On Sept. 25, Haylie Jayne, 16, duplicated her older siblings’ titles in the ASPCA Midwest Regional by taking top honors in the class, held at the
Kentucky National in Lexington, while her 18-year-old brother, Charlie, was hot on her heels in second. Charlie won Region 4 in 2001, sandwiched by sister Maggie’s victories in 2000 and 2002.
“It was the absolute best. I couldn’t have asked for anything more; it was so much fun!” said Haylie, of Elgin, Ill. “We both support each other so much, and when it came down to the two of us, with them [announcing the results] in reverse order, there was all this relief. All this pressure just lifted off because it didn’t matter anymore who was first and who was second.”
Haylie, who trains with her father, Alex, her sister and Missy Clark, admitted to shedding a few tears and being in a mild state of shock after hearing she’d won. “It was overwhelming,” she said. “My dad was really excited; it’s almost like a family thing.”
Haylie competed in last year’s regional for experience, but she thought she had a good chance this year of qualifying for the final, which will be held Nov. 3-7 at the Metropolitan National Horse Show in New York City. She rode her 9-year-old, gray warmblood mare, Felicity, purchased earlier this year from friend Dana Hancock.
Hancock’s trainer, Steve Schaefer, offered Haylie a week in Florida to show the mare, who, with her owner headed to college, was being sold. “I fell completely in love with her. I said, ‘Dad, we have to get this horse!’ ” recalled Haylie. “She’s so trustworthy. Any distance I would place her, she would make it out beautifully.”
They continued to pair nicely in Kentucky, called back on top going into the flat phase with Charlie a few places behind. Their one-two finish was cemented without a test. “There were a lot of broken lines, and I think that’s what got a lot of people,” said Haylie, who is entering her junior year of high school through a correspondence program with Florida Virtual School. “You had to land in all of your lines then immediately go forward and just trust the distance was going to be there.”
Another of Clark’s students, Andrew Welles, of Long Lake, Minn., earned the win in the Region 5 qualifier, held Sept. 12 at the St. Louis National Charity in Missouri. Welles rode his 14-year-old Westphalian, Fairplay, who usually competes in the jumper ring.
Welles, 16, was looking for another equitation horse this summer and asked Clark, with whom he started training in January, about trying Fairplay in the BET/USET Show Jumping Talent Search. “At this point, he was a stallion, so about a month and a half before regionals we had him gelded. He’s a very fresh gelding,” he said. “In the end, I thought he’d be better off jumping 3’6″ instead of 4’6″ at that age.”
Welles admitted to being a little nervous about Fairplay’s inexperience with equitation, but their flashy style had Welles called back on top after the jumping phase. Their class was also decided without a test. “[Jane Ehrhart, who placed second,] I thought had a really nice, smooth round, and I expected to be at least second to her,” he explained. “But Fairplay is a really nice mover on the flat, and he dresses me up really well.”
He hopes to solidify his steed’s career transformation in the weeks before indoors. “I’ll be setting up all the jumps I’ve ever seen before at finals and try to turn him into an equitation horse,” said Welles, who also trains with Kim Barone.
Vanessa Holsberry, 16, of Wilsonville, Ore., also won her Region 7 Maclay qualifier, held at the Northwest Autumn Finals in Monroe, Wash., on Sept. 11, with a Westphalian gelding new to the equitation ranks. Her 7-year-old Heritage, a.k.a. Mack, had a successful start as her junior hunter until he pulled his suspensory last August and was off for six months.
“I’d sold my eq horse, and he was coming back really strong and was really brave, so I decided to do him in the equitation,” she said. “He’s not really built to do it, but we worked really hard at getting him more flexible and adjustable, and he’s doing a really good job now.”
Holsberry lived at Old Salem Farm (N.Y.) during the summer of 2003 while she trained with Ray Texel, and she currently works with trainers John Turner, Jack Hammond and Jim Hagman. “Once I saw the courses, I wasn’t scared,” she said of the regionals. “When I take lessons with Jim, he sets much harder obstacles.”
Holsberry was called back first after riding a fair but challenging course, and she kept her lead to test last of four competitors. “I
think we were the only ones [in the test] that actually hand galloped, and we got it from a long way back,” she said.
Confident that Mack wouldn’t “do anything stupid,” Holsberry only had to contend with her own nerves. “I was fine all day, then right before I went in the ring, my stomach started tingling,” she admitted. “Jim told me before we went in that nobody had made any major mistakes and said, ‘If you have a perfect round, you’ll probably win it.’ That comment actually helped me relax because we kind of laughed about it!”
Holsberry’s trainers re-sparked her excitement for riding, which had waned at one time. “Ray really taught me how to ride, to understand flat work and understand my horses’ bodies,” she said. “I used to not want to do flat work because it was boring, and now I’m really excited to do it. Just watching [Texel] ride, I want to be that good!”
Texel is a representative of JustWorld International, an organization that supports international humanitarian efforts in part from donations of prize money from horse show competitors. Two of their founding junior representatives, Jessica Speiser and Natalie Johnson, who both ride with Andre Dignelli of Heritage Farm (N.Y.), won their Maclay regionals this year.
Speiser, 17, of Armonk, N.Y., took the Region 2 title at the Long Island Classic in Old Westbury, N.Y., Sept. 12, with her 10-year-old gelding, Simplicity.
Speiser just missed the cut-off for finals last year, and this year’s win gives her a confidence boost going into indoors. She enjoyed having barnmate Johnson bring home another regional title. “At Heritage everyone is very close. It’s a really good atmosphere; it’s very supportive,” she said.
She and Johnson traveled to Honduras this summer with JustWorld to witness the effects the group’s efforts. “Riding seems like such a privileged sport that the opportunity to give back is really nice,” said Speiser, who has donated all of her jumper winnings to the program since last year. “The trip to Honduras was really influential, to see that the little bit of money I donate really does makes a difference in the kids’ lives.”
Johnson, 17, of Greenwich, Conn., was similarly affected by their trip. “Seeing how one season of money could affect their lives makes you want to try even harder,” she said.
Johnson couldn’t have done much more at the Grand Fall Classic in Westbrook, Conn., on Sept. 25, where she topped the Region 1 qualifier on her 10-year-old, warmblood gelding, Chagall.
“It really demonstrates how Andre trains us because when we go to regionals he tells us, ‘Don’t think of just qualifying. Try to win. Don’t just give half because that’s what you think it will take to qualify,’ ” she explained.
Johnson was called back third to flat, after which she moved into the lead and stayed there through the 10-person test. “Calling back the top 10 instead of the top four gave a chance to all the riders to change their position and move up,” she said. “But the flat phase was where the standings shifted the most dramatically–11th to 19th, 14th to seventh, seventh to 14th–they really counted it 50 percent.”
A lot of hard work this summer on her position benefited Johnson in the influential flat phase, but she was quick to credit Chagall. “A lot of what helped me was that I have an excellent horse who’s really, really beautiful on the flat, and he does all the movements really well,” she said. “For example, in his extended trot, he kicks up into a higher gear, and it really allows you to show off more.”
Nicole Adamson, 17, of Los Angeles, Calif., was thrilled with her victory at the Region 8 qualifier aboard her 9-year-old Holsteiner, Gladiator. “It meant a lot. I’ve never done that well at regionals. The past two years I’ve squeaked through to the finals, just barely making it. Winning it was really exciting, having never made the top 10!” she said after securing her spot at the Oaks Blenheim Tournament in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Sept. 15-19.
“It’s probably one of the hardest classes to ride in because you’re showing against the same people you usually do, but you want to make the Maclay, so it’s like a ‘special regular’ class,” said Adamson, who placed sixth in the 2002 finals, despite the struggle to get there. “It means so much more, and fluky stuff happens all the time. It’s the first really nerve-wracking class of the indoor season.”
Adamson, who trains with Dick Carvin, got Gladiator in March of this year, when she was recovering from a sprained ankle. He was coming back from a winter off, and the two joined their rusty forces for the first time at Indio (Calif.). They really started to come together this summer.
“The past few months together have been absolutely fabulous,” she said. “[At regionals] we did every inside turn and all the hard options. My horse landed on every lead and really came through. I think it was one of my smoothest rides ever.”
Adamson also started doing the jumpers this year and earned the individual bronze on Adarco at the North American Young Riders Championship (Ill.).
Kate Stelmack, 17, made an impressive debut at regionals, earning the Region 6 title her first year competing in the class. Stelmack, of Golden, Colo., rode Denali, a 9-year-old Hanoverian-Holsteiner recently purchased after a year lease.
Called back first after posting a score of 81 for her trip over fences, Stelmack stayed on top after the flat phase, which decided the class, held Sept. 18 during the High Prairie Fall Classic, in Parker, Colo.
“All the riders in there are so good, and they’ve been doing this longer than I have. This was my first year moving up to 3’6″. Last year I did the State Line [Tack National Children’s Medal], and that was my first year at 3′,” she said. “I was thrilled. I watched Kate Hart win it last year, and I thought she was an amazing rider. I was shocked that I won it.”
Stelmack, who trains with Tracy Fergu-son, has fallen hard for the 18.2-hand Denali. Although she’ll be going to college next year, her new partner isn’t going anywhere. “He’s more than just a horse; he’s my baby,” she said. “His whole heart is in showing. He lives for it.”
Nikko Ritter, 16, navigated his big gelding, Modoc, to the Region 3 title on Sept. 26 at the Camden Fall Classic (S.C.). “The course was pretty difficult, but the hardest thing, I think, was the flat because it went on for a really long time, a good 35 to 40 minutes,” said Ritter, of Geneva, Fla.
Noting that his 8-year-old Dutch Warm-blood by Silvio II has a bouncy canter that can make flatting him difficult, Ritter appreciated being called back first after the jumping phase. He thought he made a good impression on a line across the diagonal that had a short six strides or forward five to a very tight five. “Since my horse has a big stride and can shorten very well, we made the five look very good, then the second five was easy,” he explained.
Ritter placed third in last year’s regional competition and 13th the year before, but he had problems moving indoors for the finals. “I pretty much fell off my lead in every finals. My horse is 18 hands, and going into a small, cramped ring doesn’t help. I think I was just taking away too much with my hands,” he said. “We’ve worked on that all year, on me not grabbing him in the face, and he hasn’t done it all year.”
In addition to his parents, Ritter trains with Bobby Braswell and Christina Schluse-meyer of Quiet Hill and Frank and Stacia Madden of Beacon Hill. “I’ve never won anything like that before,” he said. “It helps being able to go into finals knowing that you’ve won something.”