Traverse City, Mich. - July 9, 2016 - Clear blue skies and a cool breeze that kept temperatures at a perfect 75 degrees set the scene for the $5,000 NAL Low Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic on day four of Week One at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF). Kelsey Thatcher of Pony Lane Farm and Chaviana maintained her early lead as the first to go, and rode to the win in Saturday's highlight jumper event.
Thirty-seven horses and riders followed Thatcher's round but none were able to catch her double clear time of 33.428 seconds. The first round course, designed by Olaf Petersen, proved to be a technical one, challenging junior and amateur riders with rollbacks, a double and triple combination and a triple bar. As a result, only 12 were able to move on to the jump-off after the first round course, while four would go on to produce double clear rounds.
|Kelsey Thatcher posing with awards after winning the $5,000 NAL Low Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival.
"The course was a lot harder than what it walked," said Thatcher. "It walked easier but it was like a WEF Medium Classic, honestly. It rode a lot harder. You could see that - a lot of people had trouble. In the jump-off, I was just trying to go as fast as possible.
"Chaviana is a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare," continued Thatcher. "I got her from eventer and show jumper Marilyn Little. She's fabulous; she's really careful. She has a bit of a funny mouth. I've only had her for about eight months now so everyday is still a new day with her it feels like."
|Kelsey Thatcher and Chaviana
In addition to Chaviana, Thatcher was also entered in the class aboard three other mares all of which she's only been riding for eight months: New Girl, Hannah and Stella Luna. After Saturday's competition, Thatcher's new string of mares all show promising potential for bright futures in the sport of show jumping as she continues to train and develop them.
With Thatcher setting an untouchably, fast pace at the start of the class, it was 17-year-old Claire Mckean of Augusta Pines Farm and the Freedom Group's Plise who came the closest to beating her, finishing double clear in 34.463 seconds. Anna Beth Athey and her own Samoa rounded out the top three of the class, posting another double clear round in 35.653 seconds.
|Anna Beth Athey and Samoa
"Plise is an older horse," said Mckean. "I only lease her, but I've had her for about a year now so I use that to my advantage - knowing her so well. Out of the five that I ride right now, she's the one that I've had the longest. She always tries so hard for me and we just have such a great partnership.
"I thought it was a good course," continued Mckean. "It asked some difficult questions. It was hard enough, but at the same time it was fun so it was good. For the jump-off, my plan was just to go smooth and fast. As my trainer always tells me, 'Smooth is fast.' So I was planning on going tidy and a little quick. She's not a slow horse so she helped me out there. Then she ended up jumping B of the combination almost too well. She fell a little bit on her face on the backside of the jump but she got her feet back together and we finished. She was super."
At the start of the day, the Grand Prix Ring kicked off at 9 a.m. with the $500 Adult Jumpers, which saw Madeline Cooley and Jennifer Santana's Rosario LN take first place with a double clear round in 40.913 seconds. Brittany Hildebrand and Mindy Hildebrand's Antonis followed three seconds behind in another double clear round in 43.969 seconds. Duncan Peters and his own In Our Time finished fault-free as well in 45.515 seconds to take third place.
Following the $500 Adult Jumpers was the East Wind Farm Children's Jumpers. Hailey Berger and her own Shannondale Gino delivered a double clear performance in 36.089 seconds to claim the top spot on the leaderboard. Maxwell Songer and his own Fernandie B and Liana Gavidia and her own Tino De La Mazure also produced faultless efforts in their rounds to finish in 39.734 seconds and 40.991 seconds to garner them second and third place honors, respectively.
Both Thatcher and Mckean are competing at GLEF at Flintfields Horse Park for the first time this year. Mckean will be competing throughout the first four weeks of GLEF, while Thatcher will be in attendance for the first two weeks. Thatcher is also looking forward to competing in Sunday's grand prix aboard Everything.
"It's my first time here," said Thatcher. "It's beautiful! I love it, it's really nice."
"Martien [Van Der Hoeven], my trainer, was here a few years ago and he's always loved it," said Mckean. "I love it here. It's so nice. The weather is beautiful so it's been really fun."
GLEF will continue to welcome riders and thrill spectators over the next four weeks throughout the first series of competition, which runs July 6-31. Week One will conclude on Sunday with the highlighted main event, the $50,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City, presented by North Face Farm, to be held in the Grand Prix Ring at 2 p.m.
The second day of the Junior Hunter divisions took place on Saturday, July 9, as junior riders vied for top honors in both the Junior Hunters and the $1,000 Junior Hunter Classic. In the Junior Hunter 15 and Under division, it was 15-year-old Emma Wujeck who pulled of an impressive clean sweep to earn the championship aboard Puppet.
Puppet is owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC and has been with Wujeck for over a year. Wujeck said, "I started showing him at WEF this past year. He's just such a great horse. He can be spooky sometimes, but that's why he jumps so amazing."
Puppet's impressive scope in the ring definitely showed as the pair soared through their courses. Wujeck and Puppet ended up sweeping the 15 and Under division, securing five first place ribbons and the championship tri-color. "He was so good," Wujeck said of Puppet. "He just jumped so amazing today. He was really tired, but he was great."
Wujeck is no stranger to Flintfields Horse Park, and has been competing there for six years including last year during the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival's inaugural year. Wujeck lives in Grosse Point Farms in Michigan, and is conveniently located near the horse park.
She explained, "I just love the show, and it's so close. I have a cottage in Bay Harbor, which is like 45 minutes away so it's nice to go back and see my family on Mondays."
The reserve championship in the 15 and Under division went to Paige Matthies riding Justified, an entry owned by Dudley Smith. Matthies' winnings totaled four second place ribbons and a sixth place ribbon.
|Paige Matthies and Justified
In the Junior Hunter 16-17 division, Brett Burlington had three different horses that she was competing on, but it was with Due West, owned by Allison Sweetnam, that she took home the championship win with.
"We call him Wesley around the barn, and he's really straightforward," Burlington said of the Due West. "He has such a nice canter and the distances show up really easily. I've been riding him for a long time now, on and off, and he's always been really great."
Burlington and Due West earned two firsts, two seconds and a fourth throughout their two days in the Junior Hunter 16-17 division, enough to win them the championship title. Burlington also earned top ribbons on each of the horses she was competing on.
|Brett Burlington and Due West
When asked how she manages to remain such a versatile competitor, Burlington explained, "I just have to make sure that I practice with switching from equitation to hunters to jumpers, which thankfully I get the opportunity to ride a lot of different horses so I'm used to having to do that."
Giavanna Rinaldi and Bugsy Malone were the pair to finish as the reserve champions in the Junior Hunter 16-17 division. Rinaldi and Bugsy Malone, owned by Alex Jayne, earned two firsts and three thirds competing in the division.
Familiar champions pulled out top scores in the $1,000 Junior Hunter Classic. Wujeck's winning streak continued as she navigated Puppet to a total classic round score of 171 to earn the blue. Matthies also impressed in the $1,000 Junior Hunter Classic, earning a 169.5 on Justified to secure second place. Rounding out the top three was Summer Hill riding Holly Orlando's Eclypse to a total score of 167.
Week One of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival will conclude in the Main Hunter Ring on Sunday, July 9, with the Glory Days Farm LLC $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby.
The second week of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival, held July 13-17, has completely sold out of stabling space with limited spots remaining for Week Three, July 20-24. Act now to reserve stabling spots for August, and do not miss out on the chance to compete during the all-new FEI Great Lakes Equestrian Festival series in August.
Series Two kicks off on August 10 and runs through August 28 featuring three weeks of hunter and jumper competition with a FEI CSI2* rating Week Five and Six and a FEI CSI3* rating during Week Seven culminating in the $100,000 Grand Traverse Grand Prix on Sunday, August 28.