2018 Preliminary Challenge Rider winner Krista Stevenson on Caison. Photo by Sherry Stewart, courtesy of Woodside.
A 1,200 square-foot on-course VIP tent adds an awesome fan experience to The Spring Event at Woodside this year, set for May 24-26 at The Horse Park at Woodside. “Super Saturday’s” VIP cross-country tent opportunity enhances an event already famous nationally as host of The Preliminary Challenge. The tent provides front row seats next to the North Water Complex with big screen TVs live streaming action from the rest of the Ian Stark-designed international cross country course — plus, food, drink and fun with fellow fans.
The Preliminary Challenge was launched in 2009 to promote a critical crossroad in the journey to international competition. The Challenge offers $15,000 in prize money in both the rider and horse divisions. This alone draws large fields and ups the performance pressure, both of which are important to those pursuing the sport’s top levels.
The amped-up atmosphere created by Friday dressage in the Grand Prix Arena, Ian Stark’s cross-country track — now with the new VIP tent — and Saturday night’s stadium jumping showdown cranks the atmospheric volume to 11. For the finalé, sold-out dinner gala crowds ring the Grand Prix Arena, cheering as the top 10 pairs compete in reverse order of their standings.
Gala seating is tented and heated and sells out at light-speed: dinner tickets are $60 each; tables of 10 are $550. Cross-country tent admission is $75 after that. Both are available here. General admission and an informative event program come with $10 parking.
USEA Rob Burk will break from volunteer start box timing Saturday to give an informal talk about the sport at 4 p.m. The United States Pony Club has a booth manned all weekend with members happy to share info and advice. Both can be found at the pavilion area near the show office.
Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin won the Preliminary Challenge in 2015. Photo courtesy of Sherry Stewart.
See Tomorrow’s Stars
In celebrating and incentivizing Preliminary level competition with the Challenge, organizer Robert Kellerhouse is ushering more horses and riders onto the higher levels, while giving fans an early look at tomorrow’s stars.
Last year’s USEF National CCI3* Champion, Frankie Thieriot-Stutes, has taken two horses to the Preliminary Challenge title: her current partner Chatwin in 2015 and Uphoria in 2012. Last Year’s AEC Gold Cup Final winner Tamie Smith was a 2010 champion with C.S.I., and she has two horses entered this year.
The Preliminary Challenge is a launchpad for young riders, too. It has a direct correlation to the North American You Championships for Area VI. The 2017 top rider, Mallory Hogan, went on to the NAYC that year and the next, then made her CCI4* debut this year with Clarissa Purissima, her Preliminary Champion partner. One of Mallory’s 2017 NAYC teammates was 2016’s winner Delany Vaden riding Redrox Jazzman. You get the idea…
“It’s the most fun competition anywhere,” say recent winners, junior Krista Stevenson and professional Bec Braitling. Both athletes find their fun in the most intense, demanding, pressure-packed environments. “There is no other show like the Preliminary Challenge,” says Krista, winner of 2018’s rider division aboard Caison. She’s been targeting the competition most of her riding life. “You’re jumping under the lights in front of hundreds of people. You really just want to enjoy it because it’s really a big deal. To win it … That was really cool!”
Well-established professional Bec Braitling has already achieved the high performance wins to which Krista aspires, but the veteran has the same kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm for the Preliminary Challenge.
Bec rode Santana II to the title in 2017. “It’s really a fun challenge for me as a rider. You are typically sitting on a young horse, and it’s a fun stepping stone. The kind of pressure it puts on you helps you find out what kind of horse you have in terms of its international potential.”
For Krista, last year’s win still manifests in recognition from a wider circle of peers and pros, and in her confidence. “It really gave me the sense that we can do this,” says the NAYC hopeful, “that we are capable and qualified and that we should keep working hard.”
Last year’s horse division winner Staccato traveled from Washington state to contest the Challenge with Jordan Lindstedt. He had several Preliminary starts under his belt already, but the Challenge was all new everything, Jordan recalls. “The ring is quite impressive, surrounded in the big white tents.” From dressage in the Grand Prix ring on through to Saturday night’s stadium jumping, “It’s a lot to take in.” Staccato handled it and has parlayed the positive experience into continued success, most recently winning April’s Open Intermediate at Twin Rivers.
If intense competition equals fun, then this year’s Preliminary Challenge is going to be off-the-charts fun for riders and fans, as the field is already stacked with top contenders. Bec Braitling has three horses entered, including fast-rising star Dassett Ricochet. Tamie Smith and many-time Woodside wonder James Alliston are among the pros also angling for the top prize and valuable mileage for their younger horses.
Meg Pelligrini has to be a favorite in the rider division. She’s arriving from Southern California with two rides: RF Eloquence, her partner in two recent CCI2* wins, and her superstar Connemara/Thoroughbred, Ganymede.
Nearly 50 combinations are entered to take on the Preliminary Challenge. Click here to view the entry list. Stay tuned for full coverage of Woodside throughout the weekend. Go Eventing.
Woodside Links: Website, Entry Status, Ride Times, EN’s Coverage
Preliminary Challenge Past Winners
||Staccato (Jordan Linstedt)
||Krista Stevenson (Caison)
||Santana II (Bec Braitling)
||Mallory Hogan (Clarissa Purissima)
||Thomascourt Cooley (James Alliston)
||Delaney Vaden (RedRox Jazzman)
||Chatwin (Frankie Thieriot Stutes)
||Tristen Hooks (Learning To Fly)
||Henry (David Adamo)
||JoAnna Saunders (Ansel Adams)
||Che Landscape (Matthew Brown)
||Kiera Carter (Corinthoz)
||Uphoria (Frankie Thieriot)
||Julie Flettner (Ping Pong)
||Roxabelle (Erin Kellerhouse)
||Zachary Brandt (Cavallino Cocktail)
||C.S.I. (Tamie Smith)
||Kelly Loria (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds)
||Jude’s Law (Beth Temkin)
||Lindsay Connors (Ballingowan Pizazz)