By Brenda Mueller
THERMAL, Calif. – March 20, 2021 – The Desert International Horse Park featured the highly coveted R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship under the lights in the beautiful grand prix arena. The class challenged 49 top equitation riders who qualified for the competition by winning a top three ribbon in either the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunt Seat Medal, the ASPCA Maclay Medal, the Platinum Performance Talent Search Medal, or the WIHS Equitation phases.
The class is named in honor of the well-known rider, trainer, and judge Ronnie Mutch, who for many years operated Nimrod Farm in Weston, Connecticut. At Nimrod, Ronnie produced a number of Medal and Maclay winning riders and horses, including Ronnie’s own son Bert Mutch, a well-known West Coast rider and trainer. Ronnie and Bert are the only father-son to have both won the medal finals.
The Equitation Championship is a two-round class during which riders must walk the course, school their horse, and ride the class, all without any assistance from their trainers. After competing over the first-round course, the top ten returned for a second round to contest a technical jumper-style course. Riders also receive a score from the schooling area steward which can range from -2 to +2 points combined with their over fences score. Additional testing can be added at the judge’s discretion.
The judges panel included Don Stewart, Jr, (Ocala, FL), who has racked up numerous Horse of the Year Awards and trained many medal finals riders such as Hunter Holloway, Meg O’Mara, Spencer Smith and Kelli Cruciotti. Stewart is paired with trainer Joie Gatlin (San Juan Capistrano, CA).
Alex Jayne, (Elgin, IL), is another well rounded horseman in all aspects of the industry, who now breeds and raises hunter jumpers with his three very accomplished children, Charlie, Maggie and Haylie. The family has a lengthy resume of medal wins, Horse of the Year Awards, and grand prix victories. Jayne is paired with trainer/rider Ray Texel (Sebastopol, CA).
Round one was a challenging track with equitation tests built in. Riders had to counter canter on both leads, they had to trot in and canter out of a gymnastic, they had to add a stride in a line and hand gallop the last jump.
Round one sorted out the top ten, who returned for the second round, which was a jumper style course. Returning for round two was:
Rider Score Round 1
Elisa Broz 180
Augusta Iwasaki 178
Lauren Kolbe 177
Clea Caddell 177
Sophie Bluhm 174
Katie Jorczak 171.5
Skylar Wireman 171
Grace Belmont 166
Amber Ayyad 165.25
Aedan Mooney 165
Elisa Broz, 16, was also the highest scoring rider in the second round. Several riders had deductions for exceeding the time allowed in addition to any other faults. When the evening was over, it was Elisa Broz who held the top spot throughout the class. Results from round two:
Rider Score Round 2 Total Score
Elisa Broz 189 369
Skyler Wireman 179 350
Grace Belmont 182 348
Clea Caddell 169.5 346.5
Amber Ayyad 176 341.25
Lauren Kolbe 164 341
Katie Jorczak 151 322.5
Aedan Mooney 153 318
Sophie Bluhm 125 299
Agusta Iwasaki 48 228
All three girls had their grooms as their partners, setting jumps, raking footing and making sure the horses were perfect. Groups of riders discussed the course as they walked and made their plan. During the riders meeting, the judges gave some information on how they would be judging and allowed the riders to ask questions.
“It was a great, great end to my circuit,” said Broz (Freedom, CA). “I am so thrilled with my horse and how the entire circuit ended. I think that having a final like this makes everyone more excited and work harder and it pushes us all to ride better.”
“I think it’s a great finish to the circuit because it’s kind of the same as indoor finals where you have to qualify for it by getting a top three placing in one of the big 3’6” equitation medals. I think it really gets the top group and you get a feel for competing with that top group,” said Wireman, 16 (Bonsall, CA).
“I think it’s a great way to end the circuit because it encourages a focus on your whole circuit outcome and your motivation,” explained Belmont, 18 (Watsonville, CA). “I gravitate to the hunters naturally so it keeps me going in the equitation because this is my last year as a junior and I think it was a really nice way to end my last junior desert circuit.”
Cassie Belmont, the trainer of the winner, received a wine basket from the Burtech Family Vineyard.
Clooney 62, Broz’s mount, earned the title of the Best Equitation Horse for his performance in the class while Clea Caddell’s Cavaljo was voted the Best Turned Out by the judges.