Edited Press Release
Harrisburg, PA – October 16, 2023 – Following two rounds of jumping and one final test on October 15 at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, a field of 206 entries was narrowed down to one 2023 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final winner: Carlee McCutcheon aboard Chacco Star.
Second place went to Medal Final first-timer Noah Nelson aboard Cassini, and Kate Hagerty finished in third riding Magic Moment.
Beginning at 7 a.m. on Sunday, the nation’s best equitation riders entered the Harrisburg Coliseum to take on the first-round track designed by Alan Lohman and one of the day’s judges, Timmy Kees. From there, Kees and fellow judge Jack Towell narrowed the field down to the top 25 to return for the second round.
Going into round two, McCutcheon sat in the 14th spot after what she said, “wasn’t my smoothest first round.”
“I went pretty early this morning, and I usually like to go early so I don’t get in my head,” explained McCutcheon, who trains with Max Amaya and TJ O’Mara of Stonehenge Stables. “I ended up getting a little in my head anyway, but Chacco was great. I could have ridden the track a bit better, but he was phenomenal. He’s the best partner I could ask for. I was just looking to come back in a good spot for the second round, and I was very pleased with my second round. We took a chance with an inside turn, and I knew I could trust him. The harder the course is, the better he is.”
McCutcheon and Chacco Star’s test shot them from 14th to second place heading into additional testing of the top six – and the pair only further rose to the challenge from there.
Among other questions, the test asked riders to trot a fence, counter-canter two fences and demonstrate a hand gallop down and over the final fence before immediately coming to a halt. With Chacco Star, McCutcheon not only answered every question, she did so exceptionally well.
In the first counter-canter, the winning duo landed the lead and held it through the turn, and later in the course, McCutcheon seamlessly executed a flying change to the counter-lead. After the pair established a strong hand gallop down to the final oxer and then nailed a definitive halt, the crowd gave a loud cheer of approval for the test they had just watched.
“I just wanted to do something a little special, so I tried to hold the counter canter from the first jump, and it worked out well,” explained McCutcheon. “[Chacco] was just super. I couldn’t ask anything more of him.”
McCutcheon has been partnered with the 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding, owned by Kennedy McCauley, for going on two years, and the pair has seen great success together in that time.
“He’s truly the best partner I could ask for,” said McCutcheon, Aubrey, TX. “I’m just so grateful to everyone that has allowed this partnership to come together. He’s amazing. He’s one of a kind for me. I don’t think I could do this with anybody else. He just makes me so brave. I know he can do any test, so I’m never overly nervous for any tricky questions that the course may ask.”
Trainer O’Mara added, “To really see the hard work that me and Max have put in with her pay off today, and to see her partnership with Chaco really develop and flourish after each round, really brought tears to my eyes when they announced her as the winner. It was very emotional for me. My sister, [Meg O’Mara] won this in 2012, and then I won in 2016; Carly was one of my first equitation kids that I’ve gotten the pleasure to train. She came to us two years ago. I helped her here at the Medal Final in 2021, and each year she’s gotten better and better with it.”
For the win, McCutcheon was presented with the Adrian Van Sinderen Memorial Perpetual Trophy, and for Chacco Star’s own performance, the gelding was awarded the Best Equitation Horse title and the Doris H. Clark Memorial Perpetual Trophy, donated by Missy Clark.
The Best Equitation Horse Award is a great honor, particularly among a field of horses as impressive as those in Sunday’s Medal Final.
“The quality of the riders is unbelievable, but also the quality of these horses,” said Towell. “These horses are amazing animals, amazing. They’ve got the stride, the scope – it blows me away just watching them. Not that these kids don’t ride great, but you’re only as good as your horse.”
“The vehicles are the catalyst,” added Kees. “The level of instruction, the caliber of the horses and the capability of the kids – it’s all amazing to watch. I’ve seen it for a long time, and it just keeps getting better and better.”
For Kees and Towell, the real differentiator of the top three was the final test.
“Everybody can have a wonderful first round, but the test in the end is what separates them. That’s exactly how it was done today, and it worked out great,” said Kees.
For Nelson, the test was undoubtedly what helped him shoot up the leaderboard. The 18-year-old was brought back for the final test in sixth place, but not unlike McCutcheon, he nailed each element while others faltered ever so slightly.
“I really liked the test; it was very well put to together, and I’m very grateful for everything,” said Nelson, who trains with Ken and Emily Smith at Ashland Farms. “Pretty much in March, I started the equitation, and I was introduced to Ashland. I owe everything to them. They taught me practically everything I know about the eq. Today, I was just hoping to put some good rounds down – just make myself happy, do the best I can and just have fun.”
For Nelson, of Santa Barbara, CA, the mount that helped make his Medal Final debut such a successful one was Quite Cassini, a 19-year-old Holsteiner gelding, owned by Ashland Farms.
“I was very confident on Cassini; he’s competed here and was second in 2019 with Jordan Allen. I owe everything to him,” concluded Nelson.
For third place finisher Hagerty, her podium finish was earned aboard Magic Moment, a newer mount for the 17-year-old from Terrebonne, OR.
“I’ve had him since August, and he’s new to the equitation,” said Hagerty of the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, owned by the Hagerty Family. Hagerty’s biggest jump up the standings came in the second round, when she moved from 21st to fifth. “My first round was good, but I didn’t come back with a lot of expectations, so I think that let me go in and go for it and be as risky as I could be. [Magic Moment] was so good and did everything I asked, so I’m really happy with how he was today.”
For full results of Sunday’s Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal, click here.