BY TYLER BUI
In the 2021 THIS NHS Adult Equitation Championship, Claire Stevenson and Audi 2000 Z took the top ribbon, allowing Stevenson to accomplish a lifelong dream.
Stevenson has always had a special love for the equitation division. As a junior, she qualified for the ASPCA Maclay Regional Championships and USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals, but she was never was able to attend. She spent her free time on the popular website BigEq.com, keeping up with results and top riders and hoping one day she’d get to compete alongside them.
After graduating high school, Stevenson attended Washington and Lee University, where she found success on their IHSA team. She graduated and began working in the fashion industry in Manhattan, but she shortly realized how much she missed horses. Stevenson decided to pursue a career as a professional. She rode, competed, and even spent time in Europe riding and training.
“After a while, I realized I didn’t want horses to be my job—I wanted it to always be something I really loved to do and decided to keep it as a hobby,” says Stevenson. “I went back to Manhattan and took a corporate office job, regained my amateur status, and just rode whenever I could find a horse to ride. Geoffrey Hesslink and Brendan Williams always knew that the equitation was my favorite thing to do, and they knew that a goal I always had was to go do the equitation classes as an adult to get a chance to have my time in the ring. They were the ones that totally made this possible for me to do this past fall. It’s all come full circle, being able to meet people and ultimately have people who are interested in making your dreams reality, and they were definitely two of those people.”
After placing in the top six in the Ariat National Adult Medal Final at the 2021 Capital Challenge Horse Show on Audi 2000 Z, Hesslink and Williams knew Stevenson had more in her. Hesslink called in a favor, and Audi was sent down to Kentucky.
“[The whole experience] was honestly surreal. We showed up to Kentucky—Armando Portillo and I drove the STX truck down from New Jersey to Kentucky together, and I asked him to show me around the horse park,” she says. “It was so cold, and we walked around for about an hour and a half. I was like a kid in a candy store. Even the first time I went in the ring to flat, I was so enthralled by how beautiful it was being in the Alltech. It was really exciting.”
Audi arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park the day before the final, right before schooling concluded. Stevenson and Audi were champion in the age group equitation, and she thought that she maybe wanted to end there on a high note, but Williams insisted she kept going. She’s very glad he did.
After conquering the 10-fence course in the first round, riding in the flat phase, and lastly competing against the top 24 riders for the final test, Stevenson ended up on top.
“I was lucky that my number was called last, but everyone in that lineup was very happy for one another. There was a lot of camaraderie in the ring, everyone was supportive of each other, [and] it was a really positive experience for everyone,” says Stevenson. “I think the [Taylor Harris Adult Medal] is a super prestigious class. The National Horse Show made it feel so special; it felt just like you were at one of the junior equitation finals. It wasn’t any different just because we were adult amateurs. I think THIS and The National Horse show really stepped up.The courses were great, the jumps were beautiful, and just to ride in that ring—it felt like we really belonged.”
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