By the Numbers: AEC Jr. Beginner Novice

Erin Roane and her “quirky, fun and overly loving” OTTB Beau Tie are one of EN’s picks to dominate AEC Jr. Beginner Novice cross country. “The trip from Texas to Colorado was long, but we’re ready to compete!,” Erin says. “Me and Beau have definitely had our ups and downs, but it’s been enjoyable. This AEC we are shooting for top 10! And of course to have a good experience at our first AEC.” Photo by Troy Roane Photography (

Move over, Advanced, with your fancy dressage tailcoats and show-boaty jumps. For one glorious week each year, we shove the Big Name Riders out of the limelight and focus instead on the cutthroat ranks of … Jr. Beginner Novice.

This year 31 of the country’s most formidable junior riders are facing off over the toughest yellow numbered jumps in the land right here in Parker, Colorado for the 2018 American Eventing Championships. The field is wide open but this much is certain: The competition will be fierce. When was the last time you finished an event on a score of 19.8? Yeah, insert crickets here. Yet that was the winning score from last year’s Jr. Beginner Novice 14 & Under championship, earned by Ashley Stout and Deo Volente.

Make no mistake — these kids are coming for us all, and we can’t wait to follow all the dramatic twists and turns of this year’s Jr. Beginner Novice showdown.

The Field

  • Jr. Beginner Novice and Jr. Beginner Novice 14 & Under are usually separate divisions, but for 2018 they have been combined into one mega-division.
  • Thoroughbreds far outnumber any other breed represented, but it’s a diverse field:

Shaeleigh O’Brien, a 13-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona, is competing one of two Friesians in the division. She and A Beautiful Promise have been a partnership for a little over a year and have won two out of their last three events together. “I have an insanely close bond with my horse,” Shaleigh says. “This will be my first AECs and my goals are to finish clean and clear and have tons of fun.” Photo by Marcus Greene Photography.

  • We have three veteran AEC horses in the field. FR’s Check It Out, a 2009 bay Thoroughbred gelding owned and ridden by Avery Daigle, finished 17th at the 2016 AEC in the Training Amateur division with Emily Cox. Mr. Mile High, a 2008 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding owned by Heidi Hedberg and ridden by Emily Hedberg, finished 9th in the 2017 Training Rider championship with Alison Wilaby. P.S. American Girl, a 25-year-old Pinto ridden by Emma Sletten, is making a huge comeback after earning the Jr. Training AEC reserve championship in 2008 with owner Madeline Backus — who was 12 at the time! When Madeline outgrew P.S. American Girl she began riding P.S. Ariana, her future four-star horse. Happy 10-year AEC homecoming, P.S. American Girl!

Dressage Divas

The 2018 AEC is something of a homecoming for our dressage diva Emily Hedberg, age 12 from Maple Plain, Minnesota, and her horse Mr. Mile High (“Manning”). The OTTB was born in Colorado, thus his show name, with a barn name inspired by former Broncos QB Peyton Manning. “I am so excited to be competing in his home state and against some of the best riders in the U.S.,” Emily says. “I really just want to do my best to make everyone back home proud. Of course I’d love a ribbon, but I’m so happy and proud that I’ve made it this far at my age doing what I love to do and being with people who love horses as much as me. ” Photo courtesy of Emily Hedberg.

AEC Jr. Beginner Novice is sure to bring the heat in the sandbox. Leading dressage scores from the 14 & Under division for the past four years: 19.8 (2017), 26.5 (2016), 23.8 (2015), 23.5 (2014). Zing!

Eighteen out of this year’s 31 Jr. Beginner Novice entries have proven that they’re capable of scoring in the 20s, but three in particular have a track record of sub-25.0 tests which could give them the edge in Friday’s stiff competition:

  • Sophia Hardesty and San Marco, a 2010 bay Thoroughbred/Oldenburg gelding owned by Kim Hardesty, have won two out of their last three events together on their dressage score. The pair earned an impressive 21.9 at The Event at Skyline in May.
  • Emily Hedberg and Mr. Mile High, a 2008 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding owned by Heidi Hedberg, are coming in hot, having scored a 24.0 at Otter Creek earlier this month.
  • Maya Pessin and This Bird, her own 2009 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding, are on a tear, having scored a 25.20, 24.7 and 25.3 at their past three events.

Emma Franklin, age 13 from Smiths, Alabama, and Teddybear traveled 1,430 miles — a four-day journey — to contest the AEC. She and her 15.2-hand mount have been inseparable for almost five years; Emma bought him with 60 days under saddle from a hunter/jumper barn and the rest was history. The pair completed their first horse trial in September 2017, almost a year ago to the day. “Teddy has always had a lot of self confidence, we have taken our time bringing him along, and it has definitely paid off as he still has the sweetest puppy dog like personality,” Emma says. “Although this is his first year doing horse trials his confidence has really shined out on cross country! Teddy has had such a willing and sweet personality that I have been able to remain his only rider thru his competition career.” They’ve spent the last few months in dressage boot camp and are ready to shine this week: “Teddy is definitely the star of the relationship so this weekend will be all about how I manage him!” Photos courtesy of Emma Franklin.

Cross Country Machines

Seven horses in the field have never had a cross country jump penalty, and we don’t expect them to sully that spotless record this Saturday! Here are five who have shown consistency in the phase:

  • Emma Franklin and Teddybear, her own 2007 German Riding Pony/Dutch Warmblood gelding, have had double-clear cross country trips in their last eight outings.
  • Lauren Garcia and Park Avenue III, a 1998 dark bay Thoroughbred gelding owned by Ellen Doughty-Hume, have a clear cross country slate, and the horse has been double-clear cross country in all seven of its USEA events, winning the last two.
  • Natalie Nabor and Lonely Soldier, her own 2003 bay Thoroughbred gelding, only have four events under their belt but cross the finish flags without penalty each time.
  • Erin Roane and Beau Tie, her own 2005 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding, have collected only 0.4 time faults in eight cross country trips.
  • Ella Robinson and Fernhill Fearless des Terdrix, her own 2010 bay Dutch Warmblood gelding, are a fairly new partnership, but the horse has cross country mileage through Prelim and has never had a jump penalty.

Tatum Grey, age 17 from Hugo, Minnesota, says Reds Loyal Flame is strongest in the cross country phase — “She’s always incredibly confident and will zoom around the course” — but their fault-free show jumping track record is equally impressive. “Little Red” was originally intended to be part of their lesson horse program but was too young and green, so Tatum bought her and brought her along over the past three-and-a-half years. “She is incredibly quiet and will do whatever I ask,” Tatum says. “She will also eat anything you put in front of her — a blessing and a curse!” Photo by Merrick Studios Fine Art.

Show Jumping Powerhouses

It’s never over until it’s over in eventing. Who can we count on handle the pressure on show jumping day? Here are three who’ve never dropped a rail.

  • Tatum Grey and Reds Loyal Flame, her own 2011 chestnut Quarter Horse mare, have won two of their last four events, turning in double-clear cross country AND show jumping rounds each time.
  • Ingrid Hofmeister and Berklee, a 2010 chestnut/white Paint/Clydesdale gelding owned by Melinda Hofmeister, have yet to pick up a show jumping penalty in their three events together.
  • Maggie Morris and Trump Lion, her own 1997 black Irish Sport Horse gelding, are super jumpers across the board; in their five events together they’ve had no cross country jump penalties and turned in five double-clear show jumping performances.

PREDICTED WINNER: It’s anybody’s game! Best of luck to all!

Go Eventing.

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