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October 9, 2009

Sogard Socks It To 'Em At Region 4 Midwest Maclay Regionals

Wearing six pairs of socks, she qualifies for the ASPCA Maclay National Finals.

Lauren Sogard had a little last-minute equipment failure, but that didn’t stop her from prevailing over 64 competitors in the Region 4 Midwest Maclay Regional, held Sept. 19 at the Kentucky National in Lexington.

Pulling on her week-old boots the night before, “I zipped them up, then took two steps, and both zippers burst out the back,” recalled Sogard, a tiny-footed animal science freshman on the Auburn University NCAA equestrian team (Ala.). “I was trying all the pony kids’ boots, but they were too small in the leg. I finally ended up borrowing a friend’s, whose feet are 31⁄2 sizes too big, so I wore six pairs of socks with them!”

Feeling somewhat clown-footed walking the course, Sogard, of Indianapolis, Ind., put the flopping phalanges out of her mind as first on course.

“I’d rather go early and have time before the flat, so I didn’t have a problem with it. I was just like, ‘Well, here I go! I might as well just go for it; I’m the first one,’ ” said Sogard, 18. “It was probably one of the best rounds of my life. People kept telling me, ‘You’re still winning; you’re still winning!’ ” 

Sure enough, Sogard, riding her 8-year- old Dutch Warmblood, Concerto, was called back on top for the flat.

“He got a little excited going around to the right at the canter, so I had to keep my composure and get him back together. Tammy [Provost] was so mad at him!” said Sogard, who three years ago purchased the gelding from Provost. “I told her, ‘It’s OK—he just wanted to be noticed!’ [At 15.2 hands] he’s so much smaller than the other horses. They called back the top 10 to flat again with no stirrups, and I was called back in fourth. We were so surprised.”

Provost coached Sogard to her win, since her regular coaches, Diane and Val Renihan, couldn’t attend the show due to an illness in their family.

Taking the opportunity to redeem herself, Sogard managed to climb back to the top spot with stellar work without stirrups. “I got ninth two years ago, so after they announced ninth, I was happy to have done better than that. I was just looking to have fun. With the other girls there, I’m always OK to be beaten by them, so I was so excited,” said Sogard. “When they got down to two horses left, I couldn’t believe it.”

Sensing that her equitation horse, Saint-Exupery wasn’t quite right on that day, Sogard’s choice to ride her junior hunter Concerto proved to be a good one, but she’s taking both of them, to the ASPCA Maclay National Championship, to be held at the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament (N.Y.), Oct. 28-Nov. 1.

“I don’t usually get nervous really, though I probably should. Both horses are really brave, and they’ll go through anything,” she said. “Usually the harder things are, the better I do.”

No Room For Superstitions

Christy DiStefano happily assumed the Maclay regional victory “curse” from Beacon Hill barnmate and last year’s Region 2 champion Jackie Lubrano at this year’s competition, held Sept. 19 at Old Salem Farm, North Salem, N.Y.

Riding 2008 Region 8 ASPCA Maclay winner, Shelby Wakeman’s warmblood gelding Rodin, the 18-year-old from Ramsay, N.J., topped 84 competitors to take home the Eastern title.

No stranger to Maclay success, DiStefano placed fourth in last year’s final and has continued to top the equitation ranks, earning the R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch Challenge Trophy at Devon (Pa.) this year.

“Devon really motivated me for the big classes, and I really want to be consistent throughout indoors. I know ‘Roy’ will be really dependable, so it’s really just up to me,” she said. “He’s a very sensitive and quiet horse by nature. He loves a soft ride, and that’s perfect for me—I love to be soft and just going with the horse.” 

DiStefano likes to ratchet up her mental intensity to keep her sharp on course. “I actually love pressure because it makes me think more,” she said. “If I get too relaxed, I get lackadaisical and don’t concentrate enough and worry enough about the course.”

With DiStefano standing second to Lubrano going into the flat phase, an order they maintained as two of the four to test, trainer Stacia Madden advised them to use the work-off as an opportunity to practice for Syracuse. “After the trot fence there was a hand gallop across the diagonal that was also in the original course, and a lot of the horses were swapping. There was a triple bar there that you then had to get the horses up to,” she explained. “Roy was really good—he didn’t swap in either round, then he changed really smoothly to the counter lead afterwards.”

After taking over the lead, DiStefano received some ribbing from Lubrano: “It was nice since she won last year, so she was joking with me because of the curse, ‘Now you’re cursed too!’ ”

Repeat Offenders

A lot has changed in three years for Zazou Hoffman. She burst on the scene with the 2006 Northeast Maclay victory at the tender age of 14 with the combined efforts of long-time trainer Meredith Bullock and then a new relationship with Missy Clark.

Now in a working student position with Clark, Hoffman hasn’t left the spotlight. After placing second in regionals last year, she went on to earn third at the 2008 finals. She secured her second Region 1 win on Sept. 20 at the Grand Fall Classic in Westbrook, Conn.

“I’ve only been home two months since January. It’s definitely a lot of work, but you know it’s all getting you somewhere,” said Hoffman, 17, of Santa Monica, Calif. “I groom and ride and all that, and I love it. I got to spend the whole winter in Florida with Missy for the first time, which was really cool, and I had the opportunity to ride this amazing jumper named Jameson, whom Sheila Burke owns. He was so good all winter, and we were circuit champions, which was really exciting for me because I hadn’t had a chance to do much of the jumpers before.”

With Jameson retiring this summer, Hoffman has focused her attention on equitation going into indoors. Riding Clark’s tried-and-true Dutch Warmblood gelding Ivy, Hoffman felt terrific going into the competition.

“I had a great weekend—I won everything I went in on Ivy except the Maclay warm-up,” she said. “He’s amazing. I’m thankful any time I get to ride that one! You feel like you’re walking in on a winner, and you just have to not screw things up.”

With 80 to go and 52nd in the order, Hoffman got the chance to see a lot of the earlier rounds.

“I watched the first 10 go, and I was pretty intimidated; it looked like a little bit of a bloodbath,” she said. “The first line really got a bunch of people. It was a forward line to a bounce on the rail, and I think some of the horses caught their eye on the railing and got forward into it. But even when I watch a bunch of problems, I don’t worry about it too much on Ivy. I know we’ve both done it before.”

Hoffman was in the lead entering the flat phase, and the judges didn’t need to see any more, pinning her first without further testing, followed by Taylor Harris and Kelly Tropin.

With plans for college, hopefully at Dartmouth (N.H.), Hoffman aspires to ride professionally, though she’s keeping the roadmap to that goal open.

“The more people I can learn from, the better off I’ll be,” she said. “There are so many good people out there; I want to get a chance to learn from as many of them as possible.”

Audrey Carlson, 17, of Boulder, Colo., registered her second consecutive Region 6 championship at the High Prairie Fall Classic in Parker, Colo., on Sept. 12. Though the Mountain Region’s class was small, with only nine competitors, Carlson is looking toward Syracuse with a new sense of confidence.

“I really wanted to qualify for Syracuse again. I was able to go last year, but I was extremely nervous so it didn’t go as smoothly as planned!” said Carlson, who partnered with Emily McCoy’s 13-year-old gelding Mr. Knightly this May. “We’ve just continued to grow as a team, and he’s helped my riding tremendously because I was able to tackle some more difficult courses with ease and not have to worry about the stride or adjustability. He’s really built up my confidence this year.”

At Blenheim (Calif.) this summer, Carlson scored an 87 in the Washington International Jumper Phase. “I was still second, but it was a huge step for me,” she said. “I felt like I was able to go out to California and compete with the big kids and be competitive.

“I’m sure I’ll be nervous again, but last year it was more a trip for the experience. This year I feel like I’m able to compete and ride well at Syracuse,” she said.

Carlson, standing only 5'4", and Mr. Knightly, towering at 17 hands, make a somewhat unlikely pair at first glance, but they’ve been a winning combination since she was first offered the ride.

“He has a huge stride so I never have to worry about the distances. I always know we’re going to get there, but he’s still extremely adjustable. He can open up to an 18-foot stride and come right back if you need it,” she said.

Called back on top to test, she mixed things up in her work-off, presenting a simple change and a flying change for the two required at the end of the shortened course, unlike her fellow competitors, who opted for one or the other.

Megan Macpherson finished in second place, while Olivia Chowdry took third. Carlson also took home titles from the Colorado National Junior Medal Finals and the USEF Zone 8 Regional Finals.

“It was like the weekend of a lifetime, which was really nice as my last show as a junior in Colorado,” said the high school senior, who will be pursuing a degree in engineering next year, with Tufts University (Mass.) as her top choice. “It was a nice way to end my career. I would really thank my trainer Michael [Dennehy]. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

A Tale of Two Cates

Catherine Billings, who rides with her father Rob Billings of Little Pond Farm in Tallahassee, Fla., and Bob Braswell and Christina Schlusemeyer of Quiet Hill, topped 50 riders in the Region 3 Southeast qualifier, held Sept. 5 at North Florida Hunter Jumper in Green Cove Springs, Fla.

Riding in her third regionals, Billings, 15, bettered her 10th-placed performance from last year, riding her 9-year-old Argentinean Warmblood and partner of one year, Figaro.

“It was one of those days where the horse seems really comfortable and happy, and Cate was really on and clicking. It all came together,” said Rob. “They seem to mesh really well. He’s a nice brave horse, and that’s something that she always feels good about with him.”

Judges Timmy Kees and Jimmy Toon placed the class after three groups rode on the flat, so nobody had a clue where they stood.

“It was really surprising, really an experience!” said Cate, who has received a shot of confidence going into indoors. “I used to not be good under pressure, but this year, I had done all this the two years before, so it helped me not be as nervous. I really want to thank everyone who helped me get to this point. It’s really been a team effort.”

A week later, on Sept. 12, Cate Ziegler made her mark with her long-time partner Charleston Z at the Region 5 Central Maclay, held at the St. Louis National Charity in Lake St. Louis, Mo.

Ziegler, 14, of Mequon, Wis., started with the now 9-year-old Zangersheide gelding in the children’s hunters four years ago.

“I’ve done him in the equitation, junior hunters and jumpers, and my mom, who doesn’t really ride much, goes on trail rides with him, so he does whatever. I didn’t realize how nice it would be when I was younger and first getting him, but now it’s really special,” she said. “I’m definitely closer with him than I am with my others.”

Ziegler has also ridden with trainer Cookie Beck since she was 8, which she said gives her another advantage. “We’re really close with Cookie. Some people only see their trainers at shows, but we’re always going out to dinner with her and spending time with her,” she said. “We know each other really well, so going into a course she can see how I’m feeling about it, which really helps.”

After placing fifth at regionals last year, Zeigler had some trouble at Syracuse. “My horse had never showed indoors other than the regionals so we were both a little nervous going into it. There was a two-stride line of skinny coops with no standards, and we shifted a little to the side on the second element. He still jumped, but I guess it was mostly air! I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept going and they let me jump the next five jumps and then called me off course,” she recalled.

“It’s actually a good thing,” she added. “I can just go into this year and do better than last year, and it’ll be an easier goal!”

Going last of nearly 30 riders, Ziegler watched as many of the earlier rounds as possible.

“The first line was the hardest, and it definitely picked people out. It was an elbow turn, and most people tried to ride it as a seven- or eight-stride line and had a lot of trouble at the second jump. I rode it in 12 strides and went way farther out, and it worked well,” said Ziegler, who was on top going into the flat.

Judges Leo Conroy and Chrystine Tauber placed the class without further testing.

“When it got down to the top three, everyone was a really good rider who had a really good round. I was thinking I’d be proud and happy to place anywhere with them, so to win was really exciting,” said Ziegler, who was followed by Jessy Ramljak and Laura Baginski.

Spearing Top Honors

Cayla Richards, Calabasas, Calif., and her 15-year-old, 16-hand Hanoverian gelding, Asparagus, put in an aggressive round in the Region 8 Maclay, topping the class, held Sept. 12 at the Blenheim Fall Tournament in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Going seventh out of 35, Richards, who trains with Jenny and Kost Karazissis, chose an inside turn to a two-stride combination and thinks that helped her stand out.

“My horse is really adjustable—he can turn on a dime—but it rode well. I was surprised other people didn’t try it, but it was kind of risky because it went into a vertical-vertical combination,” she noted. “Everything was kind of connected in the course so if you had one bad jump it could have a domino effect. His stride is so adjustable, so in a small ring like that it’s really helpful. I can make the tight turns and still ride the forward lines easily.”

After the flat, Richards was called back on top of five for a tough work-off, where she was able to hold off Theodore Boris and Jocelyn Neff and maintain her lead.

“My goal was to qualify because last year I didn’t, which was pretty disappointing. Of course winning isn’t the worst thing in the world!” she added with a laugh. “It definitely gave me a confidence booster because the indoor ring [at Blenheim] is similar to how it is back east, so I know my horse and I can have a good ride in that type of ring.”

Cassandra Kahle, 16, of Langley, B.C., won the Region 7 Maclay qualifier, held Sept. 12 at the NorthWest Autumn Classic in Monroe, Wash. Trained by her mother, Natasha Brash, Kahle earned the title on Terry and Alicia Hayes’ 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Batik.

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