She’s done it. Until Nov. 6, the ASPCA Maclay Finals was the one major equitation final that Brianne Goutal hadn’t collected. But that all changed in Syracuse, N.Y.,when she concluded the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament with the blue ribbon that completed her resume.
With the victory, Goutal became the first rider to win all four major equitation titles. She won the USET Show Jumping Talent Search-East (N.J.) and the Washington International Equitation Classic Finals (D.C.) in 2004, and then she added the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals (Pa.) in October.
But she really had to fight for this score.
Standing fifth going into the second over fences round, she knew she had to outdo herself. “When I walked the second course, I saw lots of places for different rides—and a chance to show off,” she said. “We came up with a plan, and I tried to do all the inside turns and leave out all the strides I could. My horse was brilliant—I couldn’t have asked any more of him.”
In the riders’ meeting before the Maclay finals, judges George Morris and Susie Humes had made it clear what they were looking for.
“Don’t be afraid to show off. Use your imagination on course, because brilliance gets bonus points. Not reckless brilliance, but natural brilliance. Don’t be a sheep,” Morris admonished the riders.
And Goutal delivered. “She went for it in the second round. You have to take a chance to win, just like you would have to do in an international championship,” Morris said.
While Goutal’s second-round trip was indicative of her forward riding, light touch and confident attitude, her first round wasn’t quite up to her normal standard. After a tight rollback to a narrow white vertical, her horse, Logan, rolled the rail out of the cups.
“After I had the rail, I knew I couldn’t be conservative for the rest of the trip. I tried to really hand gallop the single oxer,” said Goutal.
Called back in fourth for the flat phase, Goutal wasn’t optimistic.
“I’m not really the best on the flat. I got moved down a little there [to fifth], but I was expecting that,” she said.
But when Frank Madden, who trains Goutal along with the rest of the Beacon Hill team of Stacia Madden, Krista Freundlich and Max Amaya, walked the second-round course, a glimmer of hope appeared.
“When I saw there were so many options on course, I said, ‘Now we’re in a position to capitalize on this.’ We had nothing to lose,” said Madden. “After I watched Brianne go, I walked away from the in-gate and said, ‘Wow, what an incredible ride.’ She took all the risks to win and pulled it off. At that point, I wasn’t worried about the ribbons. It was the performance she gave that mattered.”
While Goutal used the second round to catapult herself into first, Julie Welles saw her chances of a win slip away in that round. After a wonderfully flowing first round put her on top, Welles kept that lead after the flatwork portion.
But her second round didn’t have quite the flow of her first trip, and on one tight rollback to a vertical, her horse, Lando, tripped. The break in rhythm was enough to disrupt Welles’ striding to that vertical–just three strides away–and she wasn’t able to find the distance she wanted. Morris and Humes slid her down to fifth when the ribbons were handed out.
“I just went in with the attitude that I wanted to ride the best I could,” said Welles. “My horse was pretty tired because it was his fourth big final this fall. It was unfortunate that he tripped and I had to add the stride, but it happened. I was a little disappointed, but I’ve had an amazing fall, so I can’t complain too much.”
Welles won the USET Show Jumping Talent Search-East (N.J.) and the Washington International Equitation Classic Finals (D.C.), and placed third in the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals (Pa.). Now 17, she has another year for a bid at the Medal and Maclay titles.
Josephine Nash also had the second round work against her. Nash stood third after the flat phase, but a conservative ride in the second round–including outside turns and a tentative approach to the first fence–knocked her all the way down to 10th.
The only rider to maintain her standing the entire day and avoid the call-back rollercoaster was Kacey McCann. Morris and Humes put her second after the first round, and she stayed there all day, putting in solid performance after solid performance in her first Maclay Finals.
“This was a big surprise, and so much more than I could have hoped for,” said McCann, just 15. “I really just came here to have personal success–just getting a ribbon was more than I hoped for. To be second is unbelievable.”
McCann, whose mother runs a riding school in Palmyra, Pa., is a working student for trainers Susie Schoellkopf and Jennifer Alfano at
their SBS Stables in Buffalo, N.Y. She shows catch rides and works hard in the barns.
“She’s a role model for all the other kids in the barn. She’s always in the barn working. I think she’s a very talented child,” said Schoellkopf.
McCann’s triumph was all the more rewarding since she’s only ridden her mount for the finals, Marcellus, for two months. She got the ride on the black gelding when former owner Stephanie Danhakl donated him to the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, where Schoellkopf runs her SBS Stables. “She and Jennifer [Alfano] have done an amazing job with that horse, who is not the easiest ride,” said Schoellkopf.
Adjusting to Marcellus quickly wasn’t hard for McCann, who’s made a name for herself as a junior catch rider. She won a division of the Junior Hunter Finals-East this summer and two HITS Ocala Winter Circuit junior hunter circuit championships on catch rides. McCann has moved to Buffalo to train full-time with Schoellkopf and Alfano.
While McCann maintained her second place, Jessica Speiser fought her way up to third after placing only 19th in the first round. But beautiful riding on the flat, with a classic, relaxed position, impressed Morris and Humes so much that they moved her up to seventh going into the second round. And then a solid trip vaulted her into the yellow ribbon.
Speiser, who trains with Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm, won the CK Equitation Classic at the Hampton Classic (N.Y.) this summer, but “the other finals hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped,” she said.
Sloane Coles, who was second behind Goutal in the Medal and second behind Welles in the USET Finals and the WIEC Finals in October, made a few small but costly mistakes. In the first round, she missed a lead change behind for a few strides before a rollback turn. She was called back sixth for the flat phase, and the judges kept her there after the flatwork. But the same left-to-right lead change eluded her again for two strides on another tight turn on the second course, and Humes and Morris put her eighth.
Hardin Towell began the day with a beautifully flowing round over the first course, putting him third. But Towell’s horse was consistently behind the bit on the flat and looked a bit stiff, dropping him to ninth. But another smooth, forwardly ridden round bumped him back up to fourth.
Lauren Hester, who used the flat phase to advance from 10th to fourth, had a few major problems over the second course. She knocked a block off the top of the brick wall, then found a very deep distance into the one-stride combination. Another deep distance to a vertical helped drop her from the top 10 entirely.
Addison Phillips rode a lovely second round to move up from 10th after the flat to sixth. And Maggie McAlary climbed from 23rd after the first round, to 10th after the flat, and then into seventh place.
No Chance To Take A Breath
Without a doubt, the first-round course of the ASPCA Maclay Finals really separated the riders. It looked pretty basic on paper, but it thoroughly tested all the skills.
The course, designed by judges George Morris and Susie Humes, began over a solid wall covered in ivy, with no rails or wings. Quite a few horses took a hard look at this fence, and many riders didn’t ride it aggressively enough.
From there, riders had to roll back 180 degrees over an oxer, then turn left at the end of the ring to ride a line across the diagonal–an oxer, followed in a very long three strides by a narrow white vertical, then a tight three strides to an airy oxer.
Riders then had to make a sharp rollback out of the end of the ring to negotiate a skinny white, wingless vertical set just two strides off the rail. Another rollback to the left brought another short approach to a skinny white vertical. Next they had to negotiate another hairpin, right-handed turn of 180 degrees at the short end of the ring, then accelerate to hand-gallop a long approach to the same oxer they jumped as fence 2.
A tight left-handed turn brought them to a vertical, followed by a bending six strides to an oxer-oxer one-stride combination, on a short, bending approach.
With a 90-degree right turn, they finished over a single vertical just four bending strides later. The questions came thick and fast on the course, with no room for breathers.
The second-round course was more flowing and contained many striding and turning options. This course gave the riders a chance to make their own plan and ride either conservatively or take chances and show off.