Friday, May. 31, 2024

Guthrie Attains An Ideal At The Bit Of Britain/USEA American Eventing Championships

Traveling across the country for her first AEC, this adult amateur comes full circle with her homebred gelding, Ideal Life.

Amateur rider Ellen Guthrie felt some butterflies in her stomach when she went to tack up Ideal Life for show jumping on the final day of the Bit Of Britain/USEA American Eventing Championships. The 54-year-old rider from Park City, Utah, was leading the 29-horse field in the amateur beginner novice rider division and didn’t have a rail in hand.



Traveling across the country for her first AEC, this adult amateur comes full circle with her homebred gelding, Ideal Life.

Amateur rider Ellen Guthrie felt some butterflies in her stomach when she went to tack up Ideal Life for show jumping on the final day of the Bit Of Britain/USEA American Eventing Championships. The 54-year-old rider from Park City, Utah, was leading the 29-horse field in the amateur beginner novice rider division and didn’t have a rail in hand.

But when she opened her stall door, she found Ideal Life, her 6-year-old homebred gelding, living up to his moniker, in the midst of a Sunday snooze.

“He’s flat out, snoring in his stall, shavings in his braids,” said Guthrie. “I finally get him up, and he sits like a dog for at least 30 seconds. I’m like, ‘Come on, ‘Jack!’ We have somewhere we need to be!’ ”

An hour later, having finally roused Jack from his slumber, Guthrie was leading the victory gallop at Lamplight Equestrian Center. She finished the weekend of Sept. 10-13 on her dressage score of 26.5, making her two-day drive to Wayne, Ill., worth the trip.

“It was just too much fun,” she said. “This is a dream come true.”

Guthrie grew up in Wyoming and rode western occasionally, but her eventing dreams didn’t begin until later in life when her daughter, Taylor Harris, started competing. Soon, mother was getting daughter’s horse hand-me-downs, who would “tolerate her beginnerism.”

In 2001, one of Harris’ horses, a “backyard Thoroughbred” mare named Guinivere, was out of commission with a torn suspensory. But that December, Guthrie attended the U.S. Combined Training Association (now U.S. Eventing Association) annual meeting and convention in Portland, Ore., and one of the items offered in the silent auction there was a breeding to the Oldenburg stallion Ideal.

“I was drinking wine, having fun with girlfriends,” Guthrie said, laughing. “And I went, ‘Oh, let’s breed this mare!’ So I bid on this breeding, and I won.

“It was the first time I’d ever bred a horse,” she continued. “I was just shooting in the dark. I had no idea what to do or how to do it, and I got this lovely guy. It was, I think, just meant to be.”

Guthrie called her colt Jack after her father, and in keeping with the tradition of Ideal’s offspring being given I-names, she registered him as Ideal Life, “because I kind of have an ideal life.”

She started Jack herself, then sent him as a 4-year-old to Jonathan and Suzy Elliot’s Aspen Farms in Yelm, Wash., to compete in his first few events. She began eventing the dapple gray later that year, and they now travel to Colorado, California, Montana and Washington to compete year-round.

“He’s just come along so well, and he’s been so easy,” she said. “He’s a fabulous little guy.”

Jack placed second in the dressage at the AECs, and when the leaders posted some time penalties on cross-country, Guthrie moved into first place. Having ridden her other beginner novice mount, Sonofagun, first, she knew how to make the time with Jack.

“I went out of the start gate thinking, ‘OK, no big turns. We’re going to cut the corners, we’re going to balance, and we’re going to go forward,’ ” she said. “And he just stepped up to it like a little trouper. He was very keen on every fence and didn’t put a foot wrong.”


With the help of her local coach, Lindsay Wagner, Guthrie has been schooling Jack for the move up to training level, so she worried on Sunday that he might not respect the smaller beginner novice show jumps. But the gray gelding put in a flawless performance that left his rider beaming as she exited the arena.

“I thought I would do well at the AECs, but the win was just unbelievably magical,” Guthrie said. “With my dad in my hip pocket, I just started crying. It’s just been a magical year, and this was just the icing on the cake.”

In her spare time, Guthrie has served as the Area IX young rider coordinator and adult rider co-coordinator, and she runs eventing camps and clinics across the west. A registered nurse, she also works part-time at a surgical center.

“It’s very flexible,” she said, noting that she’s able to schedule weeks off for training travel. “Because of the economy, people were choosing not to have their surgeries done, so then we were cut back, but it was kind of fortuitous in that. My pocketbook didn’t like it, but I loved it!”

Guthrie also serves as a pet therapy volunteer in hospitals with her Golden Retriever, Jackson, who incidentally won the dog costume contest at the AEC for his duck hunter get-up consisting of camouflage pants, a John Deere hat and a fishing vest.

 A New Beginning

Another 6-year-old dapple gray gelding also took a championship back to Area IX, as Tazzmania topped the junior training division with 17-year-old rider Julia Spatt.

A high school senior from Centennial, Colo., Spatt had been in a tie for third place (31.1) since the dressage phase, but the scores were extremely tight. When the two riders ahead of her dropped a rail apiece in show jumping, she emerged tied for the lead with Michelle Mercier and Prufrock.

That tie eventually broke in Spatt’s favor and sent her home to Colorado with several giant rosettes, a trailer full of loot and a check for $1,000.

After almost making it to the North American Junior and Young Riders Championships last year and then losing her preliminary-level horse over the winter, the win came as a big confidence boost for Spatt. She’s been riding “Tazz” for five months, and her hopes for a championship team are resting on him.

“He’s young, so I was just really hoping for a clear round, and we got one,” Spatt said on Sunday. “I decided to come to the AECs because it’s my goal to go to young riders next year, and I wanted to have a goal for this year.”

Before heading to Ohio on a college visitation tour this spring, Spatt scoured the Internet for young sale horses to look at on the way. She found Tazz, an off-the-track Thoroughbred, with Jeffrey and Holly Taylor at their Blue Ridge Farm near Cleveland.

The pair clicked instantly, and Spatt hopes that after the NAJYRC she’ll be able to return to the Buckeye State with Tazz in tow next fall.

“I’m interested in going to Otterbein College, because they have a really good equestrian program, and they actually have an eventing team,” Spatt explained. “And I do want to take [Tazz] to college if we can afford it. I’ve been riding since I was 6 years old and eventing for five years. My mom is really supportive and drives us everywhere. She’s always willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.”

Spatt, who trains with John Staples of Windermere Stables in Wichita, Kan., will move Tazz up to preliminary following the AEC.


Two For The Money

Trainer Chrissy Hollnagel is accustomed to riding several horses at each event she enters, so traveling to the AEC from Wil-low Run Stables in Mequon, Wis., with only two mounts was a leisurely venture.

But Hollnagel certainly made the most of her comparatively limited time in the saddle, winning the novice horse division with Sherry Hohn’s Saki and placing second in the open intermediate with her own Harlan’s Flight.

“I kind of talked Sherry into letting me bring Saki, so I’m glad it went so well!” Hollnagel said, laughing.

Hohn, a student of Hollnagel’s, found Saki in Florida 11⁄2 years ago, and she’ll be taking over the ride after the AECs. Hollnagel helped her work the green kinks out, showing the 7-year-old U.S.-bred Holsteiner mare twice last year and twice this season.

“I don’t get to ride a lot of warmbloods, so that was part of the reason I talked Sherry into letting me bring her here,” she said. “I knew she actually had a shot at putting in a really good dressage test. She’s much fancier, much showier than the horses that I normally ride.”

Saki did indeed excel in the dressage, placing second with a 26.3. She moved into the lead with a double-clear round on cross-country and never looked back, topping the 39 other horses in her division.

“Mares tend to be a little bit more dramatic and a little bit flighty, but Saki’s probably the least-mareish mare I’ve ever ridden,” Hollnagel said. “She’s really tough. Sherry actually described her as a tomboy the other day, and I thought that was perfect.”

Hollnagel prefaced her Sunday win with a second-placed finish on Saturday with “Harley,” following a meteoric rise up the leaderboard.

The 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Houston—Baby On The Way) took some time off last winter after surgery to repair a fractured splint bone, but this summer he’s been competing at the advanced level. That, however, means working on flying changes, so some tension in the intermediate test’s difficult counter-canter serpentines put Harley in 12th place after the dressage at the AEC.

No one made the time on cross-country on Friday, but Hollnagel posted one of the fastest rounds in her division, moving all the way up to third.

“I’m always riding off-the-track Thor-oughbreds who have to move up after the jumping phases,” she said. “I went about as fast as I could safely.”

Speed also propelled the division’s eventual winners, Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda, from 10th place up to second, but most riders added double-digit time faults to their scores.

“I didn’t feel like there was anywhere I could have gone any faster, and I came in 5 seconds over,” Hollnagel said. “I’ve been here a lot, so I have a lot of confidence in my lines. I walked the course three times and really knew where I wanted to go, and I just about ran into some trees getting it done. But I still did what I needed to do to make the fences good.”

Harley’s double-clear show jumping round on Saturday clinched the red ribbon after leaders Phillip Dutton and Wild Tiger lowered two rails and dropped to fifth.




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