Upper Marlboro, Maryland – The final national championships of the BIGEQ.com Equitation Weekend at the Capital Challenge Horse Show were awarded to Dominic Gibbs and Eleanor Rudnicki on Sunday, September 29, at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD.
From September 27-29, more than 450 riders contested the three days of equitation competition that mark the start of the Capital Challenge Horse Show, which runs through October 6, and on Sunday, Gibbs bested a field of 116 of those riders to win the Palm Beach International Academy (PBIA) North American Junior Equitation Championships.
“It’s really just an unbelievable feeling,” said Gibbs, 15, of Colorado Springs, CO, following his win. “I can’t thank my trainers and horse enough. It’s just incredible to be here.”
Following an opening jumping round, the top 20 riders in the PBIA North American Junior Equitation Championship were invited back to jump a second round in reverse order of their standings.
With a score of 89.33 earned over the first-round course designed by Ken Krome, Gibbs sat atop the leaderboard coming into the second round.
“The first round was amazing,” said judge Rob Bielefeld, who presided over the course alongside Linda Andrisani, Brian Lenehan, Jimmy Torano, Steve Wall, and Sissy Wickes.
“If you weren’t in the mid 80s you weren’t coming back,” continued Bielefeld, referencing the cut-off score of 84.78 needed to qualify and return for the top 20.
For Gibbs, returning last as the top-ranked rider was nerve-wracking, but he never let it show as he executed a seamless round to earn a score of 91.33 for a 180.66.
“I was saying to my mom earlier, before my second round, that I hate coming back in first!” said Gibbs, who trains with Stacia Madden and the team at Beacon Hill Show Stables in Colts Neck, NJ. “It’s so much pressure on the rider. I have been having to deal with nerves a lot lately, and I just had to really cool it all down and take the pressure off and ride the best that I can. I think just focusing on other things and not putting the pressure on really helps a lot.”
That approach worked on Sunday, with Gibbs’s final total of 180.66 putting him nearly four points ahead of the rest of the field, which eliminated the need for any additional testing. Finishing in second place with scores of 86.78 and 90.00 for a 176.78 total was Paige Matthies of Lake Leelanau, MI, riding Blurred Lines, owned by Barbara Smith. Third place was awarded to Breanna Bunevacz of Calabasas, CA, who earned an overall score of 174.96 aboard Vondel DH Z, owned by Epic Performance LLC.
“It was stiff competition,” said Bielefeld. “The quality of the riding was excellent. The quality of the training was excellent, and the quality of the horses was excellent. Each year it gets more and more competitive.
“The horse [Gibbs] rides is a match made in heaven,” continued Bielefeld in speaking of Gibbs’s winning mount, Cent 15, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Mountain King Ranch LLC, that Gibbs began competing in February of this year.
“[Cent 15] is unbelievable. He’s one of the nicest horses that I’ve ever ridden,” said Gibbs, who has been living in New Jersey in order to train with Beacon Hill and who also trains with Harriet Bunker when he is at home in Colorado. “I’m just so thankful for the amazing horses that I have and the amazing coaches. It feels really great, and I never thought I would be doing something this amazing. I don’t even know how to put the feelings into words.”
For the victory, Gibbs was presented with the Best Equitation Rider Award, sponsored by Karen Healey. Madden also received the Leading Equitation Trainer Award, sponsored by Leslie Steele & Acres West, and Cent 15’s groom, Ricky Gomez, was presented with the North American Equitation Champion Groom’s Award, sponsored by Holly Hill Farm.
The EMO Equitation Trip of the Show, sponsored by EMO Insurance and presented to the rider with the highest scoring equitation round over the course of the week, went to Ellie Ferrigno of Newtown, CT, who earned a score of 90 in the 16-Year-Old Equitation.