June 20, 2019 – San Juan Capistrano, CA – Junior and Amateur riders from across the West Coast made up a field of over ninety competitors looking to gain solid miles and rise to the occasion in The American Tradition of Excellence Equitation Challenge, presented by Whitethorne. At the conclusion of three phases and a work-off by the top six, sixteen-year-old Payton Potter earned the 2019 championship honors with a final point score of 269.5. Second to Potter was Julia Stone, who finished with 257.25 points. These two young riders each claimed another challenging 3’3” victory in the last two years, as the 2017 and 2018 champions of the USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals.
Only in its third year, this unique educational event was larger and more competitive than ever. After a riders meeting and course walk, Phase One, held on Tuesday, welcomed ninety-four entries over a flowing hunter type track of 3’3” fences set on the Oaks International Grand Prix Field. With every competitor and their trainer gathered at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel that evening, the next phase consisted of educational presentations and a Q&A session with the judges. Then bright and early on Wednesday morning, each rider had an opportunity to apply what they learned from the previous phases to Phase Three, a 3’3” jumping seat medal finals style course. The six riders who finished the jumping phases with the highest overall scores returned for a work-off to determine the top placings.
Georgy Maskrey-Segesman, owner of Whitethorne LLC, was present throughout all phases of the event and expressed her excitement and appreciation for the incredible turnout this year. She reiterated her passion for providing an opportunity for developing riders to learn from experts in the sport. The beautifully decorated courses were designed by Karen Healey, who also served as technical delegate and was on hand as a mentor to participants. Mental Skills Coach, Erika Westhoff, M.A. was present for all three phases to offer guidance and support. Two distinguished judges, Diana Carney and Cynthia Hankins, worked together to provide not only a numerical score for each round in both jumping phases but, unique to this class, they also provided written comments for each competitor.
During Phase One, the stands near the in-gate were packed with riders and trainers eager to see how the course rode. The atmosphere was electric as rider after rider put their skills to the test. Approximately 25% of the class scored 80 or higher in the first phase, with the top seven riders on day one scoring in the nineties. Amateur rider Jaime Krupnick earned an impressive 95, the top score of the day.
While enjoying the ocean view from The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, attendees participated in Phase Two, the educational forum, discussing the day, learning more about their mental game as they were provided with perspective from the judges. Hankin’s presented a video, “A Day at the Medal Finals”, which showcased in detail the format, courses, and rides at the 1997 AHSA Medal Finals, illustrating that form follows function, regardless of era or fashion. Key points covered in the video and later on in the Q&A portion of the Forum included that the judges want to see riders make an impression at the first jump, ride the track, show brilliance, use different seats and invisible aids with an automatic release, plus relax and think.
With every rider given the opportunity to compete in Phase Three, ninety-three entries returned Wednesday morning to absorb what they had learned and jump a technical track, with three combinations, distance questions as well as opportunities for inside turns. Riders began their course with a challenging bending line from a triple bar to an impressive oxer into a short seven stride line. Other tests riders faced included an airy Butet jump near the VIP tent, the California Bear wall, and a tight vertical-vertical combination with light rails at the end of the course.
The order for this round was determined by score, going from lowest to highest. Coming back eleventh in the order with a score of 35 after a difficult first day, Alison Raich, trained by Lesley Bulechek, rode a solid track for a score of 80. She held the top score in Phase Three until the sixty-eighth competitor completed the course, a testament to the quality of her ride. The judges recognized this by choosing Raich for the Noelle Floyd Most Improved Rider Award. Afterwards, the young rider reflected on how the video and comment cards from the first phases helped her achieve a positive experience in Phase Three.
There were quite a few changes to the leaderboard throughout the morning, as only nine of the ninety-three competitors scored 80 or above by the end of the phase. One of those, Madison Nadolenco, trained by Tasha Visokay, was sitting in seventeenth place. She scored an 84 and finished with a total of 167, which moved her into the sixth position. Shortly after Rylee Shufelt, trained by Michael Dennehy, moved from fifteenth to fifth with an 86 for a total of 169.75, putting her just ahead of Nadolenco.
Four of the final ten riders in Phase Three scored in the eighties, Violet Lindemann-Barnett, trained by Archie Cox, Elvenstar riders Julia Stone and Ella Frey, who were sitting 5th and 4th after Phase One, and Potter, all made the top six.
For the test, riders were asked to track left, pick up a counter canter away from the line-up, transition to a trot and jump 12a, canter fence 8, 4ab, counter canter fence 10 and continue to fence 11, then hand gallop fence 1 in the opposite direction, and post the trot back to the line up. Mastering the test moved Stone to the second spot, while Potter maintained her top position and received the highest work-off score.
During the awards ceremony for the top twelve, eighth place rider, Shannon Davidson, trained by David Bustillos, earned the Noelle Floyd award for high scoring amateur. Davidson, who was ninth in 2018, was one of four riders who returned in the top twelve line-up for two years in a row. Others included Shufelt, Frey and Rose Kauffman Skloff.
Generous prizes were awarded to the top riders and trainers from Butet, EquiFit and Noelle Floyd. As the winning rider, Potter took home a Butet saddle and cooler, and her trainer, Leslie Steele, earned a $10,000 cash prize.
Following the victory gallop, the top riders and officials gathered for a press conference to reflect on the event. Riders shared the future goals that this experience has helped prepare them for and the judges praised the talent and skill of the top riders. See press conference quotes from riders and judges below.
Blenheim EquiSports would like to thank all the sponsors and individuals who put tremendous time and effort into this special event. More competition excitement still to come this week during Blenheim June Classic 3, including the West Coast Pony Hunter Challenge, presented by USHJA Zone 10, a USHJA Pony Hunter Derby and a Markel Insurance 1.45m Grand Prix.
The American Tradition of Excellence Equitation Challenge, presented by Whitethorne
Place – Horse – Rider – Owner – Rd 1 Score/Rd 2 Score/Work-off Score=Overall Score
* Top Six Riders Return for Work-Off, Top 12 Riders Receive Awards *
1. Payton Potter – Khaled – Infinity Equestrian, LLC – 93.5/ 88/ 88 = 269.5
2. Julia Stone – Let’s Go –Elvenstar Farm – 92/ 80.25/ 85 = 257.25
3. Ella Frey – Radcliffe – Phil Trubey – 93/ 85/ 74 = 252
4. Madison Nadolenco – Quieri – Legacy Equestrian LLC – 83/ 84/ 70 = 237
5. Rylee Shufelt –Alleto – Rylee Shufelt – 83.75/ 86/ 60 = 229.75
6. Violet Lindemann-Barnett – Cantoblanco – Sloan Lindemann-Barnett – 90/ 87/ 50 = 227
7. Brooke Morin – Durango – Strasburg Morin, Inc – 86/ 81 = 167
8. Shannon Davidson – Empire – Ralph Lewis – 89/ 78 = 167
9. Laila Klinsmann – Saludo – Laila Klinsmann –94/ 72.75 = 166.75
10. Reeve Sykes – Ciabatta– R&R Stables. – 91/ 73 = 164
11. Rose Kauffman Skloff – Mac Miller – Show Hunter Investments – 84/ 79.5 = 163.5
12. Katrina Pattinson – Lancaster – Patti Jo Kreiss – 83.5/ 76.5 = 160
Post-Event Press Conference
What was your favorite part of the event?
Alison Raich (Most Improved): I think my favorite part of the event was getting feedback from the judges. I think it really helped me improve over the two rounds and take what I needed to work on from the first round and implement it on the second round.
Payton Potter (1st): My favorite part was galloping around on the field and also getting to be a part of this class with all of my friends.
Julia Stone (2nd): I’d say my favorite part was either getting the comment cards because I thought it was really interesting to get an inside look on what the judges were thinking. But I also really liked the courses and thought it was really fun to get out there and gallop on the field.
Ella Frey (3rd): My favorite part was being able to read the judges cards, I think that’s a really unique experience and it’s particular to this class, so that was really exciting.
Madison Nadolenco (4th): I think my favorite part was probably the dinner last night where we got to have a slide show about how to mentally prepare ourselves and then also being able to see the judges cards and what we can improve on.
Violet Lindemann-Barnett (6th): My favorite part of the event was getting to jump both a hunter style course and jumper style course.
Cynthia Hankins:. I was really happy and honored to be asked to judge this type of class where you get a chance to offer your input to the riders and I thought it was a fabulous two days of very difficult courses, very rideable, very fair, but very thought provoking courses. I was really impressed with the level of riding from those at the very top and even the ones that had problems who came back and were very strong and ready to give it a shot today.
Diane Carney: I really appreciated the attention to detail in the event. Not only how the horses were beautifully turned out, the riders were beautifully turned out, how the course was beautifully set and also the number of riders on the West Coast who were absolutely, one hundred percent into it and looking to go and give the East Coast a run for their money, so good job. Classes like this will help you.
Leslie Steele (Winning Trainer): I think the best part of this event was to see the video on how things were back when I was beginning my career and how it’s really evolved …The kids and the style are so much the same and I loved all the mental skills and the presentation. I think getting the judges card is great. This is a wonderful event for all the kids to learn from.
What was it about the top six that set them apart from the rest of the crowd?
CH: Today’s course really from the very first jump – in fact even prior to that, from the entrance and as Diane calls it, ‘the preview’, really showed that from jump one to jump 12b (end of course) you had to be a thoughtful rider, be aware of pace, be aware of track. And certainly, if you made it into the top six, that showed. You really had to take a shot in some cases, ride the track, keep the horses up in front of the leg and these six riders were obviously able to do that because they came back for the final test.
What was it about Alison Raich’s ride that earned her the award for Most Improved?
DC: Well, most improved happens from having a not so good day and then having a really good day. So, unfortunately that learning curve had to happen, but to her credit that learning curve did happen. She came out, she had a really good plan for the course and early on she threw an 80 score that was a solo score for a long time, maybe 50 horses. That to me says most improved
Photos by McCool Photography and Blenheim EquiSports