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A nail-biting finish of the final competition at the Alltech National Horse Show was an appropriate finale to a week of show-jumping excitement for the storied show, having its debut at the Kentucky Horse park.
The ASCPA Alfred B. Mcclay National Championship, a premier competition for junior riders, went to 17-year-old Sarah Milliren of Sapula, Ok. – in a showdown in which the top competitors were separated by mere points, forcing a suspenseful and final test. The test: Taking the course on a competitor’s horse without any warm-up or consultation with their coaches.
Riders competed all year to qualify for the event, and 198 riders from around the world started the grueling day.
On a course designed by judges Cynthia Hankins and Kip Rosenthal in cooperation with course designer Richard Jeffery the young riders and their mounts faced fences including bending lines with inside options, as well as a vertical-oxer or oxer-vertical double combination option followed by an oxer-oxer combination. The end of the course included a snaking line of obstacles with the ASPCA fence and a technical vertical-vertical fan bounce. While some riders had difficulties during the first round, the gave each rider many opportunities to show off his/her horsemanship.
The riders who rode the course smoothly, out-of-stride, and with style were called back in the top 36 to test on the flat. Three groups of 12 were tested, and from there the judges called back the top 18 riders for a second round over fences. The top 18 returned with Michael Hughes called back on top and Milliren in second. Others were Savannah Jenkins, Genevieve Zock, Julie Fowler, Chloe Schmidt, Emma Schauder, Brittany Hurst, Megan Bifano, Catherine Tyree, Conor Perrin, Chase Boggio, Schaefer Raposa, Victoria Colvin, Michael Murphpy, Charlotte Jacobs, Demi Stiegler, Elizabeth Benson.
The second round of today’s competition began with a snake line and continued with a trot bounce, followed by a hand gallop to a triple bar. Riders then had two direct diagonal lines with an inside turn, followed by a walk transition and then a vertical-oxer combination. They finished with a smooth turn over the ASPCA jump towards the gate.
Michael Hughes of Ocala, Fl., had a difficult time with a lead change after the triple bar, which proved costly and eventually earned him sixth. Chase Boggio of Canton, Ga.,, and Victoria Colvin of Loxahatchee, l.L, each produced smooth trips with a good hand gallop to move up in the ranking and place fourth and fifth, respectively.
The judges then asked Milliren, Demi Stiegler of Landera Ranch, Ca, and Elizabeth Benson of Whitehouse Station, N.J., to return to the ring for further testing, as just a point separated the top three.
They were asked to switch mounts, with Milliren riding Stiegler’s Vigo, Stiegler riding Benson’s Calito 7, and Benson riding Milliren’s Terrapin Station. The three finalists then had to show over the course once more aboard the new mount without any warm-up or advice from their coaches.
Returning in reverse order, Benson led the way but had a slight bobble at the first vertical causing her to lose her stirrup. She regained her balance despite a previously broken wrist, but had a late change after the triple and eventually placed third.
“The second round I thought was a really good course for Calito. I started with the first jump a little too weak, but still fine, then he was perfect through the Swedish, amazing through the trot jump, which is not my forte, but he covered it okay. I thought that the rest we did really well, and he made it really easy. When I switched onto Sarah’s horse, I hadn’t seen her go, so I wasn’t really sure how to ride him at first. I took the first jump a little too open and then was caught by surprise when he gave me a big jump.”
Stiegler was next and kept a conservative pace at the beginning resulting in light rubs, and a slower hand gallop. The pair quickly became more in sync, and finished the round nicely to earn the reserve championship.
“During the second round I thought my horse was really good for both of us,” she explained. “I think the first six I had gotten a little closer than I wanted, but the rest was really good. After switching on to Elizabeth’s horse, I just have to say that she does a great job riding him; he is not an easy horse.”
Milliren was the last to go and she quickly proved that she came to win. She picked up a nice pace from the beginning and was very smooth through all of the turns and options. The talented young rider showcased an exemplary hand gallop and her expert horsemanship garnered her the judges’ top call and the ASPCA Maclay National Championship title.
“It’s so exciting, I’m so happy,” beamed Milliren after leading the victory gallop. “I was surprisingly not nervous about the course, I was excited because I knew that it was a good course for the horse I was on. For the second round I had moved down, so I knew I had to give it my all. I was a little nervous with my horse at first because he was a little spooky, but he did great. After switching onto Demi’s horse, I think I used a little too much hand, he wasn’t very happy with me, but I really liked riding her horse and he was a lot of fun.”
“Sarah is a natural, easy, works really well under pressure; one day when I grow up I want to ride like her,” laughed trainer Joey Brumbaugh.
Milliren also trained with Don Stewart and Bibby Hill during the summer after meeting Stewart at a clinic, and they arranged for her to ride Terrapin Station this year. “Any horse that I put her on, she gets the job done,” he noted. “She came back and forth and I helped to polish her a bit and giver her some depth in her riding, but she really is a natural. She can ride pretty much anything you put her on.”
“During the final test, Sarah looked like she had ridden that horse her entire life,” said judge Kip Rosenthal. “When she picked up the gallop to start the course she just went after it. She made it clear that either she was going to win this thing or blow it, but either way she was going to take a shot. After seeing her, it was over.”
Mason Phelps Jr., President of the National Horse Show concluded, “All of these riders performed beautifully. I am glad to say that the Alltech National Horse Show has a new home and a new beginning, I am really pleased that we are here at the beautiful Kentucky Horse Park.”
The ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship class has been held since 1933, and it is one of the most prestigious competitions for junior riders in the United States. Its winners are some of the biggest names in equestrian sport. Previous winners include: William Steinkraus in 1941, Frank Chapot (1948), George Morris (1952), Leslie Burr Howard (1972), Stacia Klein Madden in 1987, and Nicole Shahinian Simpson in 1992. The 2009 ASPCA Maclay National Championship winner was Zazou Hoffman, of Santa Monica, CA, and in 2010 Hayley Barnhill was named the winner.
Founded in 1883 at the original Madison Square Garden, the National Horse Show is America’s oldest indoor horse show, firmly established as a major fixture on the national and international sports and social event calendars. The National Horse Show Association’s primary activity is the annual production of the National Horse Show and all ancillary events. Over the years, the National Horse Show has provided financial aid to many worthwhile charities. For more information and complete show results, visitwww.nhs.org.
Photo by Rebecca Walton.
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