Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 1, 2020 – Capping off the 137th anniversary of the historic Heritage competition, the ASPCA Maclay National Championship, presented by Chansonette Farm, highlighted the efforts of hopeful equitation riders from around the country Sunday at the National Horse Show. The last major equitation final for the year, the prestigious class featured record numbers, with 255 horse-and-rider partnerships taking their turns around the technical course designed by Bobby Murphy set within the Alltech Arena. As one of the United States’ most storied competitions thanks to its rich history, the National Horse Show has been the longtime host of the Maclay National Championship, which since 1933 has crowned a junior rider as the champion, a distinction regarded as one of the highest in the equitation discipline, especially considering how many advance to successful professional careers. In the irons aboard Mountain King Ranch LLC’s Cent 15, Dominic Gibbs reigned supreme to earn the tricolor honors as the most consistent junior rider throughout four arduous rounds of competition that tested exhibitors’ precision and efficiency to add a fourth top finish to his repertoire of growing equitation accolades.
Beginning early in the morning and throughout the first portion of the afternoon, exhibitors performed one-by-one over Murphy’s smartly-designed pattern, which was composed of 15 obstacles reminiscent of those riders would have seen in decades past. The hunt-inspired fences appeared in forms such as gaits, hedges, stacked logs and rolltops, plus a one-stride combination created out of racetrack fencing that proved to be one of the bogey tests of the day and plenty of wingless jumps. Murphy’s track was an apt test for the distinguished class as it called attention to the performances of those riders who mastered the course, separating that elite group from the pack as they successfully completed forward and tight lines, a precarious vertical and an obstacle jumped both directions, among other questions.
Faced with the tough job of ranking the multitude of riders seen throughout the day, judges Mark Jungherr and Emil Spadone ultimately settled on a final standby list of 24 juniors ahead of the second phase of the competition, the flat round. Thanks to her exemplary performance over fences that demonstrated correct, precise riding, Gigi Moynihan sat superior to her peers as the frontrunner following the challenging first fences round, leading ever since she tackled the pattern as the 36th in the start list. Behind Moynihan, the remainder of the top of the callback list included Dominic Gibbs, Taylor Griffiths-Madden, Mimi Gochman, Alexia Rule, Sophee Steckbeck, Ellie Ferrigno, Skylar Wireman, Chase Finizio, Hannah Dodd and Hannah Hoch, Zayna Rizvi. Headed into the hack, those top 12 high-scoring riders were sectioned off to compete against each other under saddle, while the latter half of the standby list rode in another segment.
Excited to have made the top of the standings but with more tests to master, both sets of riders took to the Alltech Arena to compete in the flat phase of competition, during which they were challenged to show off their balance and strength via a series of directions from the judges that included all three gaits; working, extended and collected sitting trot; simple change of lead to the counter-canter in front of the judges and walking to the line on a long rein. The leaderboard did not remain unchanged, as Gibbs leapfrogged up to the first spot, followed by Gochman, Griffiths-Madden, Steckbeck, Moynihan and Ferrigno, in that order. Kierstin Antoniadis and Natalie Jayne moved their way up the list the most, advancing to 10th and 11th, respectively, after previously holding the 13th and 16th spots.
Returning in reverse order of the judges’ preference, the top 25 contenders each displayed their skills over Murphy’s second course, which asked for a long approach to fence one at a hand gallop, two counter-canter fences, a triple combination and a forward 6-stride bending line. Not cutting any breaks for the qualified horse-and-rider challengers, the second jumping portion of the event served to further trim down Jungherr and Spadone’s ticket of premier performers. Wanting one last look at four entries, the judges requested that Steckbeck, Moynihan, Griffiths-Madden and Gibbs, in that order, complete a final work-off. The test consisted of cantering fences 4 and 5, trotting fence 6, cantering the original fence 8C and 9, trotting fence 10 and hand galloping fence 12 before leaving the ring.
All four final contestants turned in valiant showings over the work-off track, leaving the judges the final job of separating the top contenders. The top ten returned to the ring for the awards presentation and as the reserve champion was announced as Griffiths-Madden, who just weeks previously won the 2020 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, it became clear that Gibbs had clinched the coveted title following four rounds of textbook riding. The champion rider piloted Cent 15, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding he worked with Beacon Hill trainer Stacia Madden, a former Maclay National Championship winner herself, to transition from a jumper to a successful equitation horse.
Based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, the 17-year-old Gibbs has had an astounding year with top-five finishes in all four equitation finals, now culminating in his victory in the 2020 ASPCA Maclay National Championship, presented by Chansonette Farm. Gibbs kicked off his equitation reign with fourth place in the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, followed by fifth position overall in the Platinum Performance / USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – East just one week later and another fourth-place result in the WIHS Equitation Finals. With his victory Sunday in Kentucky, Gibbs has added his name to an esteemed list of Maclay National Championship victors that include sport legends such as Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot and Bernie Traurig, as well as new age stars like Jessica Springsteen, Lillie Keenan and Victoria Colvin.
Though she hoped for the blue ribbon, Griffiths-Madden put in a superb performance that captured the runner-up honors following her efforts on her own Mac One III, and Moynihan was awarded the final podium spot with Christy Johnson’s Quantico. Stechbecl rounded out the top four riding Itteville, owned by Donald Stewart.
Sunday’s competition concluded the 137th National Horse Show, which featured nine days of equestrian action in the equitation, hunter and jumper disciplines in 2020.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Dominic Gibbs – 2020 ASPCA Maclay National Championship, presented by Chansonette Farm, winner
On his emotions coming into the ASPCA Maclay Finals:
“I was coming off of a few great rounds with this horse in the past few finals and I was really hungry to make it in the second round after a huge crowd of people in the first round. I knew that it was going to be more competitive than ever so I knew that i had to have a solid round and show myself well.”
On the first round of competition:
“I think the biggest thing in the first round were the lines after the one-stride. I know going to the last line there was a bit of an option going from five to six, and I have a big-strided horse and it was much better to do five strides. Stacia said ‘you need to get out of the one-stride and shape the five so you have enough room to power through those oxers.’ Other than that, I think that the course rode very nicely for me and having a big-strided and adjustable horse really helped.”
On his plan going into the second round:
“In the past I have had some issues with nerves, so I was just trying to keep myself calm and keep it under control to have the best round that I could for the second round. I think that really helping myself to calm down with breathing really helps a lot.”
On the work-off:
“I think the biggest question of the work-off was going forward to collected, then forward to collected again, and that was kind of what they have been asking all day. I like that they continued the questions in that way. I think that the hardest part of the test for me was a forward seven strides, collect back to the trot, hand gallop, and having to come right out of the gate afterward.”
On his year leading up to the ASPCA Maclay Championships:
“It has been quite the journey! I have ridden a bunch of different horses and gotten a lot of mileage out of that, and I can’t thank Stacia Madden and Max Amaya enough for giving me those opportunities and these different equitation horses.”
On winning both the 2018 Hamel Foundation 3’3” Equitation Championship and the 2020 ASPCA Maclay Championship at the National Horse Show:
“It feels great! Kentucky is almost like home for me now and this arena is a good luck charm! I definitely think that the Hamel prepared me well for this, especially remembering the courses and learning how the format works. I think the Hamel Foundation class was a great stepping stone.”
On the future:
“In 2021, I will continue to compete in the other three equitation classes that I can and hope for the best next fall.”
On his partnership with Cent 15:
“Cent 15 is such an amazing horse! He has come so far in the time that I have had him. He used to be a jumper so we have had to teach him to slow down and calm his brain, but he has been an amazing partner to have.”
Stacia Madden – Trainer to Dominic Gibbs
On her strategy in training her kids for Round 1:
“When we walked the course for round one, it was pretty clear that the one-stride across the middle was going to ride a little bit longer than it walked. You had some questions that kept being repeated – long to short, long to short – really showing that the kids had focus and control over the track. I walked the length of that style jump and it was about 33 feet the whole way down, and it really made a difference where the horse took off and landed. We concentrated a lot on going straight across because if you angled it, it got even longer. I thought that the riders that got back into the second round, which we were lucky enough to have three, all did that pretty well.”
On the second round:
“I don’t talk much about keeping your cool. I try to redirect the focus onto focusing on whatever the test is. The second round had so many questions that it required a lot of focus. You had a counter-canter on each lead, which is always nice because it doesn’t favor a horse one way or another, and then the hand gallop jump always shows a little bit of brilliance and that you have good judgement, then adding a stride in the last line shows control. I try not to talk about nerves because I really feel that is a shot of adrenaline more than actual nerves, so if I can channel that into really focusing on the test then we don’t have to discuss [the mental aspect].”
On the course:
“I get so much joy out of watching the kids watch the video the night before! There was this Instagram or Snapchat going around that was talking about ‘RIP junior riders’ for this class because they were all looking at the fences and couldn’t really tell how the course was going to ride. When they got here, everyone was happy that the course was beautiful, so well thought out and unbelievably planned. You can tell that he spends almost a whole year planning for these courses. It is just so natural and the striding is really what created the questions. There were some jumps that horses didn’t particularly like, but they were all fair questions.”
On how far Dominic and Cent 15 have come:
“You know what impresses me the most is that Dominic took that horse from a stallion in Europe, to being one of the top equitation horses in the country. He didn’t go out and look for a horse that was already winning in the classes, and together they have developed a real relationship and the horse really loves Dominic’s ride and Dominic couldn’t be more appreciative of having a horse like that. He has done a lot of the work! Other than a couple professionals showing him in some schooling classes here and there, and the kids getting switched onto him, Dominic has been the only one showing him in the equitation, so I really give him kudos for that.”
On Dominic’s win after placing in the top few of the other finals:
“I think part of my training technique is consistency. I am always trying to talk about bringing your low average up a little bit, so the fact that he was so consistent, but wasn’t really getting frustrated with the fact he wasn’t winning because he had improved so much from the year before. That is what really kept his head in the game, or knocking on the door, and we just kept knocking harder and harder until somebody answered!”
On training each of her individual students:
“I really try to handle each kid and horse-rider combination as an individual. The first rider that we had come back was Isabella David and she is riding a very experienced horse named Contelido, and I have so much faith in the horse that it gives the kids so much confidence. I think Isabella has a tremendous amount of confidence, but I tried to give her a plan that was very doable for her and would not make her feel like she was being stretched too far. She won the inaugural USHJA 3’3” Medal Finals and it was so awesome to see her come and get into the second round here! Then you had Mimi Gochman, who is very seasoned and loves to go fast and work with pace, and with her I am always trying to give her a very detailed plan to keep her focused and keep her in check. With Dominic, it was just trying to keep doing what was working. When he got ribbons in the other finals, even though he used a different horse in the Medal Finals, you do what works! What we were doing was working and was getting in the top of the classes week after week.”
On her thoughts before and after the class:
“I think the biggest thing in the final test and the second round, is kids try to beat themselves and be a little fancy. We try to just break it down and be simple. The big word that we used was ‘execute.’ I did tell Dominic that if he won this he was going to have to tell everyone what I really told him before he went in the ring, which he didn’t say in his interview! What I said was ‘Do the freaking test!’ That was my real advice! The only bad part about this day is that it is Heather, my assistant’s, birthday. She had been with me for years and she is a huge Cracker Barrel fan. I told her for her birthday that if we were to win this class that we would go to Cracker Barrel for dinner and that I would buy for everybody in the restaurant because she knows that I don’t like Cracker Barrel, so I guess, here I go!
Emil Spadone – Judge
On judging a larger field than usual:
“It was a long day. There were many more than usual and I think that the qualifying process was a little bit different this year. I think that they were all very excited; it was part of their dreams to show here so I think in that sense it was great. I think the course was challenging enough and, as I think you could see with the results out there, some people had a hard time. In general, the best riders rose to the top and they held their own the entire time. That top group was all excellent and Dominic was on Gigi’s tail the whole way. The flat work kind of slowed Gigi down and then she could not get back in after that. In the last round, they all came in and we felt like they were close. There was a little room if someone maybe wanted to move up. They all held their own but there was not enough of a change for us to change our order.”
On judging the ASPCA Maclay Finals:
“We enjoyed it and the staff was great to work with. We loved working with Bobby to help him design a course that came out really nicely.”
Mark Jungherr – Judge
On Bobby Murphy’s course:
“The course was perfect and the right amount of difficulty, but was still fair.”
On the top four:
“They were very close. We did have the option to make a change but we did not think that anyone took control enough to change the opinion from the second round. The top three were all a point to a point a half apart.”
Bobby Murphy – Course designer
When did you start planning the course:
“I was planning this course before Ava Stearns won the championship last year. When the 2019 test was going on, I was looking out there and evolving this course. If you look, and compare this year to last year, it stages up from the year before.”
On the challenging aspects of the ASPCA Maclay Championships course:
“For sure the vertical-vertical combination was challenging. Overall, I think the most challenging thing is the atmosphere and being in the ring with the jumps, and the championship level. I think that is challenging for the kids and horses, especially in a year when they did not travel as much. The number of horses is challenging for me, as a course designer. Adding another 100 horses to this year’s class added a lot of pressure. The Maclay Finals always are a build-up. It is the most sophisticated class of the year and it is our job to keep that tradition.”
On the second round:
“The top riders rose to the top and we took a look at that list and knew how far we wanted to push in the second round. The second round is a test of rideability and it had the tests incorporated in the course. That was something we were doing purposefully this year, having a few tests in the Round 2 course. That is an alternate version of what we did last year, where we saved all of the tests for the work-off. We still kept the quality of the left lead versus right lead and there was a reversal of things to really measure how well the riders can adjust their horses.”
On his theme for 2021 Maclay Finals:
“We were not even planning to keep this style of jump for this many years, but it has been really popular and what we have done is evolve a couple jumps to a modern version. I think that next year we have decided on the “New School vs Old School” and we are going to start phasing out some of the older jumps and bring in new era equitation jumps, like you saw in the last fence of the first round.”
Working on the course with the judges:
“I have learned as a course designer that when working with judges, the end result is that I want them to be pleased. Letting them finetune things is fine with me. I am very open-minded and, especially with the second round, I promote them putting their spin on it. You have different judges and judges leading up to the Maclay Finals have a vision in their head too, just like I do, and I try to mesh the two visions together. You see that most with the second round. The first round is more me and the second round is concepts from their heads on paper, and it works out every year and has always been a positive collaboration.”
Place / Horse / Rider
2020 ASPCA Maclay National Championship, presented by Chansonette Farm:
1. Cent 15 / Dominic Gibbs
2. Mac One III / Taylor Griffiths-Madden
3. Quantico / Gigi Moynihan
4. Itteville / Sophee Steckbeck
5. Any Given Sunday / Alexia Rule
6. Hot Pants / Skylar Wireman
7. Charisma / Natalie Jayne
8. Quite Cassini / Skyler Fields
9. Fanta / Kierstin Antoniadis
10. Empire / Chase Finizio