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Royal's Equitation Division Stronger Than Ever

by Leeann Mione

The equitation division at the American Royal this year was bigger than ever. The amount of talent across the board was huge. Young riders worked hard for the panel of Renee Lavery, Cindy Mugnier and Cecile Hetzel Dunn in the equitation classes. Lynda Freseth, Chuck Herbert and Rick Wallen judged the USAE Medal Final, and Renee Lavery, Sandy Sessink and Carole Stohlmann judged the UPHA Junior and Senior Challenge Cups. Gayle Lampe and Bud Newell joined Stohlmann on the panel for the USAE Exceptional Challenge Cup. All four finals had large numbers in their preliminary rounds which the judges had to whittle down to a smaller group for the phase two competitions.

Betty Cox joined the elite group of six riders to earn the Saddle Seat Equitation Triple Crown all in the same year. She also had the added distinction of being the current Senior Saddle Seat Equitation World's Grand Champion. Devon Garone, a multi-titled world's champion, claimed the title in the American Royal's Equitation National Championship as well as the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Reserve National Championship. Stablemate Kyle Gagnon, was the best of the best in the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup National Finals.

A host of hardworking and talented young exhibitors went home with top 10 ribbons from the national finals after performing well in one of the most competitive seasons for the equitation division in recent years.

USAE Medal

More than 30 riders hit the ring Saturday morning for the first phase of the USAE Medal competition. Freseth, Herbert and Wallen watched them perform on the rail and also in individual workouts. After all 32 competed, 12 riders had scored high enough to return for phase two Saturday afternoon.

Comments are often heard at shows about how it seems unfair to call back 12 or more riders when only 10 ribbons are awarded. After watching a group of highly talented young competitors, it’s often heartbreaking to see only a few riders leave without a ribbon. It is however, a necessary step in the process. Extra riders are selected for the top 10 competition so that if a rider or horse were unable to compete in phase two someone is available to take their place. Imagine how disappointing it would be if only 10 riders were called back and then one of them wasn’t able to compete. A top 10 ribbon would go unawarded and the rider who had scored in 11th place in the first phase wouldn’t have had the chance to ride in front of the crowd and compete for the title.

After working on the rail, riders were excused and called back individually in numerical order to perform the challenging workout while the crowd looked on. After all 12 riders had finished the workout, they waited outside the gate to see which would be called out for top 10 awards.

Announcer Peter Fenton introduced each rider and their trainers, and awards were called out in reverse order. Jessica Moctezuma, riding Callaway’s Royal Request, claimed the 10th place finish and was joined by her mother and instructor Nealia McCracken. Emily Garten, instructed by Kathy and Erin Boggs of Cape Cod Farm, was ninth. Garten rode Highpoint’s Syncopated Rhythm. Alexandra Flynn, riding the incomparable Callaway’s Will Gillen who will be formally retired at Louisville in 2004, finished with the eighth ribbon for Willy’s last show ring appearance. Flynn was instructed by Lillian Shively and Todd Miles.

Lisa McClaren was joined by Dale Arnston and Julie Wroble for the presentation of the seventh place ribbon. McClaren rode Kalu’s Can’t Stop The Magic. Blair Barrett, riding Monster Man, finished with the sixth place ribbon. She was met by instructor Cindy Zubrod Boel.

Kyle Gagnon and Duplicate Copy capped off a great show with the fifth award under the direction of Gary and Marsha Garone of Fairfield South. Jordan Underwood was fourth with CH Louisville Lass and was met by Renee Biggins for the presentation. Dakota Willimon, instructed by Premier Stables, was third with Worthy Am I.

Finally, only two riders waited for the announcement of which would be the national champion. Team DeLovely waited anxiously as well because both of the two talented young women remaining were instructed by Shively and Miles. When Jessica Harrison’s name was called out as the USAE Medal Reserve National Champion her tears of joy were shared by everyone at DeLovely and by fellow competitor Betty Cox. Reigning Saddle Seat Equitation World's Grand Champion Cox and Amandari closed out an undefeated season as the USAE Medal National Champions with a unanimous decision.

"Watching those two girls standing out there was really very emotional," said Lillian Shively. "I was wondering why I deserved all that. To have such wonderful clients and watch Betty achieve her dream and Jessica achieve her dream of sharing it with Betty, made me realize how fortunate I am," Shively continued. "There is a very long list of talented instructors out there and they all deserve such success."

Karen Cox spoke of Betty's incredible week by saying,"I'm just so glad that her father got to see this. Carter's been in this business for a long time and I've never seen him so proud." She added, "I've been overwhelmed by the kindness of trainers, owners and exhibitors. They've sent flowers and written notes and called to congratulate us."

"Lillian's dedication has also been overwhelming. Betty attends a private prep school and it's very hard for her to leave for a horse show. She couldn't get to Indiana after Penn National so Lillian said "I'll go to her" and she did. She flew out and spent two days helping Betty get ready for Kansas City."

With friends, family and an appreciative crowd looking on, all 10 riders took a victory pass for the crowd and then Cox riding Amandari, and Harrison, riding Longview’s Two To Tango, closed out the afternoon with a victory pass side by side.

UPHA Senior Challenge Cup

The senior riders started their competition Thursday morning with phase two. The 26 riders were split into two groups of 13 for both the rail work and pattern work. In group one Jessica Harrison earned the top rail work score from judge Renee Lavery. Judge Sandy Sessink awarded the top rail work score for group one to Devon Garone and Jordan Underwood earned the top score from judge Carole Stohlmann.

Judge Lavery named Jordan Underwood the top scorer in the pattern work for group one with 49 points out of a possible 60. Judge Sessink awarded both Devon Garone and Jordan Underwood top workout scores of 41 points. Underwood also topped Carole Stohlmann's card for the workout with 41 points out of the 60 points possible.

Betty Cox topped the group of 13 in section two and earned the top rail work scores from all three judges on the panel. She also earned the top score from all three judges in the pattern section of phase two. She was awarded 47 points from judge Renee Lavery, 46 points from judge Sandy Sessink and 35 points from judge Carole Stohlmann.

When the points for the rail work were added up for both groups Betty Cox was on top with 172 points. Jessica Harrison followed with 163 points. Jordan Underwood had the highest total score in the pattern section; she finished with a score of 131 points. Betty Cox followed in the pattern score totals with 128 points.

Rail work points and pattern points were added up for all 26 riders to determine which would return for phase two competition. Betty Cox topped the list with 300 points. Jordan Underwood scored 286, and Emily Garten finished with 273 points. Jessica Harrison scored 272; Dakota Willimon earned 267; Devon Garone finished with 260; and Blair Barrett earned 255.

Clinton Jury also earned a spot in the phase two competition with a total score for phase one of 253 points. Shana Jo Brown and Ashley Alden both earned 244, and Jessica Saft finished with 239. Alexandra Flynn claimed the final slot for phase two with a score of 239.

The top 12 riders returned Thursday evening for their phase two competition and the naming of the national and reserve national champions. All three judges awarded the top score for the rail work portion of phase two to Betty Cox. She earned 58 points from judges Renee Lavery and Carole Stohlmann and a score of 59 from judge Sandy Sessink. Lavery and Sessink both put Devon Garone in the number two position after the rail work and Carole Stohlmann named Jordan Underwood the number two rider. When scores for the rail work were added up, Cox was on top with 175 points and Jessica Harrison followed in the standings with 157 points.

The riders then executed a pattern for the judges and the crowd, and after all 12 were done, the riders awaited the announcement of the top 10 presentations. Ashley Alden, Jessica Saft, Blair Barrett, Alexandra Flynn, Jordan Underwood, Dakota Willimon, Emily Garten, Jessica Harrison, Devon Garone and Betty Cox all returned to the green shavings to receive their top 10 ribbons.

Points awarded using the SEN system were converted to the Majority Opinion System (MOS) to determine the placings. Devon Garone was called out as the reserve national champion and was joined by her parents and instructors Gary and Marsha Garone in the winner's circle. Betty Cox, with two first place votes, was named the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup National Champion, which made her one of only a few select riders to earn equitation's triple crown. She was met by her tearful parents Carter and Karen Cox and her instructor Lillian Shively for the award presentation.

UPHA Junior Challenge Cup

The junior equitation riders also faced a big group. The 22 teams were split into groups of 11 for their phase one competition Wednesday morning. Competing in group one for the rail work, Ashley Stine topped the point scores on Renee Lavery's card. Jacqueline Beck finished on top for the group one rail work on Sessink's and Stohlmann's cards.

Kyle Gagnon topped all three cards for the rail work section of the group two riders. When points for the rail work were added up for both groups, Gagnon was on top with 173 points and Jessica Moctezuma was second with 163 points.

The panel awarded the top score for the pattern work in group one to Jacqueline Beck. Renee Lavery, Sandy Sessink and Carol Stohlmann all put Jacqueline Beck at the top of their card. Kyle Gagnon and Jessica Moctezuma were the top two riders for the pattern in section two. Gagnon topped Lavery and Stohlmann's cards, and Moctezuma was the top rider on Sessink's card. The point scores for the pattern portion of phase one competition put Jacqueline Beck on top with 120 points and Kyle Gagnon finished in second with 119.

At the end of phase one competition, total scores were added to determine the 14 riders that would return for the second phase. Kyle Gagnon finished at the top of the point standings with 292 points. Jacqueline Beck followed with 278 points, and Jessica Moctezuma was in third with 276 points. Ariana Corrigan completed phase one with 271 and Kelsey Price earned 251. Anisa Tracy qualified for round two with 233 points and Tara Grom earned 226. Rachel Machamer tied with Grom after phase one with a score of 226. Katherine Gaker ended the morning with 223 and was followed in the point standings by Ashley Stine with 220. Brittany McGinnis and Emma Nichols joined the top 14 riders for phase two with scores of 211 and 209 respectively. Jennifer Roberts' total score was 206 and Meaghan MacQueen completed the list of riders to compete in phase two with a score of 205.

Wednesday evening, all 14 riders came through the gate for the final phase of competition riding hard. When the scores for the rail work were added up, Kyle Gagnon was at the top of all three cards. He topped the total point score for the phase two rail work with 176 points. Jessica Moctezuma finished in second place with 159 points.

The pattern was performed by all 14 riders, and then the waiting began. After they were notified which had been selected as the top 10, they returned to the ring for the presentations. Ashley Stine, directed by the Garones, was awarded a top 10 ribbon. Katherine Gaker, instructed by Cape Cod Farm, claimed a top 10 award for her efforts.

Kelsey Price was also a top 10 recipient, riding under the direction of Premier Stables. Rachel Machamer, riding from Clover Leaf Stables, joined the top 10 list and was joined by Anisa Tracy. Tracy was instructed by Jamie Bridgewater. Jacqueline Beck joined the top 10 under the direction of both Anne Speck and Lillian Shively. Tara Grom, instructed by Terry Stephenson, finished with a top 10 ribbon, and Arriana Corrigan claimed a slot in the list of top 10 recipients as well.

Kyle Gagnon and Jessica Moctezuma also received top 10 ribbons, but they each received special awards in addition to their top 10 awards. Moctezuma was awarded the UPHA Junior Challenge Cup Reserve National Championship and was joined by her mother Nealia McCracken for the presentation. Kyle Gagnon was joined by Gary and Marsha Garone for his presentation of the Junior Challenge Cup National Championship. His victory was a unanimous decision by the panel.

UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup

The exceptional challenge cup, now in its third year, showcased a group of riders who were exceptional, not because of any disabilities they may have, but because of their perseverance and determination in the face of adversity.

Renee Biggins has been instrumental in the success of the exceptional challenge cup. An event that continues to grow. "These riders have to qualify for Kansas City just like everyone else. I have been so impressed with watching how hard they work. The first year, they were just excited to be part of such a big horse show. Now I see them come back year after and I can tell how hard they have worked and winning at the Royal is truly one of their goals, said Biggins. She added, "We are really excited because in 2004 the convention for the National American Handicapped Riding Association will take place in Kansas City during the Royal." The UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup is also a source of tremendous pride for its two sponsors Mary Gaylord McClean and Elisabeth Goth. "We are really lucky to have such wonderfully generous sponsors," said Biggins.

Fifteen talented riders competed in phase one Thursday morning, and the riders were divided into two groups. Gayle Lampe and Carole Stohlmann, along with Bud Newell, were charged with judging the riders in their quest for the national title.

When the panel turned in their cards with the rail work scores for the seven riders in group one, Kathy Gray was at the top of both Lampe’s and Stohlmann’s card. Jarrett Osborne earned the top score from judge Bud Newell. Theresa Grimes earned the top score for group two’s rail work, according to judge Gayle Lampe. Stohlmann placed Danielle Giuffrida in the top slot on her card. Sarah Johnson earned the highest point total for the group two rail work from judge Bud Newell.

Group one performed the pattern, and Kathy Gray ended up with the top scores from both Lampe and Stohlmann. Bud Newell assigned the top score for the pattern work to Whitney Daniel. Theresa Grimes, competing in group two, topped the score count for her pattern work according to judges Lampe and Stohlmann. Sarah Johnson was the high scorer according to Bud Newell.

When the points were totaled for all 15 riders for the rail work, Kathy Collins and Kathy Gray tied for the top score with totals of 99 points each. John Huntimer finished in second with a score of 94 points.

Ten riders returned for the Thursday evening final based on their total scores for the phase one competition. Kathy Gray, Kathy Collins, Theresa Grimes, Sophie Friese, Amber Irvin, Danielle Giuffrida, Sarah Johnson, Darlene Wirth, John Huntimer and Lisa Huddleston all earned enough points to return for phase two.

The UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup National Championship started Thursday evening’s session. All 10 riders came through the gate and competed on the rail. When the cards were turned in, Kathy Gray was at the top of Gayle Lampe and Carole Stohlmann’s cards. Theresa Grimes claimed the top slot on Bud Newell’s card. When the points were added up for the rail work in phase two, Theresa Grimes finished with the top score of 134. Kathy Gray followed in second place with 131 points.

The UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup began in 2000, due in large part to the hard work of Renee Biggins and the UPHA. Kathy Gray, the 2000 and 2001 overall champion, made it a three-peat as the 2003 UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup National Champion with two first place votes from the panel. Gray was joined by her mother and instructor Betty Gray. Theresa Grimes was named the reserve national champion. She was also instructed by Betty Gray.

Kathy Collins claimed the win in the physically challenged division. Sarah Johnson earned the reserve ribbon. Sophie Freise won the top ribbon in the non-physically challenged division. Lisa Huddleston was reserve in that division.

The exceptional challenge cup has grown by leaps and bounds in the last three years. Riders come to the American Royal to compete for the prestigious titles and perform for the crowd. Their happiness and enthusiasm is evident as they enter the ring, and the hard work and dedication of their instructors is just as obvious. The event is truly one of the events that makes the American Royal one of the crowning jewels of the horse show season.

Saddle Seat Equitation

Ten riders competed for the title of American Royal Equitation National Champion. Their event Friday evening provided one of the highlights of an evening filled with intense competition in virtually every division. Renee Lavery, Cindy Mugnier and Cecile Hetzel Dunn were charged with marking the cards for the division, and they had their work cut out for them. All 10 riders turned it on for the panel in an effort to end the season with a national championship title.

When the cards were turned in it was Devon Garone, winner of the 16-17 class and the senior challenge cup reserve national champion, who was named the national champion with two first place votes. Garone, instructed throughout her equitation career by her parents Gary and Marsha Garone, rode Sultan’s Savannah Anna for the win. Kelsey Nicole Smith, riding Undulata’s Clean Sweep and instructed by Scott and Carol Matton, was awarded the reserve national championship with a first place vote. Alexandra Flynn finished in third place and added yet another impressive ribbon to the list of honors of one of equitation’s legendary performers, Callaway’s Will Gillen. Lisa McClaren claimed the reserve ribbon in the competitive 16-17 class.

Shana Jo Brown won the 14-15 class, competing against a proven group. She was followed in the ribbons by Kelsey Nicole Smith. Alexandra Flynn won the 11-13 class and topped a big group for the victory. Kelsey Price earned the red ribbon. Brittany McGinnis closed out her first year in the 10 and under walk/trot/canter division with the win in the 10 and Under Equitation class. Callie Smith closed out a successful season as well with the reserve ribbon.

Medal reserve national champion Jessica Harrison added the blue ribbon from the 17 and under Mo/Kan class to her win list. Jordan Underwood put together the reserve effort to close out the season.

A big group of 10 walk and trot riders came through the gate for their championship. Chelsea Jo Roby, winner of the qualifier, claimed the grand championship title and the nod from all three judges on the panel. Under the direction of Jo Cornell, Roby rode Selby Lane for the winning ribbon. Brooke Bowen, instructed by Scott Haston was named the walk and trot reserve grand champion with Comin’ At Ya. Mallory Hardigan, instructed by Country Meadow, claimed the top three finish to close out her first year out of academy. Kate Lovejoy earned the reserve in the walk and trot qualifier under the direction of John Whalen at Chestnut Lane.

Big classes and big talent highlighted the equitation division and national finals at the American Royal. The walk and trot riders proved that the division will showcase their talents for many years to come and the older riders proved that they just keep getting better and better.

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