The competition is heating up at Galway Downs, with the 4- and 5-year-old Young Event Horse West Coast Championships kicking off this afternoon in Temecula, Calif. The fabulous judging panel of William Micklem, Bea di Grazia and Cathy Tucker-Slaterbeck has traveled west to see how the West Coast horses stack up against the East Coast champions crowned two weeks ago at Fair Hill.
After the dressage and conformation portions of the championship, Amber Levine and the off-track Thoroughbred gelding Otter Pop lead the 4-year-old division on a score of 42.0. “Otter,” 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.
The horse ultimately ended up at Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma, Calif., where Amber works for Andrea Pfeiffer, and she decided to buy him after falling in love with his movement and jump. “He’s built real well; he’s super uphill,” she said. “He just has a great look to him. He has a little bit of an attitude, which makes him special. I think they all need a little attitude if they’re going to have a shot at the upper levels.”
Amber set a major goal of doing the 5-year-old Young Event Horse West Coast Championships next year to take a crack at winning the $17,500 Holekamp/Turner grant to go to Le Lion d’Angers for the 7-year-old championships, but she said this year she thought she would see if she could qualify for the 4-year-old division, too.
Otter did his first two events this month at Woodside and Fresno County Horse Park, placing in the top five in both his Novice divisions. “I love the off-track Thoroughbreds,” Amber said. “I’ve had a couple myself, I ride a lot of them and we get a lot of them through Chocolate Horse Farm, too. A good off-track Thoroughbred can beat a warmblood any day.”
The warmbloods will be battling it out for the win in the 5-year-old championships, as Tamie Smith and Fleeceworks Royal, last year’s 4-year-old reserve champion, and Ruth Bley and Frankfurt are currently tied for first place on a score of 40.7.
Tamie said “Rory,” a Holsteiner mare by Riverman out of Marisol bred and owned by Judy McSwain, has really grown up in the last year since clinching the reserve championship at this event. “She’s got a neck on her now, and she’s not so babyish anymore,” Talie said. “She’s a full sister to R-Star, so I’m hoping she does a few four-stars like her sister.”
Judy has owned several young horses for Tamie over the years, including Fleeceworks Cinco, a past YEH champion we’ve featured in EN’s Got Talent. “She loves the journey of the young horses — buying them and having them come up and producing them — which is great because I feel like that’s the way I want to develop my upper-level horses, too,” Tamie said.
Frankfurt, a Hanoverian/Holsteiner gelding by For Edition out of Charen owned by Ruth and bred by George Gerken, has won the 5-year-old Young Event Horse classes at Rebecca Farm and Fresno County Horse Park this year, boasting a total score of 80.7 in Montana.
“He’s so much fun to ride; I think I was grinning during the whole test and almost went off course because I wasn’t paying attention,” Ruth said. She’s taken her time with “Frank” since importing him from Germany last year, and she said tomorrow’s jumping test will be his biggest challenge to date.
“I think it’s going to be a little tricky,” she said. “It has some interesting lines, but it’s doable. He hasn’t jumped quite that big or quite that technical yet, but I think he’ll be game. Jumping is his thing; he’s very balanced.”
Much like bringing a young horse through the levels, Tamie said the USEA’s Young Event Horse program has continued to mature and develop. “They’re starting to perfect it, and I think they’re doing a good job. I’m really excited for the program. It’s been really great to be able to showcase young horses in a ring like this where we can prepare them for bigger atmospheres down the road.”
Tomorrow the Young Event Horse competitors take on the jumping phase of the competition, which combines show jumping and cross country to evaluate the horses’ jump and gallop. The action starts bright and early at 8 a.m. PST to beat the heat, and we’ll be back in the morning with a full recap of the exciting conclusion of the USEA Young Event Horse West Coast Championships.