Upper Marlboro, Md.—Oct. 27
Ariana Marnell was wiping away tears as she led Babylon to center ring at the Washington International to accept the grand junior hunter championship, and it’s easy to understand why. A few hours earlier she had decided to forgo the National Horse Show (Kentucky) with that horse and Ocean Road and make Washington her last horse show with both small junior hunters.
Together over the last two years they’ve collected championships at every championship show on the circuit, and Marnell decided that there’s nothing left to win.
“Neither horse scored below a 93 [this week],” said Marnell, 17. “I’m not going to ask them to do more when they keep giving and giving 200% every time.”
And what a way to go out. Babylon, an 8-year-old Oldenburg (Crumbie—Die Cera, Balou Du Rouet), finished as champion in the small junior hunter, 16-17, division and Ocean Road claimed the division reserve title. Babylon won two over fences classes on scores of 95, and Ocean Road marked a 95 in today’s stake to edge out his barnmate. Both horses tied for the highest score in the junior hunter divisions.
“I just can’t thank ‘Roady’ and ‘Crumbles’ and [trainer] John [French] enough because what we’ve done with these horses is something I never thought was in the cards for me,” she said. “I think it’s really cool: We obviously bought really crazy talented and athletic horses, but they weren’t this. I think it’s cool to be able to say that we did that, and we trained that, and we got them to that point. I’m only sad because I’ve had so much fun with them and I love showing them. I’m really excited to see what they do next. I’m just so thankful for all they’ve done for me.”
Still she knows it will be hard to say goodbye.
“Both horses really taught me how to win—Roady taught me how to win when no one really knew who I was,” she said. “I’m from Las Vegas and a lot of people said Roady was just a derby horse and he wouldn’t do well in the divisions. After John rode him, a couple months later he said, ‘This is going to be a really good horse.’ He did that when everyone thought he wasn’t a division horse. I’m really proud with how far they’ve come along and I’m really proud to have been a part of that.
“They’re family,” she added. “My brother isn’t that into horses, and he texted me this morning and asked, ‘How’s Greatness One and Two?’ My mom and dad are obsessed with them. They’re our babies and part of our family.”
Marnell said that while Crumbles, the 2022 Chronicle of the Horse show hunter and overall horse of the year, will definitely go on to a new rider, she’s still contemplating whether she might keep riding Roady in hunter derbies for a change of pace. She said that while she’ll still work with French in the equitation ring, she’s going to turn her focus to the jumper ring, working with fellow KPF trainers Claudio Baroni and Kent Farrington.
Propp Closes The Chapter With Arabesque
Clara Propp found the perfect way to end her career in the junior hunters with Arabesque: winning the large junior hunter, 15 and under, championship. Princeton and Paige Walkenbach claimed reserve.
The judges also selected Propp as Best Child Rider on a horse.
Like Marnell and Babylon, Propp has had a spectacular partnership with Aquitaine Equine’s 10-year-old Oldenburg mare (Furstenball—Solar Eclipse). She’s keeping the ride and going to shift her focus to the international hunter derbies. The pair have already had their first outing on the derby field, and while Propp admitted it wasn’t perfect yet, she’s excited for a new challenge with the horse she’s been riding—and winning on—for years.
“This is our third indoors season,” said Propp, 16. “Each one just tops the next. I just couldn’t ask for more. This is actually our last one in the junior hunters because I just decided that she’s done everything for me and doesn’t deserve to keep coming here and doing the same thing. She’s probably bored so we’re ready for something new.
“She likes a forward ride,” she added “She likes to do her thing, so I kind of just stay out of her way and let her do her job and she always does her job and I just have to show up for her. I’m so grateful to have her; she’s really lovely.”
Propp said a major key to her success with “Annie” has been trainer Brianne Goutal, with whom she’s been working for six years.
“She’s helped me with my riding so much,” said Propp, New York City. “I was in the ponies kind of just going around [when we started together.] I didn’t really know too much technique and I think she’s really polished everything up. We just start working on the details and that’s what gets us such good scores because she’s super detail oriented, so she wants everything to be perfect, from the minute I walk in the ring to the minute I exit the ring. It’s all judged.”
Propp has also been stepping up in the high junior jumper ring, riding in her first Prix des States this year at the Pennsylvania National (where they were also champions), and started doing the equitation this year.
“I’m just excited to keep improving and try to perfect something new and I couldn’t have done any of this without Annie,” she said.
Twain Finally Gets His Due
Maddie Tosh and Ceil Wheeler’s Twain have been knocking at the door for a big win for a while, and they finally got it at Washington when they jumped to the large junior hunter, 16-17, championship over Gigi Phillips and Thunderbird.
“This is his first year doing indoors and junior hunters and anything like that,” said Tosh, 17. “So I feel like each indoor he’s gotten better and better and each class he’s gone in he’s taken a breath and gotten better each time. At Capital Challenge I maybe held his hand a little bit. I kind of thought he was going to be greener than he was and really protected him too much, but I feel like here I could really call on him and he was so good.”
Tosh paired up with “Finn” in February after the 8-year-old Hanoverian by Finest had spent a few years in the 3’ and 3’3” green hunter divisions with her father, professional rider Hunt Tosh.
“I’m so grateful for the Wheelers for allowing me to do that,” she said. “It’s such an honor to be able to ride for them and follow in my dad’s footsteps in that sense. They’ve been so great. I showed him the first time and I think we won every class and since then they’ve just been like, ‘He’s yours, go for it.’ ”
Finn is the main hunter for the Milton, Georgia, rider, though she’s been stepping up to do more in both the jumper and equitation rings with help from the North Run team.
“I think stepping into the jumper ring this year has definitely helped my riding a lot,” she said. “It’s helped me go in with more confidence and a more go-get-it attitude. The equitation obviously too really sets up the fundamentals for riding. I think that’s really helped me in the hunters as well.”
Maddie said one of the keys for keeping Finn at the top of his game is keeping his life at home simple.
“We try to keep it pretty laid back for him,” she said. “He goes on a lot of trail rides and he gets ridden in the field. He’s been so good and so easy. He’s really grown up a lot this year. I ride him pretty much every day. He’s my best buddy.”
Mackenzie Shows Off Her Hard Work
Eva Mackenzie has made a lot of progress with Iladin Du Rouet. When they started together they competed in the 2’6” hunters, and they graduated through the ranks over the next three years to capture the small junior hunter, 15 and under, division title at Washington. Evermore and Violet Tatum claimed the reserve division title.
“I got him when he was 7,” Mackenzie said. “He was pretty green and we learned together.
“He’s a very good boy,” she added. “He’s always level. He’s never fresh and he’s nice to learn on.”
Mackenzie, 13, said her biggest challenge heading to Washington was staying calm.
“I was pretty nervous because it’s indoors,” said Mackenzie, Wellington, Florida. “Mostly [the hard part] was managing my nerves and being able to think through the course while managing my nerves.”
She did that beautifully, winning the handy hunter class and today’s stake class to take the championship aboard the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood by Balou du Rouet. She credited that to the hard work she does with French at home.
“I’ve only been with John since April,” she said. “He’s the king. He’s so, so smart. He’s an amazing trainer.
“We work on mostly my position—my hands,” she said. “We work on keeping him straight to the jumps since he shifts a little bit.”
A Perfect Partner
Like Mackenzie, Jessica Gulden and her Washington junior hunter champion, First And Goal, have been partners since they were both quite green.
“I’ve been riding him for almost three years now,” said Gulden of the horse owned by Karen Robinson Dickman. “We started at the 2’6” and worked our way up. Now we’re here and it’s awesome. He was only 6 [when we started] so he was a little green, so we were green together.”
Together the pair earned the 3’3” large junior hunter title and the grand 3’3” title ahead of Bridlegate Farm’s Canvasback and Rylie True. It was a fitting way to redeem themselves after last year, when they won the first round of the WIHS Children’s Hunter Classic then ticked a rail in Round 2 to fall out of contention.
“It’s absolutely incredible to come to this horse show and do this,” she said.
Gulden said the 9-year-old warmblood (Levisto—Nadita) likes a soft ride.
“He’s super slow so always have a strong leg, but just canter around soft and he just lopes around,” she said.
“We call him ‘Toothless’ because he’s missing four bottom teeth,” she continued. “He has the biggest personality. He’ll eat anything. He’s so sweet and just one of the best horses ever. He really like oatmeal cream pies and donuts.”
Gulden lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, an hour and a half from Toothless and trainer Chris Wynne. She keeps her leg strong by riding anything available with trainer Jill Tewksbury closer to home.
“I mainly ride [Toothless] at the horse shows,” said Gulden, 15. “When we’re not showing I try to go down there for lessons every so often.
“My favorite quality of Toothless is his personality,” she added. “It’s the biggest personality—he’s so sweet. He’s so comfortable in the environment and just canters around and he tries his best all the time.”
A Fitting Farewell
Caroline Hoover found the perfect way to close out her career with Bonne Starlight: by winning the 3’3” small junior hunter championship. Taylor Matalon rode her own Semi-Automatic C to the reserve title.
Hoover and Bonne Starlight paired up a year ago.
“This is our last show on him, and he’s just been the most amazing horse that I’ve ever ridden,” she said. “Every single time he tries his best. He never faults. Even if we make a mistake it’s never due to him. He always tries his hardest and he’s just the most magical horse you could ever want to ride.”
Hoover, 18, is a freshman at University of Michigan, so she hasn’t had much time to ride the 11-year-old Hanoverian (Bonne Chance—Lughana) this season. The last time they showed was in August.
“That’s definitely made it harder,” said the rider who hails from nearby Bethesda, Maryland. “I haven’t even ridden him really for two months, so to come back and for him to put all the pieces together in our last show is really special.”
Hoover credited trainers Sam Schaefer, Kate Conover and Haleigh Landrigan for helping to keep Bonne Starlight ready to go and for giving her the skills to get the championship.
“They’re all so supportive, every one of them,” she said. “they’re just the best.”