he Area III Desperate Horsewives Adult Rider team beamed graciously as they collected their prizes for winning the novice division of the The Chronicle of the Horse/USEA Eastern Adult Team Challenge. The event, held at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Nov. 3-5, hosted 17 novice teams and several training and preliminary teams of adult riders.
After vowing only to buy brown geldings, Elisabeth Gallant Fouché ate her words when her flashy chestnut mare Posh, carried her to the individual and team win at novice.
The best thing about being at the ATC, according to Fouché, of Columbia, S.C., was being able to go with her tight-knit group of friends and relax. “During my dressage test, I saw my friends on the rail, and I thought, ‘It’s not just about being here, it’s about enjoying the experience.’ I thought, ‘I’m not just going to ride this serpentine, I’m going to enjoy it; I’m not just going to ride this ditch, I’m going to enjoy it.’ I just kept telling myself to look where I was and take it all in and have fun,” said Fouché.
Bred by Fouché’s brother-in-law, the 9-year-old, Hanoverian mare is by Parabol. “She really liked the terrain on cross-country. I think that this course flowed so well, and it was great to see the views,” said Fouché, who’s been involved with horses and Pony Club since she was a teen.
Fouché hadn’t been to the horse center in more than 12 years. “It was such a spectator and competitor friendly event! I’d never taken Posh in a coliseum like this before, and I felt like gladiators were going to be in there. But she’s so incredibly careful; she didn’t bat an eye,” said Fouché.
Fouché and her teammates have trained with coach Kathy Faulk for many years, and teammate Anne Wilson has been with Faulk for nearly two decades, since she was 13.
“I work full-time at a bank, so Kathy rides my horse for me a few times a week, since I only ride on the weekends. I’ve been blessed with this once-in-a-lifetime horse, and he tolerates me so well. I’m lucky he’s so willing and has such a great work ethic,” said Wilson, who imported the 7-year-old Irish Sporthorse, Ringwood Casino, two years ago, sight unseen.
The gelding, sired by Kasmayo, was bred at the same farm, Ringwood Stud, as Ringwood Cockatoo, Bettina Hoy’s Olympic and World Championship mount.
“It’s such a thrill to be on a team with a group of close friends and a trainer who holds our group together. We competed at the Area III Championships this past August and all placed really well, so we decided to head up here and see how we’d do,” said Wilson, who boards her horse at the same barn as Fouché in Ridgeway, S.C.
Wilson also won the Area III “Who I Am Makes A Difference Award,” a type of sportsmanship award, for helping to raise money for Debbie Atkinson, who sustained serious injuries at the Kentucky Classic Horse Trials in September.
Another long-time friend and member of the winning novice team was Abbie Jones and her gelding N 26 Degrees. After having been started by Mike Winter, the 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood-Thoroughbred gelding was donated to the Georgia Southern University’s riding program. He’d evented through the intermediate level but was having problems on cross-country with his last owner.
Jones began leasing the gelding two years ago and has been working on rebuilding his confidence on cross-country. “We pretty much had to start back at ground zero and work our way back up, but he’s just gotten better and better. He’s a closed-up horse, sort of aloof and not very affectionate. But lately he’s really started to open up and have a bond again and really come out of his shell,” said Jones.
She thought they accomplished many goals this weekend, despite a run-out on cross-country. “He was really psyched up in warm-up and got a little strong, so we had some steering issues. I should’ve thought a little bit harder about my line to the ditch, and I ended up overshooting it. We did, however, have an awesome dressage test, which is something we’ve been working on improving,” said Jones, who works at a chemical company.
Danielle Hewitt, the fourth Desperate Horse-wife, rode her flashy pinto Oldenburg gelding Mardi Gras to a stunning score of 20.0 in dressage and carried her lead until the final phase.
On Sunday she lost her first-placed individual position after pulling a rail and obtaining a single time fault in show jumping. Hewitt and her gelding, sired by Rainbow, had a successful season, winning the Poplar Place Farm Horse Trials (Ga.) in June and also gaining the fifth-placed ribbon out of 72 entries at the American Eventing Championships (N.C.) in September.
Riding For A Good Cause
The Area II Eventers For The Cure team snagged the training level win, closely beating out the Area VIII team.
Franz-Hahr Phillips and her 18-year-old gelding Duke Of Earl, won the division with her score of 38.0. Though her teammate Karen Rubin obtained the same score, Phillips was closer to the optimum time on cross-country.
Phillips, who’s had the 3/4-Thoroughbred–1/4-Percheron gelding for nine years, is perfectly happy to stay at training level. “He knows his job, but he’s not a packer. He takes good care of me, but we’re still learning about dressage,” said Phillips.
Duke Of Earl won the Virginia Horse Trials in the spring, and they’ve competed at the AECs for the past three years at the training level. Phillips has trained at the Sandy River Equestrian Center in Martinsville, Va., for 12 years and is also the facility’s program manager.
The team came up with their name because a friend of theirs was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. “She had to withdraw from the competition, so we’re riding for her,” said team member Patricia Weston. Team coach and owner of Sandy River Equestrian Center, Suzanne Lacy, is also a three-year breast cancer survivor.
Weston ended up fourth on her hot, off-the-track Thoroughbred Lighthouse, posting a solid dressage score of 39.5, but incurring 3 time penalties in show jumping.
“I got him three years ago and started him at beginner novice. He’s had a good confidence-building weekend, and I’d say that his dressage test was very good for a tense horse. The cross-country was fun, and it definitely had some good, tough questions. It was a great, forward-riding course, and excellent for someone looking to move up. Show jumping had been difficult for us, but I was extremely proud of how well he went,” said Weston, 39, of Stewartsville, N.J.
Weston, who’s competed at the ATCs two other times, also rode on a novice team on her Thoroughbred gelding, Actin Time.
Rubin won second place on her 3/4-Thoroughbred–1/4-Percheron gelding South-ern Dancer, affectionately known as “Big Buddy Rubin.”
Rubin acquired the big gelding from Phillip Dutton, with whom she used to train, three years ago. She gave the horse the summer off, having just begun working a young horse. After leading the dressage, Rubin slipped to second place after brushing a rail in the final phase.
“I pulled a rail in stadium for no reason; it just happens,” said Rubin, 45, of Kennett Square, Pa.
Rubin said the ATC was her end-of-the-year goal. “We used to do the Gladstone Team Trials at the [U.S. Equestrian Team] grounds [N.J.], and they were so much fun,” said Rubin, who juggles being a full-time small animal vet with riding and family. “My 5-year-old daughter rides my retired event horse.”
Rubin thought the organization of the event was fantastic. “The attention to detail was great; it really made you feel important,” said Rubin.
Lora Watkins, the fourth member of the team, was pleased with her Irish Sporthorse Carlingford Beau, even though they were eliminated on cross-country. “I think a lot of it had to do with bad rider presentation; I think additional mental training is needed,” said Watkins with a laugh.
The personable bay gelding redeemed himself on Sunday by posting a double-clear round over the technical show jumping course.
Watkins, who works full-time at a pharmaceutical company, has ridden with Weston for practically a decade, and met her other teammates through the Area II website. “They’re just a really great, supportive group,” said Watkins, 42, of Landsdale, Pa.
United For The Win
The Area VIII team of United We Stand stood as the clear winners in the preliminary division, beating out two other Area II teams.
“It was incredible, such a neat team experience. The Virginia Horse Center really rolled out the red carpet, giving us tack stalls and the team dinner. We went to the Midsouth Team Challenge in Kentucky, and it seemed like just another event; this one really had a special feel to it,” said Christine Labuzan, a member of the winning team. Labuzan also serves as the cross-country chairman for the Indiana Eventing Association.
Labuzan bought her gelding Antares sight unseen in 1999 from Phyllis Dawson. “I must have been completely crazy; I was eight months pregnant,” said Labuzan.
Though she’d competed in hunters when she was younger, she hadn’t ridden in nearly 10 years prior to buying the Thoroughbred-Irish Draught. The “super horse” became Labuzan’s first event horse and even survived colic surgery three years ago.
“He’s my security blanket,” said Labuzan with a laugh.
Though Antares and Labuzan made it around the challenging cross-country course with mere time penalties, it wasn’t easy. “He’s not acclimated to hills, and he’s built a little downhill, so he’s not naturally balanced. Since this was a very twisty, turny course I spent a large part of the time trying to keep him on his feet. But he jumped great; he had his radar on the whole time,” said Labuzan, who won the event last fall.
The Indiana native also competed her young New Zealand Thoroughbred On The Mark on the second-placed training level team with Katie Atkinson, her teammate on the preliminary team as well.
Atkinson and her Irish Sporthorse Gee Force, owned by George and Diane Lucas, finished fourth individually in the preliminary division, helping to push her team to the win. Atkinson, who found her teammates only a week prior to the event, was thrilled to be on the team, though she warned them that it was her first preliminary event with the gelding.
Gee Force pleased Atkinson, 25, with his solid cross-country performance. “He’s an incredible horse and very opinionated. I made some green mistakes on cross-country, but he doesn’t hold it against me. He can be strong and a little spooky, but it’s mostly all talk. He likes to play around, and he’s such a great horse to learn on,” said Atkinson, who’s only been riding the gelding for seven months. She hopes to be able to compete in a one-star next year.
In Southern Pines, N.C., Atkinson rides with her husband, Dale Wright, who competes in the jumpers. Though this was her first ATC, Atkinson was pleased with the team atmosphere and the coaching they received by Mark Combs, who’s been the Area VIII coach for seven years.
“Mark gave me so much confidence; he’s so knowledgeable and friendly, he really took the time to help us out. I couldn’t say enough about him,” said Atkinson.
The third member of the preliminary team, Shannon Risner, appreciated Combs’ dedication and support. “When I came out of show jumping, I was upset, and Mark was so great with his kind words that he had me smiling in a few minutes,” said Risner, who incurred jumping and time faults in the final phase.
After struggling with a bit change, Risner and her off-the-track Thoroughbred Rudy had some issues to work out on cross-country. “He can be a little cheeky and he likes to go fast, but he’s such an incredible little horse. We had a bit change this year, and we just felt a little out of sync. We had a couple of run-outs and he still fought with me a little bit, but I think it felt better. We’re getting our confidence back,” said Risner.
No strangers to the challenging course, Risner and her 15.2-hand gelding won the horse trials in the spring of 2005.
Risner, who’s also the Area VIII Adult Rider Coordinator, has competed in the ATCs for six years and was on the winning preliminary team at the Central ATC last year.