Thermal, Calif.—March 10
Morgan Geller returned for the second round of the R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch Equitation Championship in second place, and she was feeling the pressure.
“I was really nervous! I thought I might throw up,” said Geller with a laugh. “But [Fabricio] was really good the second round. He was even better than in the first. I was so nervous, but he kept me calm. The first round I calmed him down, and the second round he calmed me down.”
Geller, 17, went in for the first round 12th out of 19 riders. The class was held under lights in the large outdoor grand prix ring at HITS Thermal, and the surroundings took a toll on many of the horses. Three horses stopped out, and three others had at least one refusal in the first round. But Fabricio, an 11-year-old Czech Warmblood, and Geller, who won the USEF Junior Hunter Finals—West (Calif.) in 2011, didn’t falter despite the shadowy conditions. They earned scores of 85 and 89 from the judging teams in the first round—plus 2 bonus points—and then scores of 89 and 92 in the second round for a grand total score of 357.
“He was a little looky and a little nervous, but the course was really fun,” said Geller of Olaf Petersen’s track, which included a trot fence and then a tight rollback turn to a bending line, among other challenges. “There were a lot of options to do different things with the strides, which I really liked. There were a lot of welcoming jumps. I thought it was a really nice course. [Fabricio] typically is not a stopper, so I had that going for me, but I just knew he likes to get kind of wild and on the muscle, so I was worried about him getting too fast. That was my main worry.”
Henley Adkins, riding Elvenstar’s Vancouver, was second with a score of 355. Alicia Gasser, first after Round 1 with Katie Harris’ Parrandero, finished third with 348 points. Geller rides with Adkins at Elvenstar in Moorpark, Calif., and was thrilled to see her barnmate do so well.
Riders qualify for the Ronnie Mutch Championship by winning at least one major equitation class in any of the major winter circuits: HITS Thermal (Calif.), HITS Arizona, HITS Ocala (Fla.), the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) or Gulf Coast (Miss.). They must walk the course and school without the help of a trainer.
A groom can set fences for the juniors in the judged warm-up, with riders earning up to 3 bonus points for their pre-class strategies. All cell phones are taken, and riders are sequestered during the class; they can only speak to each other.
“In the warm-up I tried to keep it really simple, just so I didn’t frazzle him or get him thinking too much,” said Geller, who earned 2 bonus points for her warm-up. “I just tried to stick to the normal plan and keep it minimal.
“I’m really, really happy. I just love this class,” Geller, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., added. She finished third in last year’s Ronnie Mutch Championship.