Thermal, Calif.—Mar. 17
Competing in the R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship is a good test of a rider’s partnership with their horse. Without a trainer dictating their warm-up, riders rely on their own knowledge and an understanding of their horse.
Put the class in the grand prix ring under the lights, and you’ve added another layer of difficulty. But Kaitlyn Lovingfoss didn’t have the luxury of a longstanding partnership with her horse. She’d just paired up with Hasta La Vista six months ago, but she trusted herself and kept a cool head to win the class.
“My strategy was just to remain calm and to have a solid round in the first round to make it, and then in the second round to be more competitive and go all out,” she said.
That strategy worked. With a bold, forward ride around the track Lovingfoss impressed the judges to move to the top of the class.
“To be honest, I was really nervous warming up by myself and everything, but Hasta’s amazing so I knew I could trust him in the course,” said Lovingfoss.
The 15-year-old has been competing in the big eq since last year, but this was her first time competing in the championship. She’d showed at the indoor finals in 2016 so she was familiar with the high pressure environment and found the different format of the R.W. Mutch enjoyable.
“I loved it. It was very challenging. It wasn’t something you could just go around and win. You had to make time allowed. You had to do the test properly,” she said.
Riders qualified for the championship by placing in the top three of any USEF Medal, ASPCA Maclay, USEF Talent Search, WIHS Equitation Classic or Marshall & Sterling Junior Medal from any premier horse show series lasting at least three weeks.
Lovingfoss qualified by competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) where she showed for four weeks before giving “Hasta” some time off.
“I think that helped me bring up my competition and game,” she said.
Since trainers are reassigned to the task of nervous spectators, riders can have one groom to set fences. They’re judged on the effectiveness of their warm up, receiving anywhere from a -2 to a +2 from Joe Dotoli who served as the warm-up judge. That score would be added or subtracted from the rider’s overall score for that round.
The first-round track proved difficult, with a bounce exercise, trot poles and a counter-canter fence. The pole leading into the bounce exercise proved problematic for some riders when their horses broke to a trot in between it and the first fence. For many other riders the trot poles dashed their hopes of making it to the second round when their horse either cantered through the poles or stopped at them.
The top 10 riders from the first round returned for the second round, but because Emily MacLean and Stella Buckingham tied in the first round for a preliminary 10th, both riders got a chance at the second-round track.
First in the ring for Round 1, Breanna Bunevacz set a top score of 171, earning herself the final ride of the class. However before Round 2, several hours passed since she’d last walked in the ring and she struggled over the jumper-type course pulling down the entirety of fence 6. Bunevacz couldn’t recover from that mistake and picked up 20 time faults to ultimately finish 10th.
Katherine Dash received no score in the second round after she began the course prior to the sounding of the tone.
Want more from HITS Coachella? Check out a gallery from the professional hunters and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the April 3rd issue of the Chronicle.