Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

MacDonald’s Mounts Make Waves At A Wet Wellpride AEC

The local rider pulls off a brilliant one-two finish in the championships.


The local rider pulls off a brilliant one-two finish in the championships.

Tera MacDonald’s short drive home from the 2007 Wellpride American Eventing Championships was tinged with bittersweet disappointment, but the sense of satisfaction she felt after this year’s competition, held Sept. 9-14 at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Ill., was twice as strong.

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This time MacDonald, Chicago, Ill., pulled a one-two finish in the novice horse division with a pair of horses at vastly different ends of the experience spectrum. Savvant, a 13-year-old Trakehner gelding with a preliminary-level past, won on a dressage score of 23.2, but MacDonald’s up-and-coming horse, the 5-year-old Thoroughbred-Hanoverian gelding La Tee Da, was close behind with just 25.8 points. Both horses are owned by MacDonald’s mother-in-law, Cheryl Quick.

“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type horse for me,” MacDonald said of La Tee Da, nicknamed “Miro.” She helped breed the gelding herself. “It was kind of an experiment, and it sure has turned out well so far.”

At last year’s AEC, MacDonald was winning the open beginner novice division with Miro but switched her status to hors concours on the final day after learning that, having ridden at the preliminary level with another horse, she was technically overqualified for the division. More specific qualification guidelines and separate divisions for horses, amateurs and juniors were added at this year’s competition, but MacDonald said she still double-checked her entries.

“I made sure to enter the novice horse division,” she said with a laugh. “I feel very proud of all the effort I’ve made. It feels good. I guess I came back with a vengeance!”

In the young horse championship held on Tuesday, Miro also claimed his second reserve championship in as many years (see sidebar). MacDonald, who showed hunter/jumpers for 10 years before transitioning to eventing, originally had dreams of competing at the four-star level. But now she’s discovered a particular penchant for young horses.

“I’m just proud of the fact that Miro completed,” MacDonald said. “He had quite a few baby moments on cross-country, and we’re kind of still experimenting with bits. I’m so proud of him, basically because I’ve raised him since he was born.”

MacDonald decided to use the AEC as a tune-up event for Savvant, who was bought as a schoolmaster for her mother-in-law.

“I have a tendency to steal all [Cheryl’s] horses,” MacDonald said, laughing. “He’s probably my favorite horse to ride, but I’ll be handing the reins back over to her eventually.

“He’s like riding a dinosaur,” she continued of the 17.2-hand Trakehner. “He’s Steady Eddie—one that just boosts my confidence level and lets me know that I can do it with the other horses.”

With Savvant wearing bridle No. 1 and therefore being the first horse scheduled in the division, he helped settle MacDonald’s nerves before her rides on Miro. In retrospect, she said she needed the confidence boost.

Holekamp Horses Rake In Young Horse Titles

Timothy and Cheryl Holekamp’s homebred horses earned plenty of accolades at the Spalding Labs/USEA Young Event Horse Championships, held the Tuesday before the AEC. Three different riders from across North America took top honors on their New Spring Farm Trakehner stock.

Canadian Samantha Clark, the youngest rider in the 5-year-old championship, showcased her Holekamp-bred Asterion, a gray Trakehner gelding (Windfall II—Asteria). The 20-year-old rider from Cambridge, Ont., bought the 16-hand gelding from Darren Chiacchia two years ago when she became his working student.

The win came as a surprise to Clark, who defeated several veteran riders, Chiacchia included. Asterion’s stellar jumping
form in the final phase, which was postponed several hours to allow the cross-country course to dry after Monday’s heavy rains, catapulted him to a score of 84.21 points.

“I was just hoping to get in the dressage ring and make some improvements on things and then have a nice, bold jump course,” she said. “It was just a great day.”

Clark winters in Ocala, Fla., with Chiacchia but stays at home in Ontario in the interim, trailering to Chiacchia’s farm in northern New York for lessons. She also works with dressage trainer Jill Stedman. When not riding, she works as a waitress and helps her dad at his renovation business.

“I’m just a typical teenager,” she said. “It’s been a challenge. We started out at the bottom together. We’re learning together and still getting to know each other, but I’m hoping he’ll be my first upper-level horse.”
Clark and her “Smokin’ Silver Bullet” also placed 13th in the amateur training division of the AEC.

In the 4-year-old division, British professional Leslie Law emerged the winner with Amarna, a 16.1-hand Trakehner mare, with a score of 81.48. Owned and bred by the Holekamps, Amarna (Amethyst— Actress) came to Law and his wife, Canadian eventer Lesley Grant-Law, in April for training.

“She’s got a great temperament and nice movement,” Law said. “She’s a very quality mare. I’m absolutely delighted for [the Holekamps]. They’re great supporters of the sport. Breeding is a long-term plan.”

Law, whose mount All The Buzz won the 2007 5-year-old reserve championship and has since embarked on an impressive winning streak, is a proponent of the Young Event Horse series. He rode two other horses in this year’s competition—Super Nova, a Thoroughbred owned by Tracy Corey, and his own Irish Thoroughbred, Mad Skillz.


“I’ve always produced my own horses,” he said. “I always did [the young horse programs] in the U.K. as well. They’re slightly different here, but it’s good to be able to introduce these horses to these kind of facilities.”

Close on Law’s heels in the 4-year-old division on a score of 79.33 was California young rider Max McManamy with another Holekamp-bred youngster, Project Runway, a flashy, 15.2-hand Trakehner-Paint cross (Windfall II—Polarschecke).

Chicago rider Tera MacDonald took the reserve 5-year-old title (83.45) with La Tee Da, a bay Thoroughbred-Hanoverian gelding (Judge Sefas—Miss Mikimoto) owned by Cheryl Quick.

“I’ve been so busy this year that I kind of felt like I wasn’t prepared enough to my standards,” MacDonald admitted. “I owe it all to my in-laws. Honestly, I couldn’t do it without them. I have a lot on my plate, and I’m still trying to figure out how to work and be an eventer.”

MacDonald is a national sales representative for Jump 4 Joy show jumps and works as the manager at Finishing Touches Farm, a private facility in Genoa City, Wis., where she gets to ride once a week with local trainer Erin Diserio. She lives in downtown Chicago four days a week and drives across the border every Sunday night for a three-day stint at the farm. Her in-laws help get her 4-year-old son Curtis to school in nearby Lake Geneva.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I’m really an amateur and a mother, and I have full-time jobs, and I was able to be competitive against these top-notch riders,” she said.

MacDonald’s friend, boarder and fellow Diserio student Jamie Marlewski also went home with an AEC win. The 23-year-old medical assistant from Lake Geneva rebounded from a 10th-placed AEC finish last year to top the amateur preliminary division with Sprint Tech.

“He’s an awesome horse,” said Marlewski, who led after the first phase on a score of 29.2. “He always does well in dressage. He’s a nice mover, and he likes to strut and show off.”

Through her former trainer Leslie Chelstrom, Marlewski found the gray off-the-track Thoroughbred six years ago as a 4-year-old. She trained him almost entirely on her own but gets help from Diserio and Kenneth Dierks.

Because of the heavy rains, cross-country for the upper levels was canceled (see sidebar), so Marlewski’s victory came in the form of a combined test. She was thrilled with her horse’s performance in the sloppy conditions. The pair pulled one rail but held on to the win by just 1 point.

“At Maui Jim [Ill.] we moved up to intermediate, and that scared him a lot,” Marlewski admitted. “After that he was stopping at fences, so I dropped him down to training. I was really nervous going into stadium [here] because he stopped a couple times in warm-up. That’s our most nerve-wracking phase, so I was very happy.”

This year’s AEC marks MacDonald and Marlewski’s two-year anniversary as friends. The two Midwesterners met at the 2006 championships in Southern Pines, N.C., when MacDonald gave Marlewski and her horse a ride home to Wisconsin.

“We’ve been friends ever since,” MacDonald said.

“My Rolex And My Olympics”

Annie Desmond wouldn’t have undertaken the four-day haul from Sebastopol, Calif., if she hadn’t been convinced she could be competitive in the amateur beginner novice division. After hearing about the AEC several years ago, Desmond made the 2008 competition her ultimate goal.

So the 47-year-old dog trainer was ecstatic when her “crazy dream” ended with a championship title, earned with her partner of four years, a Hanoverian mare named Britannica.

“It seems like this is my Rolex and my Olympics,” said Desmond, who led the competition from start to finish on her dressage score of 27.0. “I’ve been training for this for so long.

“I thought we’d be somewhere in the top five after the dressage,” she continued. “I felt like we were really prepared and did a good job. Cross-country was one of my best rides, and in the stadium she was super. After every fence I felt like saying, ‘Yes! This is great!’ ”

Desmond trains Seeing Eye and search and rescue dogs, but “Brit” is her first horse.

“I can train a dog with my eyes closed, but training a horse has been a whole new and different thing,” Desmond said. “Brit is just a really gracious, kind horse. We’re both kind of green, but we totally grew up together.”

Desmond purchased Brit as a 6-year-old broodmare, and despite a lack of eventing training, she turned out to be the perfect amateur horse. Desmond had no equine experience of her own at the time but credited her veterinarian Sue Buxton with fostering her interest in horses.

“She had all these pictures from jumping events all over her waiting room wall in her office, and I would just stand mesmerized, staring at them,” Desmond recalled.

Buxton took Desmond under her wing and helped her find Brit four years ago, and the pair qualified for and traveled to the AEC together (Buxton placed seventh in the novice horse division with Leap Of Faith XI).
Desmond now trains with Northern California trainer Matt Brown, who took a week off work to coach her.

“He was so completely understanding when I had this crazy dream, and everyone else at the barn kind of laughed at me,” Desmond said of Brown.


The Wellpride “AESeas”—Wetter Than Ever

While blue skies and fluffy white clouds graced northern Illinois midweek, remnants of Hurricane Ike moved into the area at the height of AEC competition, depositing more than 8 inches of rain on the Chicago area within three days.

Portions of local Interstates and O’Hare International Airport were closed due to flooding, and at Lamplight Equestrian Center, the sponsor parking area quickly turned into a lake. Riders eventually re-christened the competition as “the AESeas.”

By mid-afternoon on Friday, officials had to significantly alter the training cross-country course before the junior division ran, removing jumps, moving portables and even cutting down a shrub or two to optimize safety. But the rain continued endlessly overnight, and by Saturday (which the local newspaper forecasted as being “repugnant”), upper-level cross-country wasn’t even an option.

All divisions at preliminary level and above were scored as combined tests, and despite a few holds for lightning and thunder, the competition wrapped up a full day early with 9 hours of soaked but safe show jumping completed on Saturday.

“It’s so wonderful that the USEA designed this championship,” Brown said. “It’s perfect for students like Annie. She doesn’t want to go advanced, but she wants to do the best she can and test herself at the level where she is. I’m so happy she had this opportunity.”

Aldrich Antes Up

Last year Kate Aldrich’s mount turned up lame just before shipping to the AEC, spoiling her plan to vie for her first national title. So when she and William Don’t Tell topped the junior training division this year, the win tasted especially sweet.

“Will” came to Aldrich a year ago on loan from Virginia Coulter while her regular mount recuperated, a move that led to a year-long partnership.

“Virginia loves to watch him go as much as she likes riding him herself,” said Aldrich, 17. “She never misses a lesson.”

The chestnut off-the-track Thoroughbred had already competed through training level with Aldrich’s former coach Tom Mansmann. Aldrich recently started riding with Mara Dean, whom she credited with elevating her and Will to excellence in the dressage arena.

“He was very challenging as a young horse—definitely a red-headed Thoroughbred,” said Aldrich. “Mara’s really helped me relax my arm and use my leg and seat.”

Dean found a kindred soul in Aldrich: another eventer who appreciated plenty of drilling on the flat. “We’re both kind of perfectionists,” said Dean. “She works very hard and tries very hard. It’s nice to see someone that young who’s so focused, with so much natural talent.”

Aldrich’s extra work paid off at Lamplight, where she and Will logged their best dressage score to date (24.7) and added nothing to finish on their original mark. The pair put in the cross-country run of their career, despite a half-hour hold right before their ride time to evaluate the soggy course and modify a few fences.

“I just put on the biggest studs I had, and off we went,” said Aldrich. “He was kind of wild after warming up the second time, but once we started he went great. The changes they made to the course really helped.”

During the academic year, Aldrich splits her time between her family’s farm in Huntly, Va., and the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Va., where she competes on the eventing and equitation teams. Aldrich got her start in the saddle in foxhunting and at hunter shows, then caught the eventing bug four years ago from Kim Keppick. After several successful horse trials this spring, including her first go at preliminary, Aldrich took much of the summer off from eventing to bone up on her dressage at local shows.

AEC Tidbits

•    Leslie Law and Fleeceworks Mystere du Val captured the $4,500 top check in the advanced division, finishing on their dressage score of 28.8. “He just keeps getting more and more secure,” said Law, who has ridden the 8-year-old Selle Français gelding for owners Beatrice and Guy Rey-Herme since November.

•    After the top two riders faltered, a double-clear show jumping round boosted 14-year-old Arden Wildasin, Greenwich, Conn., and I’m Happy As Larry to the junior/young rider preliminary title (31.3).

•    In the training horse division, Mara Dean cashed in with Tracy Taylor’s Casino on her dressage mark of 26.3. The pair ran cross-country during the worst of Saturday’s deluge, but the sometimes-spooky gelding stayed focused to put in his best run yet. “Everyone loves him,” Dean said of the 7-year-old. “I took him to Wellington [Fla.] this winter, and the dressage riders wanted him, the show jumpers wanted him—Laura Kraut absolutely loved him—but we think he wants to be an event horse.”

•    A foot-perfect show jumping round bumped Lisa Mendell and Ripplin’ Waters from third to first in the beginner novice horse division (29.0). Mendell, Flint Hill, Va., was especially thrilled with the win, as the AEC was only the 7-year-old Thoroughbred’s third recognized competition.

•    Becky Holder won the intermediate title with Ann Bower’s Rejuvenate. The two women share the ride on the 10-year-old Oldenburg-Thoroughbred at the intermediate level, but Holder is currently preparing the gelding for his advanced debut.

Kat Netzler and Mollie Bailey




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