The Inarguable Confidence Booster: Riders Weigh In On the Modified Division

The new USEF/USEA Recognized Modified level made its debut earlier this spring at The Fork Horse Trials in Tryon, North Carolina. Measuring at 3’5″, the level was created as a stepping stone from Training to Preliminary, which is a huge skills leap in both size and technicality.

Since The Fork, two additional competitions at Heart of the Carolinas and Queeny Park have run the Modified division. We caught up with some of the participants from all three events to see what they thought about the new level, why they entered, and what they and their horses gained from the experience.

The Fork – Tryon, North Carolina

Allison Springer and Fairvoya S. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Allison Springer had two horses competing in the Modified division at The Fork Horse Trials at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. One of them is an experienced eventer just getting back in the game, and the other is an up-and-coming horse Allison hopes will go to the top of the sport.

“Songline has gone up to Advanced but this is his first time competing in a couple years,” Allison said of the 13-year-old Trakehner. “His owner, Gustav Schickendanz, loves this horse a ton and would love to see what the horse can do … I didn’t know if he was quite fit enough to run Preliminary yet, but a Training didn’t seem like the right fit for him, so the Modified was perfect.”

Songline scored a 30.0 in dressage and had some time penalties in the jumping phases but otherwise went clear on cross country and show jumping. He has since successfully completed his first Intermediate competition since 2015.

Allison’s other Modified mount at The Fork was Fairvoya S, a 7-year-old KWPN mare owned by Natalie Epstein. She moved up to Preliminary in the fall of 2016 and ran what Allison said were three “really hard Prelims.”

“This spring she had a bit of a slow start. She had a couple stops at Pine Top so I wanted to have a confidence-boosting run,” Allison said. “She’s a really nice young horse and she needed a good confidence run, but Training really doesn’t do it.”

They got exactly what they came for at The Fork, leading from start to finish and adding no additional penalties to their dressage score of 27.2. Fairvoya earned her fourth qualifier at Preliminary level at her very next event. Earlier this month, she finished second in her first CCI* at Bromont, where Allison reiterated that running the Modified early in the season was the best decision she could have made for this promising young horse.

Allison is obviously a fan of the level, but she said she’d prefer to ride the Modified dressage test in a large arena instead of a small arena so the more complicated movements are not coming up so quickly in the more confined space.

Alice Roosevelt and Get It Together. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Alice Roosevelt is a 16-year-old eventer from New York who stays busy competing two horses, Fernhill Zoro and Get It Together. The former, a 9-year-old Anglo European gelding, already had experience at Preliminary when she started riding him and he’s taken her now to three one-star events since last September. The less experienced Get It Together, an Irish Sport Horse owned by Simon Roosevelt, had only competed up to Training when she got him in January 2016.

While competing Fernhill Zoro in the CIC* at The Fork, Alice opted to run Get It Together in the Modified to make sure they were ready to make the big move up to Preliminary. She describes Get It Together as the bravest horse she’s ever ridden, which can be a problem for rideability on course, and he has a tendency to get tense in dressage.

“I chose to run Modified because of the big step up in technicality of the questions from Training to Preliminary. As brave as he is, he is sometimes hard to connect for turning questions. Also the dressage for him in Preliminary was more difficult, having to sit the trot and do lateral movements,” Alice said.

“Modified gave us both a lot of confidence going to our first Preliminary,” she said. “When I first moved up to Preliminary with Fernhill Zoro, I was nervous and felt like it was a big step. I wish there had been Modified then. I would recommend it, especially if it’s the rider’s first Preliminary because it’s a big confidence booster.”

Darrah Alexander had run Get It Together at Preliminary late last year, and he and Alice made their debut at the level as a pair at Plantation Field in May, where they finished sixth.

Heart of the Carolinas – Chesterfield, South Carolina

Lucie Hughes and Itza Charlie Horse. Photo by Eileen Dimond Photography.

Heart of the Carolinas (HOTC) at Southern 8ths Farm is known for its classic long-format offerings but also runs an increasing number of horse trials divisions. New on the Omnibus listing for 2017 was the Modified division. Cross country course designer John Michael Durr laid out an impressive track that had the riders talking back at the barns, especially about the imposing Lunar Moon Leap pictured above.

“I admit I was skeptical about the level at first, but after designing a Modified cross country course for HOTC, I’ve changed my mind completely,” John Michael said.

“I found places to build questions that were not quite up to Preliminary standard but more complicated than Training. It was great watching the horses and riders stepping up from Training tackle some bigger fences and feel so confident when they finished. I hope we see more Modified courses pop up around the country.”

Lucie Hughes and Itza Charlie Horse, a Thoroughbred owned by Gayle and Sarah Hughes, competed in the Modified at HOTC to test themselves before a move up to Preliminary. Itza Charlie Horse can be cheeky coming out of the start box, which resulted in a silly runout, but they had an excellent round otherwise.

“The course was much larger than I had expected and it had questions on the cross country he and I hadn’t seen before,” Lucie said. Still she felt ready for the next level after HOTC and entered a Preliminary level event earlier this month. “After walking the course I felt very prepared because of the Modified event we had run.”
The division winners, Corinne Ashton and her Thoroughbred Call Calvin, had already completed a number of what Corinne described as “easy, previously schooled” Preliminary events before running Modified at HOTC, where they finished on their dressage score of 23.5.
I think Modified is a good idea. There is quite a big jump, literally, from Training to Preliminary with significantly more questions and bigger tables,” Corrine said. “For me and my horse we were a little more prepared than some as he had already done a few easy Prelims, but it was nice to do something well!”

Queeny Park – Ballwin, Missouri

Danielle Durette Tursky and Inki Blandford. Photo by Jesse Franks Photography.

Danielle Durette Tursky had initially entered the Modified at Queeny Park to give a less experienced horse a confidence boost before moving up to Preliminary. Unfortunately that horse got injured and she had to swap him out for her Preliminary horse, a Thoroughbred called Inki Blandford, who had only just moved back up to the level since Danielle’s baby was born 19 months earlier.

They ended up winning the Modified division, adding time penalties on cross country and one rail in show jumping. “We both are pretty recently back into our way up the levels again. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I believe if more people offer it we will end up with more successful upper level horses,” Danielle said.

“I have done Preliminary/Trainings before on my ‘not quite ready’ horses, but that doesn’t really help the boost needed for a much more technical cross country. I think Queeny Park did an excellent job adding technical questions and terrain. The dressage test rode just like the Preliminary test, adding all the same elements as Prelim, and stadium was only a triple combination away from feeling like Prelim!”

In reading these experiences at the Modified level, there is a glaring theme: confidence. Every rider indicated a huge confidence boost for themselves or their horse after competing at Modified, which is exactly the level’s intent.

At this time there are no other USEA events offering the Modified level in 2017, but the Willow Draw Charity Show in Weatherford, Texas will have a Preliminary/Modified hybrid division in October. If you would like to see a Modified competition in your area, express your interest to your organizers!

What do you think, EN? Would you ride in a Modified division? Why or why not?