BY MIA JONES
The morning started early for Nicole McMillion and Naomi Wegner. Both of whom got up for a hack with their horses Milan and El Grande. The early morning hack was quickly followed by the riders’ meeting for the Whitethorne, American Tradition of Excellence Equitation Challenge. Where the judges talked about their expectations for the course.
The first round course, designed by Karen Healey, proved to be inviting but challenging, asking many questions about pace and track. This year brought the return of the infamous “bear jump,” which thanks to the commission of many duplicates proved to not be as big of a challenge as it was in 2019.
“Subtlety difficult without killing anyone… happy with the end result because you created the track that was best for your horse,” stated course designer Karen Healey during the Q&A later on in the day.
Wegner headed into the ring 9th out of 82, with El Grande. The team went around the ring achieving a positive round and ending up in the middle of the pack.
“The course was a nice hunter style with a few equitation elements thrown in, overall it rode very horse specific, but generally riding smooth with the spookier jumps adding difficulty for the striding,” stated Wegner after her round.
McMillion went into the ring later on in the order piloting Milan. The two walked into the ring with confidence and the results showed. As McMillion trotted out of the ring a score of 83 was announced.
“Overall, I think it was a solid first round with room for improvement, especially given her new partnership with Elvenstar Farm’s Milan. She has worked hard this past year and works very well under pressure. We are excited to see how tomorrow’s round goes.” says Rachel Mahowald McMillion’s coach.
After all of the riders completed their course, all participants were required to head to the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel where Phase 2 would be held. On arrival, all riders will receive their scorecard with details about their round from the judges.
During Phase 2 there was a presentation by Tonya Johnston. She focused on being brave in the moment and overcoming fear. Followed by a video created by Bernie Traurig and Cynthia Hankins called “Form Follows Function.” Following the two presentations was a live question and answer panel with judges Jimmy Torano and Emil Spadone and course designer Karen Healey. Posting at the canter, proper position, and track.
Top 10 after the first round
1st- Della Walker and Twizzler 86 score
2nd- Madison Nadolenco and Couer De Lion 84 score
3rd- Grace Belmont and Quirin 83.5 score
4th- Gabrielle Sokolow and Just Cavalli 83.25 score
5th- Ellie Kurtz and Wesley’s Theory 83.15 score
6th- Nicole McMillion and Milan 83 score
7th- Kaitlin Perry and Figaro 82.75 score
8th- Grace Russo and Casalino 82 score
9th- Ella Dyson and Edesa’s Cameroon 81.75 score
10th- Rebecca Beall and Calino G 81.5