Liz Halliday leads newly crowned eventing champions, and California venue is vetted as world-class.
The Eventing Championships at Galway Downs offered myriad magic moments yesterday as the 2023 USEF National CCI4*-L and 2*-L Eventing Championships and the USEF Eventing Young Rider Championships, presented by USEA, concluded. However, it may be the event’s glimpse into the future that is most indelibly etched for those who competed, organized, volunteered, or watched in person.
The VIP Pavilion was sold out, the Grand Prix arena was ringed several deep with fans and the vibe was Saturday night sizzle, California style.
“The event is amazing,” said US Eventing CEO Rob Burk, speaking of the entire experience. “The team here at Galway Downs just leaned into raising the bar, not only for California, but for eventing facilities anywhere in the country. Some of the most important things in our sport are the stables, the horsemanship, the quality of footing and you are not going to get better footing than this anywhere, in show jumping or cross-country, or more of the feel of a Championships than what we have here.”
Even before the results were determined, Burk predicted that Galway Downs will be widely acknowledged as a world-class equestrian sport stage. Which has been part of the plan for some time – a combined effort of Galway Downs owner, Ken Smith, organizer Robert Kellerhouse and Nilforushan Equisport Events.
The future looks bright for Young Riders, too. “I see this as a snapshot of what our Olympic and WEG teams will be in the next few decades,” Burk continued. “Early indicators of future success” included having Young Riders Championships contenders take the top two spots in the Pro Series Equine CCI2*-L and a reserve in the Adequan CCI3*-L; and an Emerging U25 rider take third in the Defender CCI4*-L.
Liz Halliday & Cooley Nutcraker top the USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championships & Defender CCI4*-L
Speaking of the future, Pan Am Team USA silver medalist Liz Halliday zoomed back from Santiago, Chile to ensure Cooley Nutcracker got his crack at the national title, the $16,500 of the division’s $50,000 in prize money and a place on the 2024 Olympic team selectors’ radar screen. The 9-year-old Irish Sporthorse’s 29.9 dressage score on Thursday established a solid lead which widened to five rails in hand by the show jumping conclusion.
In the interim, Clayton Fredericks’ cross-country shook up the standings. Five of 12 pairs were eliminated, including Liz on her first ride, Shanroe Cooley, late in an otherwise smooth-looking effort. Liz liked the rest of the course, but felt the test at 19A-B was a little too tough, too late in the track and lacked a “graceful way to ride it without just manhandling it.”
Fredericks, a 5* contender himself, acknowledged it was gut-wrenching to have the first three pairs fail to finish. “I never set something I won’t ride myself and we had a fairly good intensity,” he said of the 4* national championship route. “The only thing is maybe the level of the horses was on the green side. There were 4 or 5 doing their first 4*-L and that always affects the results. The problems were spread evenly throughout the course, and I think the course was of a good level for what we are doing here.”
Warming up as one of those partnerships tackling their first 4*-L, Tommy Greengard and Joshuay MBF filtered the reports through the rock-steady influence of Andrea Pfeiffer, the Chocolate Horse Farm proprietor for whom Greengard rides. “She is like an emotional rock for me. It made that a lot easier to cope mentally.”
They stuck with their plan of a careful pace throughout and it paid off, after a double clear show jumping round, to finish reserve in the USEF CCI4*-L National Championships. It also resulted in a third place finish in the Defender 4* that netted $10,000.
Australian Bec Braitling and Arnell Sporthorse’s Caravaggio II finished 2nd in the Defender CCI4*-L, earning the $12,500 reserve check. But as an Australian, Braitling was not eligible for the US title contention. Caravaggio’s performance was win enough. After an intense summer of training and competing in Europe, Braitling saw marked improvement in “Ernie’s” ability to keep his considerable abilities “together” through all three phases. She plans on a 5* debut as next year’s target for the 2011 British bred horse.
An uncharacteristic two show jumping rails slotted Galway Downs-based Emilee Libby and Tosca into fourth overall and third in the USEF National 4*-L championships. It was this pair’s debut 4*-L effort, too.
Sabrina Glaser & Cooley Mr. Murphy top the Adequan CCI3*-L
Sabrina Glaser’s journey from Langley, British Columbia, was rewarded with a win aboard Cooley Mr. Murphy in this 22-horse division. Sabrina described her partner of 4 years as “probably the trickiest horse I’ve ever sat on.” After consistent successes at 3*-S, he had “niggly little injuries that made us trickle along for a while.” It led to him getting over-familiar with the dressage test and “wheeling and bucking into transitions” in earlier outings. “But he kept a lid on it” Thursday to score a 32 in the sandbox. Double clear on cross-country vaulted them into the lead, followed by double clear show jumping, several exuberant fist pumps and $7,000 of the division’s $21,000 in prize money.
Area VI Young Rider Molly Duda was thrilled with her reserve finish, the $5,250 check and how “fresh and good” Disco Traveler felt. “I was surprised because in our last 3*-L, I could feel his fitness was lacking a bit on the final day. But today, he was jumping out of his skin and I am super proud of him.”
Erin Kellerhouse didn’t have the stellar dressage outing she and Bon Vivant GWF are capable of. That was nicely counterbalanced by a “fabulous” effort on cross-country that made a tough track “feel like Training Level.” Just a few time faults there, plus double clear stadium, moved this Galway Downs-based duo from 8th after dressage into third and a $4,200 prize check.
Kellerhouse credits some of her show jumping success to regularly competing in the Nilforushan Equisport Events jumping competitions that have been a significant part of Galway Downs’ evolution as an international venue. “It’s really helped me get to know what type of ride he likes, and it’s helped all of my horses.”
Hanni Sreenan Atop the USEF CCI2*-L National Championships and Pro Series Equine CCI2*-L
Hanni Sreenan aspires to 5* competition and came to Galway Downs expecting “an amazing experience.” She didn’t expect that to include the double crown of USEF National CCI2*-L Champion and the USEF Eventing CCI2*-L Young Rider Individual title. But that’s what she and Ebenholtz, a 2007 Hannoverian, earned by staying fault free after their 28.8 dressage start.
They were second going into Marc Donovan’s stadium finale and ascended to the top when Area VI Young Rider Sarah Ross and Fernhill Heart Throb had two heartbreaking rails to disrupt what would have been a Young Riders sweep of the division’s top three spots.
Area V’s Molly Duda and Carlingfords Hes a Clover were also double clear on cross-country and stadium to move from 4th after dressage to reserve champion in this competitive 40-horse division sponsored by Pro Series Equine.
James Alliston and Cora snapped the Young Riders sweep, finishing third on their 31.3 dressage effort.
Auburn Excell Brady Wins the Dechra Equine CCI1*-L
Auburn Excell Brady registered a first international win for Boudica BSP and it was indeed a victory in her partnership with the 2016 KWPN mare named after a Celtic warrior. She’d been marketing the mare as a show jumper, for Andrea Baxter, because it didn’t seem eventing was in the cards. “Honestly, I was scared of her at first. She’s big, very athletic and not always agreeable,” the California professional explained.
Excell Brady’s dressage coaches felt she had potential aplenty, but cross-country was “tricky,” to put it mildly. “We duked it for a few days in a clinic with Ian Stark this summer, and Ian really helped me work things through.” The warrior pair led this 28-horse field with a 27 in dressage and didn’t give up an inch.
“The level of competition and the atmosphere are fantastic,” said Excell Brady, a longtime Galway Downs exhibitor. “It’s really a special experience riding down centerline and I thought the cross-country and show jumping courses were great, though challenging.”
Unprecedented prize money, live-scoring on the jumbotron and overall pizzazzy presentation were icing on the cake, she said. Excell-Brady was one of several competitors to especially appreciate the enhanced amenities for spectators, including owners, clients and family.
USEA Area VI Young Rider Scarlett Peinado and Shadow Inspector also finished on their dressage score, a 27.4, to maintain 2nd place in the Dechra Equine CCI1*-L and be crowned the 2023 USEF CCI1*-L Eventing Young Rider National Champion. Qualifying for the Young Rider Championships was a “big goal” coming in and “I have not processed what happened” she said in the afterglow.
Shadow Inspector is a California veteran thanks to his years with Haley Turner. “My horse knew what was going on here, even in all this atmosphere,” Peinado said. “I was very nervous – a little bit panicked, so I was just trying to manage my stress and remember the course.” She travelled from Pennsylvania, where she trains with Area V chef Dom Schramm. He advised pretending like it was a schooling show, which proved effective throughout Marc Donovan’s turny track of quick-arising obstacles. Striding got a little tight in the final combination of pastel-colored cookie-standard obstacles, but the pair stayed clear to gallop to individual Young Rider gold.
Close behind in the Dechra Equine CCI1*-L third spot was Harper Padgett and Cooley Starship. Their finish on a 28.2 dressage score resulted in individual Young Rider silver and helped Area VII earn 2*-L team gold.
USEF Eventing Young Riders Championships, Presented by USEA
Sarah Ross epitomized good sportsmanship after the two rails that knocked her from individual Young Riders gold to bronze in the CCI2*-L division. “Of course, it’s upsetting. I came here for the Young Riders Championships, from Florida and after spending a fair amount of time competing in jumper shows earlier this year. It’s been my dream to compete here, and this has been incredible and I’m excited about next year.”
She and her fellow team gold medal winning Area VI riders agreed the best part of the experience can only be understood once experienced. “You don’t understand until you’ve done it,” Ross elaborated. “You want a sponge, and all of the sudden, you have 20 sponges coming your way. Now we can all be excited about going home and cracking on with homework from this great experience.”
- Team Gold: Area VII
- Harper Padgett, Olivia Keye, Lizzie Hoff, Caterina Ritson
- Team Silver: Area VI
- Brooke Corsaut, Fiona Holland, Greylin Booth, Jillian Mader Team Bronze
- Bronze: Alberta/Ontario, Canada
- Mackenzie Hoffman, Mickanna Austad, Michaela Aulicino, Avery Tallman
- Gold: Scarlett Peinado, Area V
- Silver: Harper Padget, Area VII
- Bronze Lizzie Hoff, Area VII
- Team Gold: Area VI
- Sarah Ross, Gabriella Ringer, Lauren Crabtree, Julia Beauchamp Crandon
- Team Silver: Area VII
- Kaylee Petticord, Avery Jacob, Hanni Sreenan, Harper Padget
- Gold: Hanni Sreenan – Area VII
- Silver: Julia Beauchamp Crandon – Area VI
- Bronze: Sarah Ross – Area VI
CCI3*-L Standings – Individuals
- Gold: Molly Duda – Area VI
- Silver: Else Warble – Area VI
- Bronze: Kayla Dumler – Area VI
The Eventing Championships at Galway Downs continue Sunday, Nov. 5, with the USEA Area VI Championships, the Galway Downs’ unique Challenge divisions and national competition.
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