Tessa Downey topped a field of 150 riders Sunday to win the Palm Beach International Academy North American Junior Equitation Championship, the equitation finale at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
After a callback for the top 20 and a work-off for the top two, the 18-year-old from Houston emerged victorious, while Maddie Tosh, 17, of Milton, Georgia, reserve champion, and Amira Kettaneh, 18, of Hollis, New Hampshire, rode to third.
Three panels composed of two judges each awarded scores, and the average of the three resulted in the rider’s overall mark. The first panel was made up of Mark Jungherr and Michael Tokaruk. Mark Bone and Chris Wynne sat on the second panel, and the third duo was Jeff Ayers and Virginia Edwards. Ken Krome was the mastermind behind the courses with assistance from Meghan Rawlins.
In the first round, Downey led the way with the high score of 91.66 aboard Efendi, a 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Ephebe F. Ever—Legende IX), owned by Ashland Farms, who, among the numerous accolades on his resume, also won this class with Grady Lyman in the irons in 2018. As the top 20 riders returned in reverse order based on their first-round scores, Downey was last to contest the second-round track, earning an equally impressive score of 92 for a two-round total of 183.66.
“Every phase started on the right lead, which just so happened to be our strong suit and something I’m grateful for, because pace is something I’ve always struggled with,” said Downey, who rides on the equestrian team at the University of Georgia. “One word I’d use to describe Efendi is ‘magician.’ He is amazing. He is able to cover up minute mistakes and make everything blend together. The courses starting on the right lead really helped with that.”
Coming back just before Downey was Tosh, who rode Betsee Parker’s Daktari 38 to the highest mark of round two, a 92.66, for an overall score of 182.66.
“Going into the second round, I had nothing to lose at that point,” said Tosh, who trains with her dad, top hunter rider Hunt Tosh, along with the team at North Run. “It was everything or nothing, so I just went for it, and he was great.”
Because Downey and Tosh were separated by less than two points, judges asked them to ride one final test over fences, which included a trot jump, counter-canter, and hand gallop to the last fence. In the end, it was Downey who was awarded the championship honors.
“Before the test, I saw Maddie’s score was really close to mine,” Downey said of her friend’s results. “I thought about how I’ve seen her test on previous occasions, and I’ve seen the horse she was riding. I know her horse is amazing, and I know the amazing team behind her, but I think it was most important that I had confidence in myself, my abilities, my horse and his abilities, and my team, and I thought that really showed in my test.”
Coincidentally, both riders had last-minute wardrobe additions before round two, which seemed to bring them both good luck. For Tosh, it was her now broken hair-tie that her superstitious dad tied onto her pants to keep with her. For Downey, it was a completely new pair of riding pants after she realized she had accidentally gotten boot polish on her original pair. It was last year’s PBIA North American Junior Equitation Championships winner Carlee McCutcheon who pointed out the faux pas to Downey just before the round two course walk. Luckily, with the help of her longtime trainer Peter Pletcher of PJP Farm in Magnolia, Texas, and a friend from Beacon Hill Show Stables, she was able to secure a new pair of clean breeches for the rest of the competition.
“The pants were actually the same brand Carlee was wearing when she won last year, so now they are lucky,” Downey said.
For Downey, this year’s competition marks her last trip to Capital Challenge as a junior competitor.
“This show is incredibly special to me,” she said. “The venue is amazing, because you’re in a true arena, and you have both an indoor and outdoor. The people that come to the show also make it really unique and special. It says a lot about the venue and the quality of competitors that the same competitors come back year, after year, after year.”
Downey was given the Best Equitation Rider Award, sponsored by Karen Healey, and trainer Pletcher was given the Leading Equitation Trainer Award, sponsored by Leslie Steele and Acres West.
Watch their final work-off round, complete with commentary on the lucky breeches, courtesy of ClipMyHorse.TV and USEF Network:
See complete class results here.