Sept. 29- Tyler, Texas
The winner of the junior beginner novice division of the American Eventing Chamionships—an Appaloosa ridden by 15-year-old Melissa Morris—stood out from the crowd for his flashy coloring, but Morris’ story makes it clear the pair was unlikely from their first day together to win the title.
Morris purchased RSR Private Eye as a 2-year-old stallion for $250 to be a 4-H prospect, but that arena was not his forte.
“He was super spooky and didn’t really do anything in 4-H—he wasn’t good at it,” Morris explained.
The now-8-year-old gelding presented a serious challenge for the young rider from Kansas City, Missouri, who now trains with Bridget Mason. At the AEC in Tyler, Texas, Morris received a dressage score of 27.5—her best score to date.
“He’s built downhill, and we’ve struggled with that,” Mason explained. “He’s a naturally good jumper, but we’ve struggled with the dressage because he’s built upside down. … He went in there and was really methodical and relaxed and went to work.”
With dressage behind them, they added nothing to that score all weekend for the win. But Skippy wasn’t always such a jumping machine. When Morris started eventing in 2013, it looked like he might never become proficient cross-country.
“The first few times we took him cross-country, he was bucking and rearing and bolting and freaking out,” Mason said.
Morris even got eliminated in her first event for refusals before they could even get past the fourth obstacle. But at the Texas Rose Horse Park, the pair showed just how much they have grown up together.
“He didn’t really look at anything [cross-country]. I was really happy,” Morris said. “It’s crazy; I didn’t even think I would place.”
Morris plans to continue eventing Skippy and move up to novice in the coming months.
“He’s super silly and sometimes stubborn, but he’s a really good boy,” Morris said.
A Splash Of Color
It was hard to miss the winner of the novice horse division, Jamaica Skodstrupp.
The 8-year-old Knabstrupper mare finished on her dressage score with Corinna Garcia to take home the championship when cross-country leaders Andrea Leatherman and Mr. Poppers dropped the last rail to finish third.
“She’s a blast,” said Garcia. “I’ve had a really good summer with her. I haven’t had her for quite a year yet, so I’m excited to see what else we can do. She’s only 8, so she’s starting to get the idea of everything.”
The mare, owned by Renae Willham, almost didn’t make the trip to Texas because Garcia was planning to bring another horse on her first trip to the AEC.
“We were supposed to bring another one with us, and unfortunately she had a lameness issue, but we decided to go for the long haul, and here we are,” she said. “I’m very impressed. The farthest I’ve been down south is Aiken [S.C.]. The park is great, it’s big.”
Garcia, 29, Revena, Ohio, has been enjoying the ride on Jamaica Skodstrupp so far and plans to keep the ride for now.
“[Her owners were] looking for someone to help out with their eventing program, so here I am,” she said. “They own seven of these. They’re pretty exited to get them out. They’re pretty rare, there’s only about 1500 in the world, and less than 200 in the U.S.
“She was pretty on target [on cross-country]. She’s not having a problem taking charge and doing her job now. I think that’s more the mare mentality,” she continued. “They’re really smart. I think that’s the biggest thing. They’re clever and really smart. It’s been a good challenge.”
Peaking Just Right
Amateur beginner novice rider Jill Wagenknecht wasn’t sure she and C.D. Dancer would ever click. They’ve now been a pair for two years, and for the first half of that partnership, things didn’t go as planned.
“We had a really tough season last year,” she said. “But this year, we’re getting more and more to be a team. I’m just glad we’re peaking now.”
They led the senior amateur beginner novice division from start to finish with their dressage score of 23.5.
“I was thrilled with her dressage. When I saw her score, I started crying and couln’t stop for a long time,” Wagenknecht said.
On cross-country, the mare’s first order of business was to make sure her rider wasn’t asleep on the job.
“We had a little trouble getting into the start box. She wouldn’t go, and then we missed the hole and crashed into a golf cart,” the 52-year-old rider from St. Louis, Missouri, said. “Then we went around and did a fine round—just a little excitement at the beginning.”
Now the pair is clicking well, which Wagenknecht credits to the mare.
“She’s really good, and if I just let her be really good, we do well. I do work really hard, but it’s to figure out how she wants to be ridden,” she said. “If you ride her properly, she’s gold.”
- Maddalyn Hunt and Jos Estoico won the junior beginner novice 14 and under division on their dressage score of 24.5. Hunt has owned “Chester” for three years, and the 13-year-old rider is based in The Woodlands, Texas. “This means everything,” she said. “It was just so much fun, and to have him with me was awesome.”
- Seguin Alexander led the junior novice division from start to finish with her Motion Granted. The 13-year-old from Ponder, Texas, also competed at the AEC in 2013, but a stop on cross-country kept them out of the ribbons. This year, they ended on their dressage score of 22.5. She purchased the gelding three years ago, and although it took them some time to click, they now get along very well. “At first, I wasn’t too sure I was in love with him, but after awhile, our bond kept getting stronger and stronger. Now, I don’t know what I would do without him,” she said.
- Erin Pullen won the beginner novice horse division on Strider Can Fly, a Fresian owned by Jodi and Chris Koford. The gelding has only been eventing since February of this year, thanks to Pullen’s tutelage. “He’s not the easiest horse to ride, and I have the unfortunate reputation of being able to handle the difficult ones,” Pullen joked. “But every question I’ve asked, he’s answered in full force.”
- Kristin Hardy won the novice amateur division on Enchanted. They started the event in a tie for first with a 27.5 and added nothing to their score to win.
For full results, click here.
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