By Emily Riden for Phelps Media Group
Lexington, VA – August 10, 2015 – Mary Elizabeth Cordia has been competing in the Virginia Horse Show Association (VHSA) Finals for several years, leaving nearly every time with an impressive second place finish. However, until this year a VHSA Finals victory had escaped the young rider.
On Saturday night, the 17-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, finally got her big win, topping the field to win the VHSA/EMO Hunter Seat Medal Final at the Lexington National Horse Show.
“I think I’ve been second since I was on my medium pony,” Cordia laughed. “I’ve gone in [for testing in] first and been second, gone in first and been second. To actually win is kind of unbelievable!”
Mary Elizabeth Cordia. Photo by Emily Riden/Phelps Media Group.
In addition to marking Cordia’s first VHSA Finals victory, the 2015 Lexington National Horse Show at the Virginia Horse Center (VHC) boasted the highest entry and attendance numbers on record for the August horse show, with stall sales up by more than 100 from 2014.
“The results should be rewarding to the Board and, of course, to our wonderful staff for the amazing ‘turn around’ over this past year,” said Ernie Oare, president of the Virginia Horse Center Foundation board. “It has been a journey with a lot of turns, and with the help of the Lexington community, we are now in the home stretch.”
Oare and fellow members of the VHC leadership team, including Chief Executive Officer John Nicholson and Chief Operations Officer Leigh Anne Claywell, sat ringside amongst the crowd in Anderson Coliseum on Saturday night and watched as Cordia laid down a seamless round and test to win the VHSA/EMO Hunter Seat Medal Final champion title.
From the original starting field, four riders were called back to execute additional testing. Returning riders, ranked in order from fourth to first, were: Casey Schmitz, Darby Cole, Grace Boston and Cordia.
The VHSA Medal Finals top three finishers. From left to right: Grace Boston, Mary Elizabeth Cordia and Darby Cole. Photo by Emily Riden/Phelps Media Group.
Each rider executed a test that included a hand gallop directly to an oxer, followed by a tight rollback past the in-gate to a trot fence. From there riders executed another tight rollback to a vertical-oxer two stride, before turning to the left to take a vertical set on the rail. Immediately following the vertical, riders were asked to halt, canter directly to an oxer set across the diagonal and then return to the line-up at a loose rein walk.
“I was a little bit worried about the halt because that’s definitely our weakest point. Sometimes he just decides that he doesn’t want to stand. I was happy when he agreed with me when I asked him to do it!,” Cordia said of Thrift Shop, her winning mount, a Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Fairfield Farms.
Cordia nailed the halt as well as all other parts of the test to cement her spot as the winner. Finishing in second was Darby Cole, while Grace Boston took the third place spot.
“[Thrift Shop] is just a phenomenal horse. I can ask him to do anything that I want, and he’ll just say yes. It’s a great feeling,” Cordia concluded.
Elizabeth Bailey with Walter J. Lee, E. Sue of EMO Insurance and trainer Gordon Reistrup. Photo by Emily Riden/Phelps Media Group.
For Cordia, who now trains with Will Meierfeld and Alison Robitaille, coming to the Virginia Horse Center to compete is like coming home.
“I’ve been showing here since I was 7 years old so it definitely feels like home when you’re here,” Cordia said. “It’s really nice to be in a place where it’s very friendly competition. It’s great because everyone is your friend because you hang out with them every weekend.”
One of those friends, and now a fellow VHSA Finals winner, is Elizabeth Bailey. On Saturday night, Bailey beat a field of 26 qualified entries to claim the victory in the VHSA Championship on the Flat.
“That’s probably biggest thing I’ve won!” said Bailey. “That’s the first VHSA thing that I’ve won, and this is my third year doing them.”
After the full class had demonstrated the walk, trot, extended trot, sitting trot and canter in both ways of the arena, judges split the field in half to ask riders to show at a counter canter in both directions. From there, the field was narrowed down to the top nine for additional flatwork.
The top contenders returned to the rail, where they executed all gaits and dropped their irons as judges pulled riders one by one in to the center until only Bailey remained victorious on the rail. Bailey’s equitation remained solid through to the end of the lengthy testing, as did her mount Acido 7.
“He used to get tired and lazy and heavy, but he’s built up a lot of muscle and stamina now, so it’s less that he gets tired and more that he gets upset. You have to start staying out of his way,” Bailey explained. “We got toward the end, and he was a little like ‘Can I leave with the other horses?’ I kind of stayed out of his way, and he held it together. He was perfect and really nice and rideable.”
Bailey, who trains with Gordon Reistrup, continued, “I’ve been showing here my whole life, so it’s really just like coming home for me. The stalls are nice; the rings are nice. They do a good job putting the shows together. The courses are great, and all of the people are so great. It’s nice to have such a big, nice facility right in my backyard.”
Casey Schmitz accepts the Walter J. Lee Perpetual Trophy from Walter J. Lee as the winner of the VHSA Horsemanship Championship. Photo by Emily Riden/Phelps Media Group.
Saturday evening’s final award, the Walter J. Lee Perpetual Trophy, was presented to Casey Schmitz as thewinner of the VHSA Horsemanship Championship. The VHSA Horsemanship Championship is a three-phase competition designed to reward young riders who best show expertise in a combination of equine knowledge and riding ability. Riders were scored based 10 percent on a written test, 40 percent on a practicum and 50 percent on their VHSA/EMO Hunter Seat Medal Finals score.
VHSA Medal Finals competition at the Lexington National Horse Show concluded on Sunday with the VHSA/EMO Adult Medal Finals. Riding away with the win was Cary Hundley, and second place went to Emily Williams.
To learn more about other upcoming horse shows and events at the Virginia Horse Center visitwww.horsecenter.org.