By Meagan DeLisle – USEA Staff
The USEA Area VIII Championships took place during the Park Equine KY Classique Horse Trials on September 2-4. Offering Championship divisions at the Intermediate, Preliminary, Modified, Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice levels, six horse and rider pairs rose to the top to claim the title of 2022 Area VII Champions in their respective divisions.
Intermediate Champions | Alexandra Baugh & MHS Fernhill Finale | 45.2
In the Intermediate Championship Alexandra Baugh and Altorac Farm’s 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, MHS Fernhill Finale (Verdi x MHS Ryans Daughter) held the lead from start to finish. The pair, who had a second-place finish last year in the Intermediate Championships at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds, has had an exceptional competition year thus far with all of their finishes being in the top five, including a fourth place finish in the CCI4*-S at Bromont earlier this summer.
In the Area VII Intermediate Championship, Baugh and MHS Fernhill Finale started out on a score of 36.8 in dressage and only added 8.4 time penalties to their score to conclude the weekend in first place.
Preliminary Champions | Leah Snowden & Ormolu | 34.0
After kicking off the weekend in fourth place following dressage, Leah Snowden knew that the tight scores gave her and the 13-year-old Selle Francais mare Ormolu (Balou du Rouex x Charmed) the chance to move up if they could play their cards right.
“I was the trailblazer [in cross-country] and we were quick and clear,” shared Snowden after their weekend’s performance. “We ended up being 5 seconds under and I was the only double clear round of the day.” That double-clear round wound up being worth its weight in gold, giving the pair a 10-point lead going into show jumping.
“Loulou is a very good show jumper so I just focused on remembering my course and it paid off,” shared Snowden who added just one rail to their score to finish the weekend on a 34.0 in the lead. “The atmosphere was fun and the organizers and volunteers did a fabulous job!”
Modified Champions | Emily Watson & Kilcandra Prince Dignified | 33. 8
Emily Watson’s relationship with her winning partner the 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Kilcandra Prince Dignified (Dignified Van’t Zorgvliet x Bonnie Dolly), aka “Digger” began in 2018 when Watson purchased him in Ireland as an unbroken 3-year-old.
“I sent him to a friend in Wales to break him for six weeks because he does a lot of long lining through the woods and really acclimates them to the world, not just a ring. I did most of the training in the beginning, but my daughter needed a horse while she was a working student in Ocala, so he was competed by her for a bit last season,” Watson shared. “I got him back last fall when she went to work in Wales for my friend that broke Digger. We started competing Training and moved up to Modified this spring in Aiken. Digger isn’t going five-star anytime soon but for an old lady like me, he’s just perfect! He doesn’t spook, buck, bolt, or refuse. He is constantly wanting to please and has a heart of gold!”
The pair began their weekend seated in seventh place on a dressage score of 33.8. Going into cross-country, Watson admits she was a bit more nervous than normal regarding one specific obstacle on course. However, Digger put that heart of gold to work and they navigated the course double-clear to move up to third.
“The top three were less than a rail apart, so I knew I needed to jump clean,” Watson reflected. “Digger had the only clear show jump round in the CC1* at River Glen in August so I knew that he could do it again, but that didn’t mean I was confident. We have been treating him for EPM this summer and I know how he feels when he isn’t 100% so I hoped that he was feeling well enough to stay strong the entire weekend. If my horse doesn’t seem like he’s up for the challenge there is no disgrace in saving him for another day. have been eventing since 1977 so I’m at the age where I have nothing to prove to anyone.”
“Thankfully we rode in reverse order, so there was pressure but not as much as the final two riders. I started the course a bit more forward -let’s contribute that to nerves- and he saved my bacon on a couple of fences but that’s what a partnership is all about. I’ll help him out sometimes and other times he’ll have my back.”
A double-clear round was just what Watson and Digger needed to leap up into the first-place position, claiming the Modified Championship on their dressage score. “Let me thank the sponsors, volunteers, and organizers for everything they do! We are losing so many lovely events and our sport is so dependent on the kindness of others. I may have gotten the glory but without my team and the hundreds of people that sit out in the sun or rain I would be riding in circles at my farm.”
Training Champions | Julia Spatt & Uptown Funk | 33.1
Julia Spatt’s victory in the Training Championship aboard her 7-year-old British Sport Horse gelding Uptown Funk (Adagio x Wutaire Van De Zuutheoeve) was extra sweet seeing as she has only been partnered with the young horse for one year.
“I purchased Uptown Funk, or Bruno exactly one year ago from O’Neil Equestrian in Florida. He’s a warmblood and a chestnut to boot so he can be a little spooky and opinionated but he is one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever owned,” Spatt said. “We’ve found that two of his favorite things in the world are eating bananas and having his back scratched- so we do a lot of both of those things at the horse shows! He’s a great competitor and once he really knows when’s at a show, he really turns it on and gets extra fancy when he knows people are watching! I’m really looking forward to the future with him.”
After starting the weekend in sixth on a dressage score of 33.1, Spatt and Bruno delivered a double-clear cross-country round to settle them into a tie for fourth place going into the final phase of the championship. Spatt’s plan for show jumping was simple: go clear – and that they did.
“Going into the show jumping I was just trying to be really focused on my own horse and trying to have a clear round on him. He’s very careful in the show jumping but can be spooky and distracted at the Kentucky Horse Park so I really have to work on my rideability. He jumped great and I was so thrilled with his round that I couldn’t have been happier to finish on our dressage score, regardless of placings. I was a little in disbelief when I realized we had won, to be honest, we’ve won our last two outings so to get three wins in a row with the last one being champs was something I never thought would happen!”
Novice Champions | Jane Musselman & Bentley’s Best | 26.8
If there is one thing that Jane Musselman and her 15-year-old Trakehner gelding Bentley’s Best (Hirtentanz x Hauptstutbuch Baronesse) are used to, it’s winning. Take a look at their USEA record and you will see that since they partnered together in 2021 the pair have taken home the first place finish 10 times out of 12 outings. And those other two competitions? They brought home second. So it’s no surprise that the reigning Area VIII Novice Champions from 2021 would return to the Area VIII Championships in 2022 to secure the win once again.
The pair started off the weekend with a phenomenally low dressage score of 22.8, which seems to be a tradition for the two. They executed a double-clear cross-country round to maintain their lead and added just one rail to their final score to finish in first on a 26.8.
Beginner Novice Champions | Claire Rigney & Ballyerk Comet | 27.8
With each phase of the competition in the Area VIII Beginner Novice Championship, Claire Rigney and her 12-year-old Connemara gelding Ballyerk Comet (Joces Cuckoo x Ballyerk Cascade) moved up one position to ultimately take home the win on their dressage score or 27.8. Rigney just paired up with Ballyerk Comet earlier this year but has enjoyed every step of the way leading up to this victory.
“It has been an amazing year so far,” commented Rigney. “I am so fortunate to have found such a wonderful partner and to have learned so much together, so quickly.” In their short time together, Claire and Ballyerk Comet have never placed outside of the top three and have always executed faultless cross-country and show jumping rounds, which is exactly what allowed them to move up into the first-place position during the championships.
When asked what her favorite phase to complete with her new partner is, Rigney shared: “Definitely cross-country – He just loves to go! He was previously a fox hunter in Ireland so he loves jumping in the field.”