Third Time Proves a Charm for Taylor Cawley in WEF Equitation Championship, Presented by NetJets

Taylor Cawley on Oki d’Eclipse, winner of the WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets. Photo by Sportfot

Edited Press Release

The future of U.S. show jumping took to the International Arena at Wellington International on Thursday evening for the coveted WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets, during the IDA Development-sponsored Week 11 of the 2024 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). As Wellington International gears up for its final week of the winter season, kicking off on March 27, all eyes were on junior riders as 40 qualified rising stars took to the big ring.

The podium was dominated by 16-year-old Wellington-based Taylor Cawley as the only rider to post scores in the 90s in both rounds riding Oki d’Eclipse. Blake Rowan, 17, of Little Compton, RI, on Ironman and J.J. Torano,13, of Wellington, FL, aboard Favorite Edition Z made their debuts in the WEF Equitation Championship, finishing second and third respectively.

Of her experience in the class, Cawley noted, “The first year I did the [WEF] Equitation Challenge, I was on a very green horse and I myself was very green. The second year I did it I was a little more advanced on a green horse. This year I was lucky to have the experience and be on a more experienced horse as well.

“I think that experience paid off really well,” continued Cawley, who trains with Stacia Madden at Beacon Hill Show Stables. “You have to be focused on what you’re doing and know your horse and yourself. Oki is big and doesn’t know where his feet are all the time but he’s super fun to ride and I’ve been bringing him up along with the whole team. This is his first championship under the lights and it paid off really well.”

Andy Christiansen (USA) designed the equitation track, which featured a first round that included a series of bending lines, two combinations and varying fence challenges such as a Swedish oxer, wall and log jump. The top 12 were called back in reverse order for a second round, which had additional challenges, including a simple change of lead.

Taylor Cawley on Oki d’Eclipse is presented as winner of the WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets, by Sylvain Houry, the owner of Arion Sellier. Photo by Sportfot

Four riders returned—without stirrups—for further testing: Cawley, Rowan, Torano and Parker Peacock, 16, of Pfafftown, NC,  on Class Act. Their test included showing off at a hand gallop, two lines on a counter canter and a halt before the final fence.

After the three rounds, Cawley—daughter of U.S. grand prix rider Molly Ashe Cawley—was crowned winner from two judging panels made up of Panel 1: Archie Cox and Ralph Caristo and Panel 2: Virginia Edwards and Karen Healy.

“I was lucky enough that last week in the medal we had a no-stirrups test and there were trot jumps and hand gallops and counter-cantering so I was prepared, and Stacia Madden always has us prepared for our tests,” said Cawley of her confidence going into the final test. 

Blake Rowan on Ironman. Photo by Sportfot

The unique format of the WEF Equestrian Championship removes trainers and all outside help from the equation. Riders must walk the course, make their plan and warm up without the assistance of a trainer. Riders hand in their cell phones at the start and can only be assisted by one groom in the schooling area.

“I normally like to walk the course with my barnmates first, then go over the course and walk it once more by myself so I have a clear brain,” said Cawley of her approach to walking the course without her trainers. “I think bouncing ideas off my barnmates helped me. There were a few questions out there in striding and turns, and we all came together on the same plan. It’s good to talk to your teammates and it’s also good to have a clear mind about what works for you and your horse.”

J.J. Torano & Favorite Edition Z. Photo by Sportfot

Diane Landreville and Jean Bonsall observed the warm-up for the first two rounds and awarded riders a score ranging from minus two to plus two points based on their time management, horsemanship and effectiveness in the schooling area. Those points were either added or subtracted from their overall score. Cawley earned both available points from the schooling ring judges. 

“I’ve known Taylor since the day she was born; Molly and I rode together as juniors so it’s really cool to see everything come full circle,” said Madden. “You don’t always get a gifted rider that has passion for the sport that works hard and is talented to boot. It was really nice to get the opportunity because she’s done the work in bringing this horse along. This is not a horse that’s done the equitation before, and Taylor’s been the only one to show him in the equitation and been a big part of producing Oki, which makes it really gratifying.”

For a trainer, Madden noted that, “It’s the best day ever. I look forward to it all year long because you put in the blood sweat and tears all during the year, then it really pays off. I had six riders in it and they all got plus two in the schooling area. They all were above 80. And Taylor, it was her day to shine which was fantastic.”

Photo by Sportfot

Wellington International expresses thanks to the sponsors that donated prize for the WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets, including: Arion Sellier for providing a saddle to the winner; YETI for providing winner and reserve prizes as well as gifts for the winning trainer and groom; NetJets for providing gifts for the top-four as well as winner and reserve families, and Equiline for providing the winner’s blanket.

In addition to third place, Torano’s horse Favorite Edition Z won the “Class Action” Best Equitation Horse, presented by Madden. 

Castlefield Spartacus, the horse that finished eighth with Reese Merna in the tack, was named The Best Turned Out Horse. Groom of Castlefield Spartacus, Ricky Gomez was presented with prizes from YETI and Wellington International.  

The International Arena at Wellington International was also host to international competition earlier in the day on Thursday. In the $32,000 Dodd Technologies CSI4* 1.50m, Belgium’s Zoe Conter took the win riding Tombola Z for owner Stephex Stables. In the two-star ranks, the Belgian flag flew once again for Boy-Adrian van Gelderen aboard APG Jazzlyn, owned by APG Stables, in the $32,000 BrainJava 1.45m Qualifier.

Competition returns the main ring on Friday morning with the CSI4* Adequan WEF Challenge Cup Round 11, a qualifier for Sunday’s $200,000 IDA Development CSI4* Grand Prix, presented by Barnwalkers. 

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