Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 5
Carlee McCutcheon found herself in a familiar position going into the second round at this year’s ASPCA Maclay Final. Last year, like today, she held the lead for a large portion of the day. Last year however, she dropped into second after the second round, and then a couple of small errors in the test landed her in fourth overall.
But with another year under her belt, the 18-year-old was cool today when she came back on top after Round 1, and she never relinquished the lead. She came into the second round on a mission, and she delivered so decisively that judges Rachel Kennedy, Wendy Peralta, Tamara Provost and Danny Robertshaw decided no further testing was needed.
“I’m always grateful to come to this horse show,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite horse shows of the year. It’s something I look forward to all year, and it went better than I ever could’ve imagined. The team around me—it means so much to me to have such a great support system. My parents and my grandparents, [my trainers] Max [Amaya] and TJ [O’Mara] and the entire team at Stonehenge. It really takes a village, and I wouldn’t be here without them, especially ‘Chacco.’ He makes me very brave, so I’m very grateful to that.”
O’Mara said he was particularly proud of how she handled herself when the pressure was on and overcame the memories of last year.
“She is a rider that Max and I give her a plan to go in the ring, I know that she can execute,” he said. “I think both of her rounds today were some of the best rounds I’ve ever seen her do, and I think that really just shows her journey through the equitation ring. I think she’s very used to the wins she’s had so far: She always comes from behind, and she claws her way back up. Last year here, she was called back on top for the majority of the day, and we had one mistake in the test. So I was really glad to see that she kept her cool this year, and you can really see that she matured as a rider, and she came through on top.”
For her final equitation class of her junior career McCutcheon, Aubrey, Texas, tacked up Kennedy McCaulley’s Chacco Star. He’s been her partner for several major wins this season, including the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final (Pennsylvania), the WEF Equitation Championship (Florida), and the R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch Equitation Championship at Devon (Pennsylvania). They also were second at the Platinum Performance USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final—East (New Jersey) and third at the WIHS Equitation Final (Maryland) this fall.
Moving forward, McCutcheon will join the team at Stonehenge as a professional.
“I’m just very grateful to be here really; it couldn’t have been a better day,” she said. “It was really fun. Closing out—this is my last show as a junior—I’m looking forward to the future. I have a great team surrounding me, so I look forward to staying with Stonehenge in Wellington [Florida] as a professional, and learning the ropes of being a professional, and hopefully stepping up into the higher level jumper ring. I think that equitation finals have given me a lot of confidence going into the beginning of my professional career.”
Eleanor Rudnicki of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, finished second, a place she held for most of the day. The 18-year-old trains with Berry Porter primarily, but Missy Clark and John Brennan of North Run have been helping her as well this year. Rudnicki doesn’t own a horse, so she’s ridden a variety of horses on her way to the final.
“My horse went beautifully today,” she said. “He’s a little newer to this, but he really tried hard. I was happy with my first and second rounds today. I think they went as smoothly as they could’ve.”
Porter recalled watching these finals on TV when he was younger and never expected to find himself at these shows, much less training the reserve champion, which he credits to Rudnicki’s poise.
“Knowing that you can put a rider in the ring and that they can instill that sort of confidence, she’s helping to develop horses for the future, so I think that’s been a privilege of mine to have her,” he said.
Tessa Downey, who also showed in her last Maclay Final, was third for the second year in a row.
“To me the outcome could not be more different,” she said. “I am a lot prouder of this result than I am of my result last year. To go out like this on a horse, Moonshine—I call him ‘Moon’—I competed on him at my first Maclay Finals, and I’ve now competed on him at my last Maclay Finals. He’s such an incredible animal. I don’t think enough good words can be spoken about him.”
With 226 riders jumping today, course designers Bobby Murphy and Kevin Holowack had to make a course that was efficient, worked well for the variety of skill levels, but allowed the top riders to shine.
“It was impressive to watch,” Holowack said. “The first round, I had a trainer at one point come up to me and say that it subtly separated. And that’s what we’re aiming for in that first round, with so many horses in it, the idea of separating those riders but still allowing those ones who are still learning and coming for the experience of it to have success. And then the second round, we tightened it up for sure. And I think you have three riders who stepped up to the challenge and executed and had a great result.”
The Chronicle will be on site, bringing you gorgeous photos, interviews and more, so check back during the week. Make sure to follow along at www.coth.com and on Facebook, and Instagram @Chronofhorse. For full analysis and coverage from the horse show be sure to check out the Nov. 27 issue of the magazine.