That’s a wrap for the 2018 American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena! A final round of winners were crowned on Sunday here at the Colorado Horse Park. Check out our Adequan USEA Gold Cup Advanced Final recap here (go Tamie Smith and Mai Baum!); for Intermediate and Beginner Novice, you’ve come to the right place. Once again we have the hardworking USEA/Colorado Horse Park press teams to thank for chasing down the winners of each division to collect their reflections on the week.
Charlie Tango is used to being an AEC Champion having won the honor a whopping three times: Preliminary in 2014, Intermediate in 2015 and once again at the Intermediate level today. With all that experience, Heather Morris was able to ride Team Express Group, LLC’s 2008 Irish Sport Horse gelding (Shannondale Sarco St. Ghyvan x Our Queen Bee) to a perfect weekend. The pair added nothing to their dressage score of 25.8 to win wire-to-wire by over five points.
“He was great. I was a little rusty actually, I hadn’t ridden in three weeks because I threw my back out, but it all worked out in there,” said Morris.
Morris and ‘Chuck’ came into show jumping with a rail in hand, but they didn’t even need it as they easily cleared Marc Donovan’s course. “He was weird at the liverpool at Rebecca Farm, so I was a little worried about that, but he jumped great. I had a few errors, but he handled it well. It was lovely to be in the International Ring here, and the course was lovely. He loves the crowd and the atmosphere so it went well,” said Morris.
Bella Mowbray and Ruth Bley’s En Vogue, a 2005 Hanoverian mare (Earl x Laurena), added a single time penalty to their dressage score, but were still able to hold on to the reserve champion title. “My highlight was definitely cross country,” said Mowbray. “It was a real championship course. It was pretty imposing. I looked pretty technical and big and it rode really beautifully. I was just really proud of my horse. She ate it up.”
“It’s a long way home, about 24 hours, but thankfully we had a great weekend,” continued Mowbray, who traveled from California to compete at the AEC. The journey was a bit closer than the 2017 AEC in Tryon, N.C., where Mowbray and En Vogue finished fourth in the Preliminary Horse division.
Third-placed Erin Kellerhouse had never been to the Colorado Horse Park before, but she was connected to it. “My husband has been,” explained Kellerhouse. “He organized a two-star here 20 years ago. He was really impressed with the changes. I was impressed too, not even knowing what it was before.”
Kellerhouse and Woodford Reserve, her own 2009 Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tinarana’s Inspector x Laharns Laughton), started the weekend in second place, but some time on cross country dropped them down to fourth. However, a double clear show jumping round boosted them up to finish in third. “He’s a really good show jumper and I knew if I didn’t mess up, we’d go clean. He’s really careful and he gives me a lot of confidence in there because he’s brave and careful and he just does his thing,” said Kellerhouse.
The Novice Horse division welcomed yet another victory for California native Tamie Smith, as the fierce competitor took to the final show jumping phase with the MB Group LLC’s 2013 Oldenburg gelding MB MaiStein. The duo scooped up the tri-colored ribbon after landing on 28.1 total penalties.
“The stadium round today was fantastic,” Smith said. “He’s a little over-qualified for the show jumping because he’s so good at it. He was a little up in there and the lines are almost a little tight for him, so I had to kind of wrangle him in. His stride is naturally huge, but he’s so careful and such a good boy. I think I cross-cantered a few turns, but he’s five so it happens. I was just really pleased with how he handled the pressure. He’s just a good boy.”
Smith intends to move MaiStein up to Training level after the conclusion of the AEC, and said she will end the year on that note. “Next, he’s going to go compete at Training level, and then he’ll do the Young Event Horse Championships at Fair Hill and then probably finish the year with a Training level three-day.”
Colorado’s own Madeline Backus was named the second-place winner, after she rode Reflektion’s Rio, Lynn Roberts’ 2007 Swedish Warmblood gelding (Reggasoni x L.A. Baltic Reflektion), through the timers to also finish on a dressage score of 29.5. “We love the AEC,” Backus said. “I’m from Colorado so it was wonderful for it to be so close to home this year. Thanks to everyone for having it here and for running such a great event.”
Backus has been competing in England for the past six months, but was thrilled when she discovered that the timing would work, and her AEC schedule was set. “This horse has been in training with my mom for about three years,” she explained, “and I’ve been away in England for the last six months so I hadn’t ridden him in a little while. My mom kept him going and it worked out timing wise for me to bring him here. He’s been a really fun horse to work with. He came from a dressage background and then seemed keen about the eventing and really took to it. It’s been great working with him.”
Third-place was rounded out by Whitney Tucker Billeter of California, who also kept a tight grip on her dressage score of 31.0. She galloped to the finish aboard Bill’s Midnight Magic, John Herich’s 2004 Hanoverian gelding (Espri x Rena Ramzi). “It’s been a super fun weekend here at AEC,” concluded Tucker Billeter. “I just want to thank this horse’s owners for allowing me to compete him here this week. It’s been wonderful to have the ride on him, and get to learn from him, and play with him. He’s just a really cool horse.”
Amanda Boyce of California and Mercury, her own 2006 Welsh Cob gelding, went into today’s show jumping sitting in second place and maintained her competitive edge to finish on top of the Junior Novice division. “My trainer and I have a system, which is zip (forward), counter bend, steady, and then quick — we’ve been practicing that a lot,” said Boyce.
She continued, “This is my first AEC and my first time at the Colorado Horse Park. It’s a really huge facility and I love it. My favorite memory of the AEC is everything about it! My horse was perfect throughout the whole show. We met a few of our goals and the victory lap was really cool!”
Julia Brittain of California aboard her own Haiku, a 2012 Dutch Warmblood gelding by Sir Donnerhall, fell from their first-place rank coming out of cross country to finish in second. “I think it was the best he’s jumped all year,” Brittain said. “There was definitely a lot of pressure going in, but he’s jumped incredibly so I was happy with him. We did have a rail, but it happens. He was forward and he was focused. He was attentive, so I was happy with the outcome.”
Madison Boesch and her own Seamless, a 2009 Warmblood mare, moved into third on 33.3 with a clear cross country and show jumping round. “It was my whole crew’s first time here,” Boesch said. “It was a really cool experience coming here. My favorite memory of the AEC is how hard my horse tried for me. Even though sometimes I got her into some harder spots, she tried her hardest and jumped out of it. Today, I just tried to keep ‘Felicity’ in a spot that she could jump out of, and if we get in a hard spot, just trying to help her out as much as I can.”
Colorado native Erin Contino maintained her three-phase lead, concluding the week with a blue ribbon in the Novice Amateur division aboard her own Handsome Ransom, a 2012 Thoroughbred gelding (Desert Warrior x St. Casmir’s Secret), on their dressage score of 25.8.
“My plan going into stadium was to be patient and keep my nerves under control,” Contino commented. “But in warm-up, I didn’t have very much horse, everything was just really dull, almost overly quiet. I just had to focus on keeping him in front of my leg, even if I didn’t see my distance. I just had to focus on keeping him coming, while I was sorting it out. I guess it worked out. I got a little lucky, but sometimes luck goes your way. He’s ready to go home and take a long nap!”
Michelle Meghrouni of California and Swizzle, a 2011 Holsteiner mare (Blauer Vogel x Swiss Detail), maintained their grip on second-place from start to finish on a score of 27.0. “This AEC has been a good challenge,” Meghrouni said. “It was good, it’s all been very fun. We had more trouble on cross country than I expected, but overall, my mare was good. She got over everything and she really stepped up.”
Third place was awarded to Texan Savannah Welch and her own Langcaster, a 2009 Oldenburg gelding (Languster x Galiffi), who climbed up the leaderboard from eighth place after dressage to end on 29.8 penalties. Of the final phase Welch said, “My horse likes to get a little wild in show jumping and he likes to drag me down the lines. So, getting a nice, steady rhythm, that was even throughout the course was really important, and he did that, so it was great.”
Anna Howell and her own Bodacious Affair, a 2003 Thoroughbred/Shire gelding (Kaeson’s Tuxedo Affair x Exclusive Ballerina), steadily climbed the leaderboard all weekend, sitting in third after dressage on 25.2, adding nothing to their score on cross country to move into second, and finally jumping double clear this afternoon to take home the win.
Howell was one of the riders who was unable to ride at their scheduled time on Friday due to the rain delay and ultimately performed her dressage test on Saturday morning. “It worked out for us,” she said. “He’s pretty easy. He’s kind of the same, every time he comes out. I think he would have put in just as good on Friday. I was a little upset with myself in dressage. My canter departs weren’t great, so I got a little bit hard in my hands. He reacted worse to that, instead of me softening. I would have ridden a little bit better in our dressage test, if I could do something differently.”
“The cross country course was awesome,” she continued. “I loved it. I liked the variety of the terrain. I was fun to have more of a challenge with going up hills and down hills, and using the terrain, versus an open course.”
“My favorite part about the AEC was all of the people that I met,” Howell shared. “I was on the Adult Team Challenge. For being at the bottom of Area IV, I actually don’t compete in it very often, so I don’t know many people in my Area and [this weekend] I got to meet so many people from my area and make new friends. Obviously the win is great, but everyone was so friendly, and [I enjoyed] the camaraderie.”
The Reserve Champion title went to Julie Kuhle and her own Orion, a 2008 Appaloosa Sport Horse gelding (JS Ebony N Ivory x Lucinda), who finished on their dressage score of 26.0. “It’s been so much fun,” said Kuhle of her AEC experience. “This has been on my bucket list for two years with him. I’m going to retire him after this, so this couldn’t be better.”
“Neither of us have competed in an AEC, so we came to Parker,” Kuhle continued. “We’re from Iowa, so it was close enough to go. I’ve had horses qualify before, but then something would happen, as it does with horses. We came out on Tuesday. That was a really smart decision. We worked lightly on Wednesday, a little harder on Thursday, and by Friday, both of us were okay. Adding that extra day was really important.”
“The cross country course was fun and exciting,” she said. “My strategy going into stadium was to try and keep him under control and be smart. Try to ride smart. I wish I hadn’t had to circle three times on cross country to get him under control, so if I could do something differently, maybe I’d only have two circles. We’re going to do fun stuff in his retirement, but he’s done competing.”
For Cassie Boehm, traveling to compete at the AEC with her mother’s Alera Imperia, an 2008 Canadian Thoroughbred/Clydesdale mare (A Prayer for Peace x Tequila), was the trip of a lifetime. “This mare was bought to be my mom’s trail horse and maybe a Starter level packer,” Boehm said. “When I took over the ride we thought, ‘Oh, maybe it’ll be fun to do some Beginner Novice, maybe Novice on her.’ She just has more heart than any horse I’ve ever sat on in my entire life.”
Beginner Novice Amateur
Cami Pease came all of the way from Washington D.C., and represented the East Coast well, finishing in first place with 24.5 penalties aboard her own 2000 Belgian Warmblood gelding, Vibrant. “You can’t ever count on anything,” said Pease, “but we are both very comfortable in the arena and I could tell that he was having a lot of fun. If I ride fine, he’ll take me around. Cross country is our hardest battle. Both of us started out in the equitation ring, so we can do flatwork, that’s all fine, but cross country still makes us a little nervous.”
When asked what her favorite AEC memory has been, Pease concluded: “A clean Cross-Country round, that has to be my favorite take-home memory!”
Second place finisher Kelly Green of Texas piloted her own Woodstock Classic Rock, a 2009 Thoroughbred gelding (Rock Slide x Sally Q), to a final score of 28.5. “My favorite moment here this week,” she said, “happened today! I thought it was one of my best rounds, and jumping the last fence was great.”
Green got “Theo” a little over a year ago from off of the race track. “We’ve grown together,” she continued. “We both had confidence issues out on cross country, and we’ve worked through those. My trainer is Angela Bowles, and we worked really hard and are just so pleased that our effort is paying off!”
Erin McLeod and her own My Maria, a 1998 Thoroughbred mare (Maria’s Mon x Steppin Early), moved up from sixth place after dressage to fourth after a fault-free cross country, finishing their weekend with the yellow ribbon and a score of 30.5. “I’ve had Maria for about 12 years,” said McLeod. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. I’ve always wanted to get to the AEC, and I’m just so excited to be here. We made it, and it’s all come together. We’ve worked so hard to be here.”
Beginner Novice Rider
The Beginner Novice Rider division was championed by Tricia Leslie of Colorado and her own Inate Dignity, a 2006 Thoroughbred gelding (Subordination x Indygo), as the duo finish atop the division on a score of 27.3.
“I was not expecting this victory, but it’s really wonderful,” exclaimed Leslie, who lives just down the road from CHP. “It was so nice to have the AEC in our backyard! It’s hard for us to get out East, so it was fun for us to have the opportunity to do this. I just got back into eventing!”
Area V rider Patti Champion, of Texas, guided Invincible, her 2009 Thoroughbred gelding, to second place on a 32.2. Lindsey Kahn of Minnesota and Seoul Sister, a 2010 Thoroughbred/Connemara mare (Firebee x Limerick Lace), collected third place on a final score of 33.3.
Champion agreed with Leslie’s compliments about the excitement of a Midwestern AEC. This was the mother of four’s first time competing out of her Area, and the weekend ended on a high note for her and her mount. “Vince and I have been together for two years, so we’ve worked really hard to get here. We’ve just had so much support from the kids, and my trainer and my husband,” she said.
Champion continued, “This is my first AEC, and the first time I’ve ever competed outside of Area V! The whole trip has been incredible with the weather, the facility is great. It’s just been an incredible weekend, and I appreciate Vince for taking such good care of me.”
Kahn also found herself at the top of the leaderboard after a consistent week of competition, moving up from 11th place after dressage to third following both a fantastic cross country and show jumping round. “It’s just been an awesome journey learning to trust each other. She’s a very brave mare, so I always have fun with her at competitions so riding her here is a huge honor,” said Kahn.
Beginner Novice Horse
Alexa Ehlers and Clear Laveer, her own 2006 Hanoverian gelding (Rascalino x Hauptstutbuch Wincenta 2), led the Beginner Novice Horse division wire-to-wire on their dressage score of 27.4.
“I have loved the AEC [this year] because I’ve been able to spend time with my family and my friends,” Ehlers shared. “I grew up in Texas and then I moved to Kentucky, so I haven’t seen a lot of people in five or six years. This is my first AEC! When I was in college, I went to try and go. I had a Preliminary horse that was actually here [this year] with a Preliminary junior rider, but I broke my back the day before we were supposed to leave. It just never worked out. It’s cool that it finally worked, and it worked like this.”
Ehlers said that she thought Marc Donovan’s show jumping course “was perfect for the level. The ring has a little bit of a slope and so you had to think about how the terrain was going to affect their step and there was enough room to make choices, whether you added or took one out. But you had to take into consideration what the terrain was going to do.”
What’s next for Clear Laveer? He’s heading to Atlanta to be with Ehler’s older sister. “I was always chasing her as a kid,” said Ehlers, “and then she went to college and rode and then got a little bit tired of it (it’s a lot!). She’s been adulting and she just graduated from law school, yesterday was her last day of classes, so we’ll take him down to Atlanta and let her have some fun with him.”
“I definitely got the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows,” she said, “in here show jumping with this horse and out there with my Advanced horse, Amistoso, on the cross country course, but that’s eventing!”
Sophie Mueller and Dawn Holmes’ 24Karat Magic, a 2011 Australian Stock Horse gelding by Icewood’s Cadabra, moved up from third place to second with a faultless round, finishing on a score of 29.6. “The AEC were fabulous,” said Mueller. “They were a lot of fun and they were in my backyard, so I didn’t have to travel far. We live at 8,500 feet, so we didn’t have to do anything special to condition them. They are pretty fit naturally and we’ve felt fine.”
“The biggest thing I would have changed was that I wouldn’t have picked [at] him down to a few fences,” Mueller reflected. “I probably should have just trusted him more and let him jump, but he got me around. He saved my butt.”
Nicole Hatley and Aspen, Cherye Huber’s 2013 Mecklenburg gelding (Levisonn x Cimberley), finished on their dressage score of 30.0, moving from fourth to third after today’s show jumping competition. “The AEC were a lot of fun this year,” she said. “It was a lot of fun to get to come. It was a long trip from Texas, but it has great scenery, the weather’s been great, it’s been beautiful and other than the altitude sickness, everything has gone really well.”
Of all the challenges a rider can face at a horse show, Hatley said that the altitude has been her biggest obstacle. “I’ve been sick all week and it’s been kicking my butt,” she shared. “I’ve been here to ski before and I had to be put on oxygen and put in the hospital. As far as the horses, we always keep our horses really fit, we do conditioning with them on a regular basis, even if we’re not going to be at altitude. We always make sure they are ready.”
Reflecting on her weekend, Hatley said she would have pushed for a bit more in the dressage if she could go back and do it again. “I would have asked for one more step from that left front in dressage, and we probably would have had it in the 20s. We were so close to having a square halt, and we were just off by that much, but that was the only thing I would change. He was fantastic. He was actually locking on to bigger fences out there, he’s ready. My favorite memory is getting to go around in the victory gallop. This is the first time I was at the top of the pack at an AEC!”
Junior Beginner Novice
Ella Robinson and Fernhill Fearless des Terdrix, her own 2010 Dutch Warmblood gelding (Nabab de Reve x Untouchable), waited patiently in the wings all weekend on their dressage score of 30.3, moving from equal third to equal second after cross country and taking home the win with the cross country time closest to optimum time.
Thirteen-year-old Robinson said that cross country is her favorite phase “because it’s so much fun. I love all of the different jumps. I really liked this course. It was way different than what we’re used to. It was really fun. My favorite part of the course was going down the hill to the log jump.”
“Stadium went really well,” Robinson reflected. “It went really smoothly. I did everything according to plan. We are moving up to Novice at the next show, so I’m really excited for that.”
Maya Pessin and This Bird, her own 2009 Thoroughbred gelding, sat tied with Robinson and ‘Fearless’ all weekend but were nearly 40 seconds faster on cross country, putting them in the Reserve Champion position on the leaderboard at the end of the competition.
For Pessin, this weekend was one of firsts. “My favorite moment was realizing that we went double clear for the first time. This is our first time at an AEC. I hope to come back, we’ll see. I wouldn’t really do anything differently. I felt really well prepared for the AEC; my trainer made sure we were on our A-game this entire weekend.”
Haley Miller and Mr. Melvin, her own 2011 Thoroughbred gelding (Compromise x Leona’s Hope), held the lead through the first two phases of competition but a single rail in show jumping dropped them back to third place. “I thought the course today was really good,” she said. “I liked it. I wish I wouldn’t have held him back so much, so he had to exert himself to get over the jump, and knock it down.”
What’s next for Miller and Mr. Melvin? “After AEC, our plan is to practice harder and to come back next year. I’m probably going to do Novice next year.”
Click here to view a full list of results!