Ariana Marnell and Babylon Continue Winning Ways for Grand Junior Hunter 3’6″ Champion

Ariana Marnell and Babylon with Leonardo Basualto - Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Edited Press Release

On the final day of the 2023 Capital Challenge Horse Show on Sunday, October 8, at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, Ariana Marnell, 17, of Las Vegas, NV, and Babylon were crowned Grand Junior Hunter 3’6” Champions.

Marnell and Babylon first earned the Small Junior Hunter 16-17 division championship, sponsored by Three Ships LLC, with stellar results throughout, including a first-place finish on the flat, second in the stake with a score of 88, second over fences with a score of 87, and first in the handy with a score of 89. Their strong performance propelled them to the Grand Junior Hunter 16-17 Championship, sponsored by Ben Simon Family, and ultimately the Overall Grand Champion Junior Hunter title, sponsored by Shadow Ridge. For her award, Marnell was presented with the Spontaneous Perpetual Trophy, donated by the Listrani Family. She was also given the Best Junior Rider Award, sponsored by Karen Healey.

In addition to his success with Marnell, Babylon also scored big earlier in the week with Marnell’s trainer John French in the irons. With French, the eight-year-old Oldenburg gelding (L.B. Crumble x Balou Du Rouet) earned massive scores of 93.33 and 94.33 on their way to being named winners of the $25,000 World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Challenge, sponsored by The Gochman Family, which took place on Wednesday, October 4.

“It’s such a privilege that I get to work with somebody who taught the horse everything because I know exactly what he understands and what he doesn’t,” explained Marnell of training with French and Babylon. “There was so much pressure last year in the first season I showed Babylon, especially in the beginning, that I didn’t really focus on enjoying him and the feeling as much as I think I should have. Now, I’m so comfortable and the pressure is not all from John’s success with him, but it’s also from our success together too, so it’s a good feeling. It’s like we’ve done this before and won this before so we can do it again.”

It is no secret that Babylon is a top athlete and contender in any hunter ring, but he also has the personality to match his undeniable star quality.

Ariana Marnell and Babylon – Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

“I feel like ‘Crumbles’ is a person, and I really fully understand him,” shared Marnell of the charming chestnut. “He’s just such a fun horse. He’s pretty cocky about how good he is. At the in-gate he always has his ears up, and he loves cameras and people. He’s just a real superstar – the true definition of a rockstar, and he knows it. If anyone is ever lacking confidence, when you’re around him it’s like, ‘Okay, maybe I’m not super confident, but he is, so we’re fine.’ I really trust him.”

While Marnell and Crumbles exited the ring adorned in the many lengthy signature Capital Challenge ribbons and medals from their numerous accolades this week, the feeling of being a winner in The Show Place Arena never gets old.

“I love this show,” expressed Marnell. “It is really prestigious with the best of the best horses. It takes a special horse to win, and we really have a great team of the grooms, the managers, the trainers, and my parents. Everyone plays a huge role in this, and I really have to credit the horses because they are really amazing. I’d like to keep all my horses under John’s care forever.”

It was a banner week for Marnell who also finished as the reserve champion in the Small Junior Hunter 16-17 aboard her second mount, Ocean Road, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Canatano Z owned by Marnell Sport Horses. In addition, she picked up the Best EMO Junior Trip of the Show for her impressive score of 90.

“I’m speechless. I don’t even know how to describe this week,” enthused Marnell. “Both horses were just amazing, amazing. I’m so lucky to have horses like this and a team like this. They’re actually pretty different rides, so that was one thing I kept in mind, having both horses at Indoors this year. With Crumbles, I just try to get him to a nice gap and let him stretch his head and neck. With Ocean Road, I try to not let him get too low. He’s a horse that kind of gallops right up to the base and then he fires off. He has kind of a high, little faster jump, and then Babylon is slower and really smooth. They complement each other really well, and I think I’ve gotten better on each one because of the other. These two will always be my boys for sure.”

Later in the day on the heels of their division success, Marnell and Babylon continued their reign in the $5,000 WCHR Junior 3’6” Challenge, where they scored the high 90.83 to claim yet another victory.

“I definitely felt some pressure, especially after Crumbles won the Challenge with John. We were a close second in this class last year, and things like that definitely stick with me,” admitted Marnell who will attend Auburn University next fall. “I wanted to win this year, more so for Crumbles, than anything. He deserves to win every class he goes in, and he does win unless I make a mistake. He’s just a real winner. For the last class at Capital Challenge this year, and maybe my last class here with him, I really wanted to win. He loves this show.”

The champion of the Small Junior Hunter 3’6” 15 and Under division, sponsored by Robert and Sandra Bierman, was Parker Peacock, 15, of Pfafftown, NC, on Acclaim, her own 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Heartbreaker. Olivia Sweetnam, 15, of Wellington, FL, piloted Fabriano, Visse Wedell’s 13-year-old KWPN gelding by Casall Ask, to the reserve champion title in the division.

Ava Barnes, 14, of Mason, OH, rode Unprecedented, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Commodor owned by Monkey Business LLC, to champion in the Large Junior Hunter 3’6” 15 and Under division, sponsored by New England Farm. The pair was also presented as the Grand Junior Hunter 15 and Under Champions, sponsored by Courtyard Farm. Paige Walkenbach,16, of Paradise Valley, AZ, and San Pedro 15, a nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Stakkato owned by Walkenbach Equestrian LLC, received the reserve champion honors in the division.

Christian Dominguez, 17, of Barrington, RI, was presented with the Stewart-Warner Cup for Children’s rider. It is given in memory of Laurie Gilbert Stewart and Mary Warner Brown by Donald E. Stewart, Jr. and Louise W. Serio.