The top of the leaderboard remained virtually unchanged in today’s finale of the USEA Young Event Horse West Coast Championships, with Amber Levine and Otter Pop clinching the win in the 4-year-old division on 83.2 and Tamie Smith and Fleeceworks Royal taking the title in the 5-year-old division on 80.9.
Otter Pop, a lovely gray Thoroughbred gelding bred in California by the Vadnais Family Trust, raced six times last year under the Jockey Club name Ought to Win (Sought After X Mother of Frank, by Seattle Bound) before retiring in August. Shirley Aronson pulled the horse off the track and gelded him, and once Amber laid eyes on him at Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma, Calif., she knew she had to have him.
Though “Otter,” as he’s affectionally known in the barn, is still very green with just two Novice events under his belt before coming to the championships, Amber said he’s also incredibly game. “He’s never said no — water, ditch, jump on a hill, down bank into water. If you point and you say its OK, he believes you, and he tries,” she said.
Amber had never participated in the Young Event Horse program before this year, and she said she thinks it’s a wonderful opportunity to get young horses in the ring and jumping around. Otter is also competing in the Novice division at Galway Downs, and competing in YEH has taken the edge off now, she said, as “he’s already been in the water and jumped a ditch.”
Fleeceworks Royal, a Holsteiner mare by Riverman out of Marisol bred and owned by Judy McSwain, is a full sister to Kristi Nunnink’s four-star mare R-Star, who retired from the upper levels earlier this year due to an irregular heartbeat. “She’s very different looking than Rosie, much smaller in size, but she has the same larger than life attitude,” Tamie said.
The mare’s road to the YEH championships hasn’t been an easy one, as she got her foot stuck in a feeder earlier this year and had to take time off to recover. Then she and Tamie fell in the water complex at the American Eventing Championships when the mare misread the question. But though Tamie only had a few weeks to prepare her, “Rory” ate up the course today.
Their final score of 80.7 just narrowly missed besting the two top scores from the YEH East Coast Championships. Will Coleman and Vagabon de Champdoux scored 81.5 to win at Fair Hill, with Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Jungle ROC scoring 81.2 for second place, so both of those horses will be in consideration for the Turner/Holekamp grant to Le Lion d’Angers in their 7-year-old years.
But Tamie has Sunsprite Syrius, last year’s YEH 5-year-old West Coast reserve champion, up for consideration for the Le Lion grant next year. She agrees the grant, which offers $17,500 to North American-bred horses and $8,000 to imported horses, is an incredible incentive to participate in the YEH program.
“That’s huge because I’m trying to produce horses that go to the top. I think it will be really good for the American horses to be able to go over there as a 7-year-old to compete and not have it be their first time” going to Europe later in the careers for a three-star or four-star, she said.
And while the FEH champion doesn’t get a shot at a ticket to Europe, Robert Kellerhouse kindly donated a free entry to the Galway Downs Training Three-Day in the winner’s 5-year-old year, and Dragonfire Farm’s Let’s Go DF, handled by Earl McFall, is the lucky recipient of that prize this year.
“Ten years ago, you didn’t have people who were breeding event horses,” Earl said. “They were breeding jumpers and dressage horses, and we would get their rejects.” That’s changed now with farms specializing in breeding event horses, and Earl said it’s important to have programs like FEH and YEH that recognize breeders for their achievements.
“People need to get the recognition they deserve, and this is one way to do that,” Earl said. “They’re not doing it for the money. But when our babies go out there and have success, that makes it worth it to the breeder.”
Terry Paine, who bred the FEH 2-Year-Old champion Cheers with his wife Linda, agreed. A colt by the Holsteiner stallion Blauer Vogel and out of the Thoroughbred mare Qtrapastree, also the dam of four-star mare Gin & Juice, Terry said he and Linda are “just tickled” that their colt earned the highest FEH score.
“There’s a great joy for us, and it makes it worthwhile for us to do what we do to see the horses making progress and how they change and morph into a more educated, capable horse,” Terry said. “That’s why I’ve stayed in the horse business all my life. I’ve really enjoyed watching young horses go on to be something great.”
Congrats to all the participants in the FEH and YEH West Coast Championships, and thank you to the USEA for supporting the concept of producing top eventing prospects here on U.S. soil. Click here to read more about Earn and Jen McFall’s Dragonfire Farm breeding program and here to read more on the “Buy or Breed? Made or Green?” debate.