Parker, Colo.—Sept. 1
Tracy Alves barely waited to cross the finish timers before she bent down and patted Romulus’ neck, grinning and breathless. The American Eventing Championships may be the last time the 20-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Contango—Divottii) competes in eventing, so the outing was going to be emotional no matter how it ended. Winning by finishing on her dressage score was a better result than she’d dared to imagine.
“I’ve had [Romulus] for four years, but we have only had one solid year of showing because we had two years of quarter cracks,” Alves said after the clean and fast cross-country round that put her in first place on Friday. “This is our first year back, but it’s also his retirement year.”
In addition to battling quarter cracks, Romulus was kicked in the face by another horse in February and though he healed well, Alves said she was extremely watchful in case the old injury hindered his breathing.
“He did have a broken nasal bone,” Alves said. “So it was very important to me that he was fit enough. I came in with the M.O. that if he didn’t feel right I would withdraw him. But he kept telling me ‘No way mom, we’re going’. In California, where I live, we don’t have the opportunity to train at elevation. We train at about 100 feet above sea level, which is nowhere near [Parker’s elevation of] 5280. So we purposely [trained] in the hottest part of the day.”
Linda Quist held her lead in the training amateur division aboard her homebred mare, Belle Gambe, and finished on their dressage score of 27.3
“I had a wonderful experience here this year. This is my third AEC and I had a wonderful time. Going in to stadium, all I could think of was ‘Leave the rails up please!’ I’m going to take [Belle Gambe] home and let her have a good week off, and then she and I will talk about what she wants to do next.”
McKenzie Rollins was also emotional after winning the training horse division on Excel Star Lord. They improved on their second-place finish after cross country by going double-clear in show jumping and finished on a score of 34.9.
“It’s just such an honor to be able to come here in the first place, it’s a dream come true,” Rollins said. “It’s just been that kind of year with [Excel Star Lord]. He’s still quite young, so I really wanted to take my time to produce him, to not skip over anything. It’s really important to me that he’s happy and comfortable to do the job, and that I’m not over-facing him with anything and I feel like this is just such a feather in his cap.”
Madison Santley’s mount, Excellence, lived up to his name by topping the junior training division. He and Stanley were second after cross-country but put down a faultless show jumping round to finish on their dressage score of 31.7.
“It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life,” Stanley said. “It took a long time to get out here, we had a bumpy road. But [Excellence] was so good. He was an angel and I love him with all of my heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse and a better week.”
Tamra Smith followed her strong performance in the advanced cross-country by riding Fleeceworks Ghost to a win in the preliminary horse division. They finished on their dressage score of 29.
“Ghost is just a sweetheart, my daughter [Kaylawna] has been riding her and producing her,” Smith sad. “In the victory gallop they congratulated her, which was so exciting because she did all of the work! [Ghost] was a little tired today from yesterday, but she tries her heart out and she’s careful and you just keep on going.”
The preliminary rider division completed their cross-country early Saturday morning and were the last to show jump in the afternoon. Originally a class of four, those ranks were narrowed after Mike Huber and Christian Eagles were eliminated on cross-country. Travis Atkinson took the lead in the morning, but Whitney Tucker Billiter and Karavaleo clinched the win in the show jumping arena. They finished on a score of 70.3.
“It was a little frustrating yesterday,” Billiter admitted. “I was sent to the start box twice, and the second time I was in my 20-second countdown when they called it for rain. [Karavaleo] came out a little bit dead this morning, questioning why we were going to do it a third time. I just had to work a little bit harder to get him in front of my leg in the warm-up but he answered everything. He’s a really cool young horse that I’m super excited about.”
Madelyn Floyd and Clementine were untouchable in the junior preliminary division. They defended their cross-country lead and finished on their dressage score of 33.5.
“This is my first AEC,” Floyd said. “My strategy going to show jumping was the same [as for cross-country]. She’s a really good jumper, so I tried to stay out of her way. I tried to give her her head, let her do her thing, and keep the tempo the same. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have one in hand coming in. Show jumping is our hardest so I just tried to relax and just tried to jump a good round. She was great. I couldn’t have asked her to be any better.”
Julia Spatt and 5o1 Macintosh upset overnight leaders Erin Hofmann and Darkwatch to claim the preliminary amateur title. Their double-clear show jumping round gave them a score of 35.1 for the win. Spatt is originally from Denver, Colorado, though she lives in Cabot, Arkansas, currently.
“I’ve been living in Arkansas and it was really fun to come back to my home turf and compete at the AEC, and especially to have such a good result,” Spatt said. “It was quite a homecoming. Show jumping can tend to be my Achilles’ heel for competing. I was trying to keep mentally calm, and keep a rhythm and let him do his job.”
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