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January 5, 2007

McGuiness Finishes Year With Win In $50,000 Los Angeles National Grand Prix

Rich Fellers wasn't really planning on coming to the Los Angeles National, Nov. 15-19 in Los Angeles, Calif. But after McGuiness jumped so well to be third in the $50,000 Las Vegas Grand Prix two weeks prior, owner Harry Chapman suggested that Fellers add Los Angeles to their schedule.

"It's a good thing I listened to Harry," said Fellers with a laugh after he and McGuiness won the $50,000 Los Angeles National Grand Prix CSI-W.

Fellers was all smiles as he led the victory gallop aboard McGuiness. "If he doesn't jump great it is my fault," said Fellers of his horse. He also gave a great deal of credit to his groom and his wife, Michelle, who was at home in Oregon.

"I was on the phone to my wife, and she gave me advice for the jump off," said Fellers, who recognizes the importance of his support team.

Fellers admitted that he didn't know if he could beat Joie Gatlin when he watched her round. "Joie was pretty fast," said Fellers. "But I left the door open a crack," responded Gatlin.

"Sometimes the inside turn is not the fastest," added Fellers. "The inside turn to the purple FEI jump slowed you down a bit. I went around and let him run."

The win put Fellers into fourth in the West Coast League's World Cup standings. Fellers qualified to compete at this year's FEI World Cup Finals, but McGuiness got off the plane in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with shipping fever, and Fellers scratched.

Fellers did not show at the first two qualifiers of the season, but he plans to be at the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, Calif., early next year. However, his horses will get much of the winter off.

"I am going straight home, pulling their shoes off, and turning them out in the mud and the grass," said Fellers. Several of the other riders looked at him quizzically, but Fellers is a firm believer in giving his horses plenty of rest throughout the year. He carefully plans his show schedule and develops his horses with a careful plan.

However, he remains flexible to make last-minute changes, like his decision to go to Los Angeles. The show was sold out and there wasn't a stall to be had, but after agreeing to forego a tack stall and keep his two horses in the FEI stabling for the week, show secretary Brenda Outwater was able to accommodate Fellers. "My trip to L.A. worked out fairly well," said Fellers with a smile.

Six horses from the original 25 jumped clear over Guilherme Jorge's course. Jorge, who designed the 2005 FEI Budweiser World Cup Finals courses, is busy preparing the courses for the 2007 FEI Rolex World Cup Finals (Nev.) courses.

Leading the six-horse jump-off, Guillermo Obligado set the pace with a time of 46.24 seconds and a clear round, and once again Carlson made the task look easy. Obligado represented his home of Argentina at the World Equestrian Games (Germany) this summer with Carlson. "He jumped very easily tonight," Obligado said of the 14-year-old gelding. "After the WEG, he really matured."

Gatlin followed, and she set the pace to beat. Suncal's King stopped the clock in 44.44 with all the rails still in the cups. "He learned to go fast in Europe this summer," said Gatlin. Helen McNaught chased Gatlin, but a rail cost her the win, since she had the time (43.26 seconds). Leslie Steele was also clearly going for a win, but a miscalculation resulted in a stop with SRF Dragonfly and she had to settle for sixth.

Fellers started the course with a brisk gallop, and he never seemed to shorten McGuiness' stride as the pair blazed around the course. He gave a lesson George Morris would be proud of as he exemplified the patently American forward seat with great style and accuracy. McGuiness rewarded him with a clear round and a time of 43.65.

The only one who could upset their night was Mandy Porter on Summer. Porter realized a great deal of success this summer and early fall with the 11-year-old gray mare owned by Wild Turkey Farm. They posted a win in the $35,000 Wild Turkey Farm Grand Prix (Ore.) in July and the Del Mar International Grand Prix CSI-W (Calif.) in October. They had the fastest time of the night (43.25 seconds), but a slip in a turn caused them to drop one rail and another fell for a total of 8 faults.

"I am delighted with her," said Porter. "She lost her footing in a turn, but she feels really ready for the World Cup Finals." After her fifth-placed finish at the Los Angeles National, Porter is in third in the West Coast League.

Richards Pulls Out The Stops For Onondarka Medal Win
When Cayla Richards received a score of 69 in the first round of the Onondarka Finals, everyone thought her chance to win was over--everyone, that is, but Richards. She went home that night and calculated that she had to score high 80s and 90s throughout the rest of the rounds.

The Onondarka Finals, hosted by the Los Angeles National, Nov. 15-19, has a long and rich history. Founded by the Simington family, operators of the famed Onondarka Riding School, the 3' class is open to riders ages 12 and under.

Frank Madden presided over the class with Timmy Kees as 50 riders from throughout California competed over two challenging rounds. The competitors are whittled down to the best 15, who then jump a third round. Finally, the top eight perform a work off. These riders face the same tests that Medal and Maclay riders see, only at 3'. Scott Starnes masterfully designed courses that allowed the less experienced riders to gain valuable experience, while letting the more sophisticated riders shine.

After two rounds, Ali Ohringer led the pack going into the top 15. Like Richards, this was Ohringer's final year to compete in the Onondarka Finals. She hoped to best her eighth-placed finish, but she did not know how her new, 6-year-old horse, Orlando, would handle the courses. Meanwhile, Richards had clawed her way into seventh by putting in a fabulous second round.

Going into the complex and challenging work off, Ohringer held the lead and Richards had moved up to third. At one point, riders had to counter canter a turn after a trot fence, jump a vertical and then counter canter another turn. Richards pulled out all the stops.

"I just knew that if I wanted to win I had to take chances," said Richards of her decision to land on the counter canter and hold it throughout both turns aboard Van Gogh, her veteran, 18-year-old gelding.

Ohringer was concerned about the counter canter, as her young horse was not yet comfortable with that particular test. Patiently she set her horse up for both transitions and executed precise simple changes.

"That girl wanted to win that class," stated Madden after he and Kees rewarded Richards with a score of 91. "She ate the test alive. I love it when a winner surfaces."

Since the work off score counts 50 percent toward the rider's final score, Richards' score of 91 vaulted her to the lead. The judges rewarded Ohringer with a score of 88, but the mathematics favored Richards' unequaled brilliance. Richards maintained the lead for the final victory, and Ohringer finished as the reserve champion. However, there was no doubt that both riders produced incredible performances, especially as 12 and under riders.

"These riders learn about pressure. Hours of practice can't give you the experience of minutes of competition, and then you add a championship format. This is so valuable," stated Madden. "The east does not have a system comparable to the West Coast's system for equitation. This is a launching pad."

Richards was overjoyed by her victory. "This is just amazing. My horse is great at the counter canter," she said. "I knew I had to keep using my outside leg, and as I approached the final jump on the second counter canter, I thought to myself, 'Just one more distance,' and I got it!"


 
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