the ring and I said, ‘There’s nothing I can tell you. Just go out and do the workout. Never give them a reason to beat you.’ And she didn’t.”

The UPHA Senior Challenge Cup began with three sections of riders showing in front of Michael Craghead, Jan Lukens, and Kathleen Peeples on Thursday morning. Twelve riders were selected to come back on Thursday evening for phase II. After completing the workout, using the SEN system, scores from phase 1 rail work and workouts were compiled and Thordsen was named the champion with a total of 568 points. Young riders dominated the top ribbons as DeLovely’s Betty Cox was named the reserve national champion with 556 points. Riding under the direction of her parents, Gary and Marsha Garone, Devon Garone had the next best showing with 537 total points. Rounding out the Top 10 were Lucinda Hartley, Melina Lukas, Renee Zubrod, Dakota Willimon, Amanda Wright, Shannon Connor, and Lisa McClaren.

Saturday morning the AHSA Medal Finals started like the Challenge Cup with three sections of phase l. Approximately five hours later the best of the three sections were invited to ride for the national title in phase ll. In front of judges Jean DeGutis-Woodworth, Maria Gilman, and Rich Robertson, Thordsen again put it all out there to take the title in front of the Tammy DeVore trained Lucinda Hartley. It was a great ending to a year of triumphs for Hartley, an Elizabethtown, Ky., resident. Devon Garone was again third, followed by Betty Cox, Renee Zubrod, Melina Lukas, Tasha Rose Sandler, Calhoun Clifton, Caroline Gillespie, and Dakota Willimon.

With Craghead, Lukens, and Peeples holding the cards, the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup Finals was the first big test of the week. It was the lightest of the three by nearly half the riders as the Senior Challenge Cup and the AHSA Medal. The top riders from Wednesday morning were brought back for phase ll on Wednesday evening.

In that round, Royal Scot’s Ashley Alden had the top rail work on all three judges’ cards and with those points added to the rail work and workout from phase l, the Illinois resident was named the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup National Champion with a total of 478 points. She was greeted in the winner’s circle by Donna Pettry-Smith, an instructor not long removed from the amateur ranks. This success story was even sweeter as the entire team went through a traumatic time this summer after Alden’s horse, Carboness, almost died. The gutsy mare and rider came back and delivered the winning performance.

Reserve national champion honors were bestowed upon DeLovely’s Alexandra Flynn, a beautiful young rider with quite a record for the year. She had earned 460 points from the three judges. Stepping up strong, Joel Dorignac represented Barbe Smith and Cascade Stables with a strong Top 3 finish. Also going home with Top 10 ribbons and great memories were Shana Jo Brown, Rachael North, Kyle Gagnon, Kayla Wooters, Tate Bennett, Jessica Keys, and Megan Kucera.

The UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup Finals has grown with great interest and thanks to the hard work and dedication of Renee Biggins and her volunteers, it was again a grand event. Ten riders were brought back for phase ll to open the Thursday evening prime time performance. Judges Betsy Boone, Bruce Ekstrom, and Kathleen Peeples evaluated each rider and with an array of talented riders riding for their dreams, Kathy Gray was crowned the national champion. A popular young lady with the instructors and exhibitors, Kathy was coached by her mother, Florida Morgan trainer Betty Gray. All the way up the coast in Augusta, Maine, was the home of the reserve national champion Eric Fitzpatrick. He was trained by Wright Way Stables’ Jackie McConkie, a dedicated lady who has brought a number of riders to the Exceptional Challenge Cup Finals.

A great round of applause was also given to Top 10 finishers Deb Lewin, Amy Bentler, Tony Hojnacki, Stacey Hoorman, Kimberly Huntimer, Lisa Huddleston, Danielle Giuffrida, and Darlene Wirth.

Friday is the big day for Saddle Seat Equitation age groups, followed by the prestigious American Royal Saddle Seat Equitation Championship that evening. Wow, what a line-up it was with 14 accomplished riders gunning for the silver. The MOS system was used for this championship with Betsy Boone, Sandra Currier, and Jean DeGutis-Woodworth calling the shots. When it was all said and done, Betty Cox had earned two of the three first place votes and rode to the winner’s circle where she was greeted by Lillian Shively and Todd Miles. Under the direction of Fran Crumpler, Whitney Irwin rode as the reserve grand champion after finishing with a 1-2-3. Also in the thick of the battle, Calhoun Clifton was third, followed by Melina Lukas, Sarah Ann Howell, Lindsey Gama, Shannon Connor, Shana Jo Brown, Alexandra Flynn, and Jamie Bender.

From the age groups, Knollwood Farm’s Melina Lukas was on the money to top the 16-17 year old group in which Caroline Gillespie was the reserve winner. Shadow Run’s Tasha Rose Sandler made another American Royal victory pass with the 14-15 year old win. That reserve champion was Sarah Ann Howell. Eventual grand champion Betty Cox also won the 11-13 age group ahead of stablemate Alexandra Flynn. And the best of the 10 & under riders was Zubrod Stables’ Olivia Weber. Her closest competition came from Ashlinn Thommes.

On opening night there was far more attention given to the Missouri/Kansas Saddle Seat Equitation Class than normal. Many local television stations and newspapers were on hand for the first presentation of the Friendship Trophy, an award given to the winner of the Mo/Kan class in honor of Ashley Curl and Ashley Sprouse, the two young ladies who perished in a crash while returning home from the World’s Championship Horse Show in August. The event had received much media attention and they were all there as the presentation was made to champion Caroline Gillespie. Valerie Wallberg was the reserve rider.

Walk and trot riders also got a taste of the Kansas City atmosphere with two large classes. Thirteen participants competed for the blue in the qualifier but it was two DeLovely riders leading the way. On top all year long, Brittany McGinnis closed out the year with the blue ribbon ride in the qualifier as well as the Walk and Trot Equitation Championship. Stablemate Gabriella Flynn also closed out a winning season with two reserve titles from the Royal. Also earning championship ribbons were Amy Rives, Jacqueline Beck, Shelby Gregory, Erica Salley, Deanna Lanigan and Erich Aschenbrenner.

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