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National Academy Championship Finals: Bigger and Better Every Year


by Elizabeth Burton

MURFREESBORO, Tenn.- Sunny skies and chilly temperatures provided the perfect backdrop for the seventh annual National Academy Championship Finals, which took place on Nov. 4-5 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. In a day when many shows are struggling to attract exhibitors, this show, known simply as “Academy Nationals,” is bursting at the seams. From barns across the country, 665 entries arrived in Tennessee to crown the best academy riders of the year. Show manager and mastermind behind the event, Joyce Webster, was thrilled with the way this show has continued to grow, both in numbers and in the overall excellence of the riders. Noting that seven new barns decided to join in the fun, Webster called the show “the best one yet. Quality riding was everywhere.” This year, the Finals will donate proceeds of $15,000 to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

In being named the instructor of the year of the National Academy Championship Finals, Mary Marcum Orr of Cash Lovell Stables in Winston-Salem, N.C., received quite an honor by accepting the Bobby Wolfenbarger Memorial Challenge plaque. She also helped make history. Her riders won 21 national titles– more than any one stable has ever won in the show’s seven-year existence.

Orr’s youngest rider, five-year-old Allie Poovey, won the first-ever National Equitation Final for five and six-year-olds. The spirit of excellence carried Cash Lovell riders through virtually every division in the show, culminating in the adult ranks where Melinda Tedder took home the tricolor in the Pleasure Walk/Trot/Canter National Final.

Another first was the “My First Horse Preview” held on Friday night prior to the start of the show. Thirty horses were presented in different categories and price ranges, giving the parents and instructors a chance to see nice horses available for the riders ready to step out of the academy division. Several horses were purchased after the Preview. Dream Meadow Farm sold a cute 10 and under walk-trot mare named Midnight Glamour Girl. Betsy Webb Stables sold the sharp pleasure pony Crown Jeweler and B-W Stables sold a nice pleasure horse, A Night At The Movies. Show management would like to thank all who participated in the showing: Melinda Moore, Lance Williamson, Lisa and Donnie Pyburn, Bill Becker, John Wallen, Tammy DeVore, Betsy Webb, Clark Clouse, James and Jackie Hale, James Nichols, Lisa Rosenberger, Courtney Huguley and Jimmy Morrison. Plans are already underway for next year’s preview.

Judges Adam Clauson, Liz McBride-Jones and Lisa Salomon Uhde had their work cut out for them as during the two days of elimination competition. Making “the cut” was the name of the game as riders aggressively looked for ways to stand out in the large classes.

Classes are broken down by age group and by the skills required of the rider, offering walk and trot classes as well as classes for those who have mastered the canter. In addition to traditional saddle seat equitation and pleasure classes, the program included classes in western pleasure, hunt seat equitation, and pleasure driving.

If you haven’t been to this one-of-a kind show for academy riders, pencil it in for next year. If this year’s show was any indication, things are just going to keep getting bigger and better. Come join the fun!

Walk and Trot

The youngest riders were so strong this year that a brand new national final division had to be added to accommodate them. Ten outstanding five and six-year-olds rode through the gate for both the pleasure and equitation finals. In equitation, Allie Poovey of
Winston-Salem, N.C., was called to the winner’s circle, with Savanna Deschamps of Moody, Ala., in reserve. Top 10 riders were as follows: Elizabeth Grigsby, Elizabeth Peterson, Makayla James, Paige Russell, Alissa McDaniels and Madeline Long.

Deschamps showed her versatility in the pleasure division by trotting out with the blue, while the red ribbon also went to
Alabama, this time with Elizabeth Grigsby of Birmingham.

Topping the 19-entry seven and eight-year-old division, Haley Davis continued the Alabama invasion by taking the pleasure tricolor back to Leeds. Ellie Kangur of Winston-Salem gave her a run for the money to take reserve. In the equitation division, Kangur got her own chance to trot a victory pass, with Grace Shaftner of Lexington, Ky., in reserve. Rounding out the top 10 winners were Sydney Dunaway, Darcy Gleeson, Haley Davis, Emily Hillhouse, Jamie Hopkins, Riley Didier, Skylar Reuff and Lissie Vining.

In the junior finals, 15 entries vied for the coveted top 10 neck ribbons. For the nine to 12-year-old pleasure division, Mikal Williams took the tricolor back to Leeds, Ala., while Sarah Strong headed home to Louisville with the reserve. Strong was also reserve in the equitation final, won by Alexis Landreth from Chattanooga, Tenn. Top 10 finishers were Megan Sherwood, Reagan Moss, Meredith Macy, Mary Kate Harpole, Hannah Abrams, Morgan Keith, John Alvis and Natalie Swimmer.

The Senior Walk and Trot Finals was a Kentucky sweep. Jamie Weisbach of Louisville emerged victorious in the pleasure division with Allison Cusick of Crestwood in reserve. In equitation, the results were reversed, showing how tight the competition truly was. Hillary Frame, Ashleigh Witte, Sarah Tumm and Dylan Hines were top 10 finalists.

The Adult National Finals was dominated by two riders, as well. In the pleasure division, Susan Townsend of Louisville claimed the top title. Rachel Abrams of Birmingham was reserve. Abrams’s victory pass came in the equitation division, where Townsend proudly took home the red streamer. Leigh Bishop and Barbara Hopkins were third and fourth respectively.


The canter classes were well-filled and very competitive. In the 15-entry Junior National Finals (ages 12 and under), Jackie Walthall won the pleasure division, taking the tricolor home to Anchorage, Ky. Dabney Hoffman, from Birmingham, was reserve.

The equitation division was taken by a pair of Kentucky girls: Kylan Nelson from Crestwood making the victory pass and Samantha Morrell from Louisville riding out with the red. Other top 10 winners were Morgan Barney, Allison Harpole, Amanda Segars, Erica Jensen, Dabney Hoffman, Austin Waldron, Lindsey Angel and James Huguley.

The Senior National Finals was a tough call for the judges. Fifteen entries vied for the title in the pleasure division, with Katie Kraska of Lexington, Ky., giving a lesson on showmanship to achieve the win. Liza Payne of Zionsville, Ind., didn’t make things easy for her as she rode hard for reserve.

Sixteen riders answered the call for the senior equitation division. In addition to the title of National Finals Champion, a $1,000 scholarship to William Woods University was also on the line as well as a $600 savings bond. After four riders were elected to do further rail work, riding out with the tricolor and the scholarship was Kristen Shaver of Crestwood, Ky., with strong-riding fellow Kentuckian Kelsey Nelson of Prospect in reserve. Top 10 ribbons were also awarded to Carrie Brown, Liza Payne, Katie Kraska, Julia Etterer, Mackenzie Herskamp, Lexie Gross, Sarah Donhoff and Samantha Sauter.

For the adult riders, the pleasure final was a North Carolina sweep. Melinda Tedder of Winston-Salem was the elated winner of the pleasure final, with Denese Patch of Matthews taking reserve. Patch was also the thrilled reserve winner in the equitation final, which was won by last year’s winner, Tim Long, of Louisville. Rounding out the top 10 in the Adult Walk/Trot/Canter National Finals were B.J. Beliveau, Melinda Tedder, Melissa Kirtley, Deborah Lechner, Bobbie Johnson and Kathy Weston.


In a year that saw the first-ever western classes at
Louisville, the National Academy Championship Finals also reflected the growing popularity of this division by offering both walk and trot only and walk/trot/canter classes. The Walk and Trot Western Championship was won by Ann Fitzpatrick of Versailles, Ky., with reserve going to Elizabeth Burton of Morehead, Ky. In the Walk/Trot/Canter Western Championship, J.P. Stilz of Lexington, Ky., was the winner, with Hannah Badgley of Chattanooga in reserve.

Katie Kraska of Lexington, Ky., winner of the Senior Pleasure National Finals, demonstrated her versatility by also winning the Hunt Seat Equitation class.

The Pleasure Driving Championship was won by Beth Rohret of Louisville, Ky. Rohert also won this class in 2005, proving herself to be a true champion.

While they only had one class to show in, the lead line riders made the most of it. Taking the blue for the seven and eight-year-olds was Kelsey Bishop of Aragon, Ga., with Brianna Robison taking the red back to Greenwood, Ind. In the six and under class, Libby Bowen made her Winston-Salem, N.C., family proud. Macie Williams of Hartsell, Ala, was named reserve. All the lead line riders had to feel like celebrities with all the cameras snapping around them!

This concludes the coverage of the seventh National Academy Finals. Complete results can be seen and searched by clicking here.

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