Friday, May. 24, 2024

Vermillion Valley Emerges Victorious In The Chronicle Of The Horse/USEA Central ATC

Three former collegiate equestrians have defected to the sport of eventing.

Their GPA helmets may have betrayed their hunter/jumper roots, but the girls from Vermillion Valley
Equine Center were perfectly acclimated at the Heritage Park Horse Trials in Olathe, Kan.

In fact, Dehlia Burdan, Ashley Foster and Casey Finnell proved virtually unbeatable, taking top honors in the novice division of The Chronicle of the Horse/USEA Central Adult Team Challenge, Aug. 22-24, on a combined score of 102.7.
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Three former collegiate equestrians have defected to the sport of eventing.

Their GPA helmets may have betrayed their hunter/jumper roots, but the girls from Vermillion Valley
Equine Center were perfectly acclimated at the Heritage Park Horse Trials in Olathe, Kan.

In fact, Dehlia Burdan, Ashley Foster and Casey Finnell proved virtually unbeatable, taking top honors in the novice division of The Chronicle of the Horse/USEA Central Adult Team Challenge, Aug. 22-24, on a combined score of 102.7.

Burdan led the Vermillion team to victory, winning the novice horse division aboard Bob and Pattie Stalder’s 9-year-old Connemara stallion, JEF Sir Lancelot.

“He has been one of the coolest horses,” Burdan said. “A lot of people don’t even realize he’s a stud. He loves his job and is very willing to please. You can take him to an event one day and win it, and then the next day jump on him bareback and take him swimming out in the pond.”

The Stalders’ website also features a photo of “Lance” cheerfully giving toboggan rides in the wintertime.

“He’s done the hunters, but he really loves the eventing,” Burdan said of the barely-14.3-hand stallion. “He’s just such a solid citizen.”

Burdan, 27, and Finnell, 23, met in college when they rode together on the Kansas State University varsity equestrian team. Finnell and Foster now serve as the KSU assistant and head coaches, respectively, and in their free time all three girls ride together with Ann White at Vermillion Valley.

Burdan served as KSU team captain in the 2004-05 season, and unlike her ATC teammates, has also evented up to the preliminary level. In the spring of 2006 she moved to Aiken, S.C., to train with Craig Thompson, then galloped horses at the racetrack in Laurel, Md., from April until December, when she moved back to Belvue, Kan.

Foster finished just .2 points behind Burdan to take second in the novice horse division with a borrowed KSU team horse, James Dean.

“He’s a saint,” Foster said of the 12-year-old Thoroughbred. “I can put anyone on him in practice, and he just goes around. He used to do the jumpers, and I’ve been taking him in the hunter derbies, and now he’s an eventer too.”

Foster, 25, rode on the Virginia Tech equestrian team in college and assumed the role of head coach at KSU in Manhattan, Kan., in 2005.

“My [college] coach called me up one day and said, ‘I have the perfect job for you. You have to apply. But it’s in Kansas,’ ” Foster recalled. “I said, ‘There’s no way I’m moving there.’ I really thought Kansas was flat and brown and had tornadoes every day. But I came out here for the job interview, and I really liked it. Manhattan is just gorgeous. It’s really a lot like Blacksburg [Va.], with green, rolling hills. And there are lots of opportunities for horses too, which I didn’t expect.”

Foster also didn’t expect to find herself becoming an eventer, but she and Finnell took the leap together, entering their first horse trial in May. For Heritage Park, Finnell also borrowed a KSU horse, Come Fly With Me, to place fifth in the novice horse division. Now a few of their varsity team riders have even expressed interest in eventing in the off-season.

“I never thought I would be doing an event a couple years ago,” Finnell said. “I used to think, ‘Those jumps are solid. They don’t break. That’s just crazy!’ But now I really just enjoy being out in the field and getting out of the arena as much as possible. We really try to get our horses out of the ring to keep them fresh.”

Finnell said “Jet,” a 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, “is so honest and willing. He just has a blast with this. We had a great weekend and had so much fun getting ready. Ann schooled us over some bigger jumps at her house, so when we came here they looked pretty friendly.

“We just wanted to come and have fun, and it was a nice bonus to win,” she continued. “It’s a whole new world to learn about. There’s so much to learn everywhere—western and English. We went to an event right off the bat in May right as classes ended, and now we’re ending summer with another. It’s been a good time.”

Tramps Tromp The Competition

With Ryan Rapp as their only male rider, one might assume based on their name choice that the other three members of the Lady And The Tramps team were simply embracing their own relative ill repute. But Cindy Kimber, Lacey Elmer and Cynthia Wiseman still put in a winning performance in the training division, topping the ATC with an overall score of 162.4.

In truth, the team’s name referred not to the riders’ characteristics, but that of their mounts. Kimber’s Hanoverian-Thoroughbred mare Delia, “the lady of the group,” led the three tramps, or “geldings of questionable background” in the standings, placing third overall on a score of 36.6.

“I have never ridden a horse that is more game,” said Kimber, 52. “She knows what it is to compete, loves it,
and is just the best partner I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve been riding since I was 6 years old.”

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Kimber and Delia, an 8-year-old bay, were tied for second after dressage and added nothing to their score on cross-country, but pulled one rail in the show jumping to take third.

“It’s just the typical adult amateur issue—balancing a very demanding work schedule and still carving out the time to spend in sport,” said Kimber, a regional senior vice president at a human resources communications firm. “Given the time I had to prepare for the show, I’m really very pleased with Delia. Any performance issues came down to me.”

Kimber travels weekly for her job, noting that “Southwest Airlines and I are very good friends.” She’s also logged plenty of miles horse hunting, only to find Delia four years ago just miles from her home in Camden Point, Mo.

“I bought her from a breeder in South Kansas City,” Kimber explained. “She was the 46th horse I looked at. I looked all over the U.S. and Canada, and I found one that was right in my backyard.”

Kimber said she relies on her trainer, Jamie Hill, for support while she works to balance her career and competitions.

“She’s very flexible about coming to my farm and riding for me when I’m gone for more than a day,” she acknowledged, adding that people like Heritage Park Organizer Beth Stoker deserved thanks for their hard work as well. “There are so many of us that are doing the work-life balance game, we haven’t been able to support Beth the way we’d like to. She has done a fabulous job out there.”

Elmer took eighth place individually with Freeman’s Folly, her 13-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred. After retiring early and unsuccessfully from racing, the bay gelding stood out in a field until three years ago, when Elmer’s family purchased him for $750.

After starting out at beginner novice, the pair has moved up one level each year, and Heritage Park served as their third training-level outing. They finished with a double-clear cross-country round and had one rail in show jumping to finish on a score of 47.7.

Although she evented in her youth, Elmer, now a pharmaceutical sales rep based in Joplin, Mo., stopped riding during her collegiate years at Missouri Southern State University, where she played on the women’s basketball team, but later returned to the sport.

“I was really getting stressed out with my other horse,” Elmer, 27, explained of a Thoroughbred mare she’d been riding before “Brego” came along. The gelding is named after the horse who rescues Aragorn in the second Lord of the Rings film.

“My horses are supposed to be my stress reliever, but she was a stress inducer,” she continued. “But Brego would always come up to me in the pasture and was so sweet. He just has a really good attitude about everything. He’s not super fancy or super flashy, but he’s such a good guy.”

Wiseman, of Miller, Mo., earned an unfortunate 20 jump penalties on cross-country with Flashpoint, but the pair still had a strong showing for only their third event together. The 10-year-old, 17-hand gelding had originally been taken as collateral for a board/training non-payment situation in Canada; a local hunter/jumper friend of Wiseman’s then brought “Daniel” to Missouri, where she bought him last August.

“He’s a chestnut ‘Hanoverian’ with chrome and freckles,” Wiseman, 35, explained. “But we joke that his breeding is ‘out of Canada, by Truck,’ because his true identity has been lost somewhere between Canada and Missouri.”

In addition to being a full-time veterinarian and mother to a 19-month-old daughter, Wiseman runs horse-related websites on the side, volunteers for the Mid-America Combined Training Association and serves as the Area IV webmaster and director of communications. She’s also enrolled in the USEA Instructor Certification Program and currently trains with John Staples in Wichita, Kan., and Mary Grantham-Cook of Leavenworth, Kan.

Rapp, Ames, Iowa, rounded out the team with Full On Tilt, his 9-year-old Thoroughbred. The pair had uncharacteristic jump and time penalties on cross-country, but Rapp was congenial about
the mistakes.

“I ended up water skiing around the back side of the course,” he said, laughing. “There was a lot of circling.
‘Tilt’ was a jumper reject and had some bitting issues, and he was a stallion until he was 5.”

Despite his failed past careers, the 17-hand gelding has taken to eventing. Rapp, who is finishing a PhD in genetics at Iowa State University, often rides early in the morning and again late at night to work around his lab schedule.

“I just love him,” he said of Tilt. “He’s a big goofball with a big heart and a lot of jump.”

Rapp, 28, grew up near Boston, Mass., in “a family deathly allergic to horses.” His first childhood job was mowing fields, for which he was paid in saddle seat riding lessons. In high school he picked up eventing, then played polo for four years at Cornell University (N.Y.). Rapp bought Tilt two years ago, and they also work with Grantham-Cook.

A Midwest Melting Pot

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While turnout was low in the preliminary division at Heritage Park, four adult riders from across the Midwest combined to form a team once they reached the event.

Camie Stockhausen emerged as the leader of the group, placing second overall with her 10-year-old Thoroughbred, Best Etiquette, with a score of 40.0.

“He never did race,” Stockhausen, Cambridge, Iowa, said. “He flipped over in the starting gate and crushed his withers. Nobody wanted him because they didn’t believe he could do anything well. They were wrong!”
Stockhausen took “Eddie” into training for a friend, foxhunting him until his rider was ready to sell him to her three years ago. She still hunts with the Moingona Hunt in central Iowa, where her husband Jay is a field master, and plans to take him to the American Eventing Championships and Area IV Championships this fall.

“He’s just a star,” Stockhausen, 41, said. “I feel like he’s done eventing in a past life.”

Stockhausen teaches riding lessons and works part time as a communications specialist for Iowa State University. “It’s really funny how similar the two jobs are,” she said. “It’s just teaching people to communicate.”

Close on Stockhausen’s heels was her teammate Meghan Moore, who was happy to make some new Area IV acquaintances. Moore, who recently moved to Olathe, Kan., from Arkansas so her husband could attend dental school, placed third with Tucker’s Blackstone.

“The whole thing was to pursue his dream, so when we moved to Kansas I told him, ‘The one thing I will absolutely not sacrifice in this move is my horse!’ ” said Moore, who works in pharmaceutical sales. “I don’t know what I would do without my horse. It’s totally my outlet. It makes me feel like I’m a kid again.”
Moore’s 2-year-old daughter keeps her feeling young as well. She travels to events and will likely be in the saddle soon.

“She loves ‘Tucker’,” Moore, 35, said. “I think she thinks he belongs to her, and she’s just letting me ride him.”

Moore rode hunters and jumpers in her youth, then played polo at Texas A&M University. She started eventing in 2002, and found Tucker, an 11-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred, five years ago as a neglected self-care boarder at a hunter/jumper barn in Louisiana. They first moved up to preliminary three years ago, but Moore’s former trainer, Sydney Conley, took the horse to a CIC* while she was pregnant and continued to show him afterwards when she broke her ankle. Heritage Park was their first preliminary back together in three years. The pair now trains with Hill.

Dressage leader Maria Brazil, an anesthesiologist from Pacific, Mo., and Ocala, Fla., had an unfortunate mental lapse in the show jumping and was eliminated for going off course with Bon Chance. But she’s looking forward to the American Eventing Championships in September as her chance to rebound.

Formerly competed up to intermediate by Karen O’Connor, “Pierre,” an 11-year-old Selle Français, took all of 2006 off after ankle surgery on his right front. When he came sound again, Brazil was ready to take back the ride.

“It takes time to build a partnership,” she said. “But he’s my partner now.”

Margaret Kitts, of Wylie, Texas, placed fifth in the division with Beacon Charm, a horse she trained from the age of 4 and finally bought from one of her students.

“We’ve been fighting some pretty severe separation anxiety issues on cross-country,” Kitts said of the 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. “He’s one of those who’s been a challenge because he requires a whole lot of focus, like a kid with ADHD. But he’s an absolute blast to ride, and when everything goes good, he’s just amazing.”

“Beaker” flopped out of racing school and failed in a career as a barrel racer before making his way to Kitts, 43, who works as a full-time trainer at Karma Ridge in Parker, Texas. But when she tried free jumping him, and he repeatedly jumped out of the arena, Kitts knew he had eventing prospects.

“He doesn’t actually put any effort into jumping anything until they’re about 3’6″,” she said. “I’ve yet to find the top with this horse.”

Kitts also rounded up several adult riders from Texas to represent Area V in the novice team challenge. The squad eventually placed second overall.

“I was flipping through the Omnibus and said, ‘Hey guys, what do you think about going to the ATC in Kansas?’ ” she said. “This was two days before the entries closed. But the Area V Adult Rider program put up some money for us to go, and we got some sponsors organized and got our schedules coordinated. I’ve got a pretty good group of adult riders.”

Kat Netzler

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