The United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation has announced the newest recipients of the Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund Grant. The Grant, in partnership with additional funding from US Equestrian (USEF), will enable the following four up-and-coming U.S. eventing combinations to participate in the U.S. Eventing European Development Tour for the summer of 2023.
– Jenny Caras, Buckhead, Georgia, with Trendy Fernhill, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Elyse Eisenberg
– Andrew McConnon, Vass, North Carolina, with Ferrie’s Cello, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Jeanne Shigo
– Caroline Martin Pamukcu, Miami Beach, Florida, with HSH Blake, an eight-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Caroline Pamukcu, Sherrie Martin, and Mollie Hoff
– Cassie Sanger, Lakeville, Connecticut, with Fernhill Zoro, her own 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding
As part of the tour, the athletes and horses will compete in the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ Poland CCIO4*-NC-S as part of the Strzegom Horse Trials in Poland from June 21-25 under the direction of USEF Eventing Emerging and Development Coach, Leslie Law. They will also attend CHIO Aachen in Germany from June 30-July 1 to observe the competition.
As the philanthropic partner to USEF, the USET Foundation supports the training and competition needs of America’s developing and elite athletes. A key component to supporting developing athletes is through the funding of several USEF High Performance Pathway Programs such as the U.S. Eventing European Development Tour. The Karen E. Stives Endowment Grant was established by the late Olympic team gold and individual silver medalist Karen E. Stives and provides financial assistance to horse-and-rider combinations that are already competing at the four-star and five-star levels and have the perceived potential to achieve elite level through further competition and preparatory training opportunities.
While the combinations participating in the upcoming FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ Poland CCIO4*-NC-S have varied international experiences, the opportunities offered along the USEF High Performance Pathway are critical for their development as they aim to one day represent the U.S. at the highest international levels.
Caras began riding at the age of four and soon after knew that representing her country in equestrian sport was something she wanted to pursue. Taking advantage of the USEF High Performance Pathway, Caras participated in the North American Junior & Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) in 2010 and again in 2013 when she earned team gold and individual bronze medals in the CCI2* division. The experience further solidified her dream of riding on U.S. teams internationally, and she was named to the USEF Eventing Emerging Athlete Program that same year.
Now, with several years of competition success under her belt, she is looking forward to building on her experiences. Though she received support from the Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund Grant in 2016 to compete as an Under 25 (U25) individual rider at the Bramham International CCI3*-U25 in Great Britain, this will be her first outing riding for the U.S. in a Nations Cup format.
“Grants make things possible that wouldn’t be otherwise,” explained Caras. “The sport is hard, and you need financial support and horses behind you to be successful. I want to extend a big thank you to the USET Foundation, USEF, and all of the owners. This opportunity is amazing, and it will have a huge impact on my career.”
The U.S. Eventing European Development Tour marks the first time McConnon takes a horse to Europe to compete. He attributes his successes — including being named to the U.S. team for the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ Poland CCIO4*-NC-S — to the USEF High Performance Pathway Programs, the organizations that support them, and the owners and teams around him.
“The programs and pathway that USEF offer are incredible,” shared McConnon. “The USET Foundation and USEF North American Futures Team Challenge were important for me, and it gave me an opportunity to compete on a practice team and to be introduced to people at USEF. That really bridged the gap in my development and helped me earn a spot in the USEF Eventing Developing Program.”
McConnon also noted that European experience is extremely important for U.S.-based competitors.
“In the U.S., we’re surrounded by the same competitors each season,” he explained. “Immersing ourselves in a competition with international riders exposes us to a higher level of competition. While America has great horses, great competitors, and incredible venues, we lack exposure to larger, international classes.
“We all know that horses enable us to have long careers in this sport,” he continued. “However, it’s the support of the USET Foundation, USEF, owners, and grooms that really makes the difference. A lot of people like me aren’t in a position financially to do this alone, so I really appreciate the support and really look forward to the opportunity.”
Caroline Martin Pamukcu
Pamukcu is no stranger to USEF High Performance Pathway Programs or international team competitions. Her impressive list of accolades has helped her earn several grants including the USET Foundation’s Jacqueline B. Mars Competition and Training Grant in 2017 and the USET Foundation’s Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund Grant in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Most recently, she was named the recipient of the USET Foundation’s 2023 Connaught Grant with her eight-year-old mount, HSH Blake.
With support from the Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund Grant, Pamukcu views the upcoming Nations Cup as an opportunity for HSH Blake to gain essential overseas competition experience, while also helping her prepare for the pressure of future team experiences, and hopefully a senior team championship appearance.
“The more programs and opportunities we get, the more we grow and learn, and the better we’ll do,” said Pamukcu of the ongoing support from the USET Foundation and USEF. “For me, I thrive off of team trainings and outings. At Nations Cup events, we push one another, we focus on one horse, and it gives us a similar type of pressure that we’ll have at the Olympic Games or World Championships.”
Pamukcu, who is part of the 2023 USEF Eventing Developing Program with HSH Blake, contends that it is pathway opportunities like the upcoming U.S. Eventing European Development Tour that have strengthened the pipeline of eventing horses and riders in the U.S.
“The U.S. eventing team has made a massive comeback in recent years, and we’re a force to be reckoned with,” she shared. “Hopefully, in the future, the athletes on the team for the U.S. Eventing European Development Tour will be my teammates on senior teams.
“It’s so special to receive this grant,” concluded Pamukcu. “Karen Stives did so much for the sport and represented the U.S. on many teams. I hope I can embody what she wanted for eventing and keep her memory alive.”
While competing at the 2021 American Eventing Championships in Lexington, Kentucky, Sanger met her current trainer and USEF Eventing Emerging and Development Coach, Leslie Law. With his encouragement, Sanger applied to USEF’s Emerging Athlete Program and was accepted for 2022 and 2023.
According to Sanger, the opportunity to train with Law and work alongside the other athletes in the Emerging Athlete Program have opened up a plethora of opportunities and have set both her and her mount Fernhill Zoro up for success.
“Going overseas as part of a team will be a completely new experience,” said Sanger. “I’m incredibly grateful and honored to have the opportunity to participate in this European Tour through the generosity of USEF and the USET Foundation. Without the support, this would not be possible. I can’t wait to compete and soak up every learning moment from my teammates and mentors.
“This opportunity is also really exciting for Fernhill Zoro because he’ll be on a bigger stage,” she continued. “He has taken me to my first Intermediate and Advanced events and, as time goes on, he keeps getting better and proves he can be really competitive at the highest levels.”
Sanger is hopeful she and her mount will produce a strong result in Poland, which will pave the way toward competing on more U.S. teams in the future.
Thanks to the USET Foundation’s Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund, these four horse-and-rider combinations can continue their training with the goal of representing the United States on the greatest international stages.