Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 15
Carlee McCutcheon didn’t have the start to the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final that she was looking for. Sure, she put in a lovely course, but a few minor errors meant she lay 12th after the first round.
“It wasn’t my best first round, but I trust [Chacco Star]—he’s the best partner I could ask for,” she said of her mount for the feature equitation class of the Pennsylvania National. “I was just looking to come back in a good spot for the second round. [In the second round] we took a chance with an inside turn. I trust him—the harder the course is, the better he is.”
That brave second round paid off when judges Jack Towell and Timmy Kees moved her up to second place heading into the six-horse test that called for two counter-cantered fences, a trot jump and a hand-galloped fence followed by a halt.
That’s when McCutcheon, Aubrey, Texas, really showed off her skills by landing a counter-canter and holding it around a corner for the first counter-canter, and swapping onto the counter lead for the second. She picked up a serious hand gallop to the last fence and found a forward distance, then halted perfectly a few strides later.
The judges rewarded her with the blue ribbon for her bravado, ahead of equitation newcomer Noah Nelson, who just started competing in the division this year, with Kate Hagerty claiming third.
McCutcheon’s trainers Max Amaya and T.J. O’Mara were visibly moved by her win.
“I trained her here at her first Medal Final in 2021 and each year, she’s gotten better and better with it, and you can really see the hard work that me and Max [Amaya] have put in with her,” said O’Mara. “It paid off today. To see her relationship with ‘Chacco’ develop and flourish after each round really brought tears to my eyes when they announced her as the winner.”
Towell and Kees were impressed with the 206-rider field.
“The quality of the riders is unbelievable, but also the quality of these horses,” said Towell. “These horses are amazing animals, amazing, they’ve got the stride, the scope, it blows me away just watching them. Not that these kids don’t ride great, but you’re only as good as your horse.”
Nelson, Santa Barbara, California, was thrilled with his mount, Cassini.
“I was a little nervous, walking into the ring, going first. It’s my first time competing in the Medal Final,” said Nelson, who trains with Ken and Emily Smith. “I was very confident in Cassini. He’s already competed here—he was second in 2019—and I owe everything to him. I really liked the test. I thought it was well put together. I’m very grateful for everything.”
Hagerty, of Terrebonne, Oregon, also credited her horse, Magic Moment, for her third-place finish.
“This is a new horse for me,” said Hagerty, who trains with Val Renihan and the Finley’s Ridge team. “I’ve had him since August and he’s new to the equitation. My first round was good, I didn’t come back with a lot of expectations, so I think that let me go in and kind of go for it and be as risky as I could. He was so good and did everything I asked and I couldn’t ask for better than how he was today.”
Catch up on all the action from the day with our round-by-round blog.
Find full results here. Check out all the Chronicle’s coverage from the Pennsylvania National here. Check out the Oct. 30 issue of the Chronicle of the Horse magazine for analysis from the competition.