Preliminary – Junior/Young Rider
Sara Vitkus & Season O’Reason – Champion
Sara Vitkus, age 17, had a fantastic year on her OTTB gelding Season O' Reason ("Nike"), who she has owned and competed for 3 years. Sara and Nike moved up from Training level to Preliminary, and began training with Hannah Sue Burnett. They finished in the top 3 placings in every outing, including Millbrook in New York, the AECs in Georgia, and her most recent victory at the Area 2 Championships at Morven Park in October. That was Nike's 50th horse trial! Her goal for 2013 is to compete at the Virginia Horse Trials 1* event next Spring and possibly move up to Intermediate.
Sara began competing Galactic, her second horse, this Spring at the Novice level, and has moved up to Training level. Galactic is also an OTTB who then became a steeple-chaser, even competing in the Gold Cup. As a new pair, they have been building their partnership, most recently finishing in 2nd place at Waredaca.
Sara is the daughter of Mark and Christine Vitkus, owners of Red Gate Farm, in Hamilton, VA, where she assists the family with their Horseback Riding Summer Camp program in addition to teaching snowboarding and skiing during winter weekends. Sara began riding at age 5 under her mother’s tutelage and began showing hunters at age 9. She began eventing at age 14. Last year, Sara qualified and competed in the AECs at Novice level and then moved up to Training on Nike. Sara also passed her C3 Pony Club rating this year as a member of the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club.
Sara attends the Academy of Science high school in Sterling, VA, and traveled to Singapore where her research team presented an international collaborative research paper on Gold and Silver Nanoparticles. She will be attending college next year.
Andi Lawrence & Armani IV – Reserve Champion
Rider: Andi Lawrence, 18 yrs old
Horse: Armani IV, 12 yr. old grey OTTB Gelding
It was a very busy and successful 2012 season for me and "George"! We started the year by moving to Aiken, SC and after doing well in the Training Div. at Full Gallop, moved to the Preliminary Level with the goal of making it to NAJYRC in July. We competed through the middle of March in Area 3 finishing up 1st place at Pine Top before moving back into Area 2 to compete at Southern Pines, where we placed 3rd.
We entered our first CIC* at Fair Hill and came in 2nd even with a broken stirrup through most of the xc course! All of our hard work paid off when, after the Virginia CCI*, we found out that we had qualified for NAJYRC and later were chosen to be on the team and represent Area II in July! It was a wonderful experience and I would like to thank Audrey Wiggins, Gwen Dean and David & Lauren O'Brien for their leadership!
I graduated from Unionville High School in June and am now attending St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC. George went with me and we are training with Bobby Costello in Southern Pines. In October, we moved up to the Intermediate Level in order to try to make the Young Rider 2* team next year and finished 2nd at our first competition. I also finished 4th on the USEA Leaderboard in the Jr. Prelim Division, so I was very happy with George and our season this year and can't wait for 2013!
Preliminary - Adult Amateur
Kelly Beaver & Sempre Fino – Champion
I've been riding basically my whole life...for the past 32 years I have continued to aspire to ride at the upper levels and compete internationally. I have a full time career that makes it tough to get lessons every week or take unlimited vacation to travel to shows. I train with Danny Warrington and dressage with David Smith. I had a lot of issues with my last horse trying to move up to Preliminary; it was extremely frustrating and my dream seemed to be getting further away.
I bought Sempre Fino, aka "Hobbs" just over 2 years ago from Courtney Cooper. He was 10 at the time and had done a 2* as a 7 year old with a Young Rider. When I went to try him I jumped bigger than I ever had in my life and I felt like a kid learning to jump...it was like flying!!! I was in love with him that day. It's been an amazing journey on him for the past 2 years. He certainly isn't the easiest horse...he tends to get VERY nervous and tense and we have had some blow ups in the dressage ring. But he's a XC machine and he LOVES to jump. He shoots out of the start box like a cannon and it's so amazing to be sitting up there enjoying every minute with him.
The highlight of our 2012 season was competing at Bromont CCI*. I felt like it was a once in a lifetime experience. The atmosphere was electric and the facility was amazing, I think even more so since it was a selection year. The huge arena proved to unnerve Hobbs and we had an awful dressage test, but completing the XC course double clear made up for the dressage!!! We finished in 31 out of 56 but were the 6th place amateur. It was just awesome to finish the weekend!!!
Next year the goal is to move up to Intermediate. I would love to compete at FHI CCI some day...I just want to keep moving up until Hobbs tells me he's had enough. The key lesson I've learned in this sport is that you need to spend time building a partnership with your horse and the horse needs to have the heart and will to keep going and Hobbs has plenty of that! It has been an incredible year and I owe thanks to my support team, especially my wonderful husband Seth, my Mom, my stepdad Dave and my brother John. They have been there at all my shows and have been on this journey with me every step of the way.
Lindsay Berreth & Oh So Extreme – Reserve Champion
I'm 26 years old and work at The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. Oh So Extreme is a 12-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred that I bought from Michelle and Dustin Craig in 2007. He had raced until he was 7 (40 times with only one win!) and I've brought him along from beginner novice through our first year this year at prelim. I currently train with Lisa Reid for jumping and Nicky Vogel for dressage.
Oh So lives everyday to the fullest and just seems happy to be alive after a bit of a rough life at the track. He lives for jumping and galloping and would jump off a cliff if I asked him to. He can be his own worst enemy in dressage as many OTTBs can, but this year, he's really turned a corner and has had some great tests, usually leading after dressage. We've also been playing around at second level in pure dressage.
It's been a really interesting and fulfilling journey to bring along my first OTTB and I hope to continue to improve our performance at prelim and do a one-star next year. We've accomplished a lot this year in his first year at prelim, so we'll be spending the winter working on our show jumping.
Photo credit to GRC Photography.
Erika Gonzalez & Copper Dancer – Third place (2010 Preliminary YR Champion this 12 year old TB cross)
See Intermediate Adult Amateur Champion
Sandy McCormack & Aphrodite – Fourth place
I started riding at the age of five doing Hunter Shows. As an adult I foxhunted, and was a whipper in for four years. My husband was always worried that I would get hurt galloping in a herd, across fields with ground hog holes. At 35, I told him about this great sport called eventing. The horse & rider’s go one at a time over the fences in fields that have been checked for holes. Until 1991, I was living in Brookline, MA happily competing at Novice.
We moved to McLean, VA for a job opportunity. I soon discovered that the Mecca of eventing was one hour west of our new home. I started taking weekly lessons with Jim Wofford. In 1993, I found a lovely mare to allow me do Training & Preliminary.
In 1994, I became very active with River Bend Pony Club, where I was the District Commissioner for several years. Every year for the past 15 years I volunteered at the annual fund raiser combined test.
Over the years, I have worked with many different instructors and my goal has been to do a CCI*. I have qualified five horses over the years but something always happen to prevent me from competing in a CCI*.
In 2004, I went to Southern Edition Farm to board and train with Stephen Bradley. Stephen is not only a fabulous rider, he is an excellent instructor. Stephen does not over face the horse or rider. He builds their confidence and makes sure they are overly prepared before telling them they are ready to move up a level.
In 2006, Stephen gave me the opportunity to travel with him and Joshua for the 2006 World Game Selections. In 2007, I became a Board Member of CDCTA, where I do many hours of volunteering to enrich the sport of eventing.
I have had several horses while being with Stephen that I competed at Novice & Training level. Knowing my goal to be going Preliminary and to do a CCI* Stephen found me a horse that is safe and more than capable of allowing me to fulfill my goal. In 2007 Aphrodite, my lovely grey mare, allowed me to meet my goal of completing and placing in a CCI* at the age of 53.
In 2009 Aphrodite and I were sixth at the AECs in the preliminary Adult Amateur division. We were Reserved Champions at the USEA Area II Preliminary Rider Division.
In 2011 Aphrodite and I were ninth at the AECs in the preliminary Adult Amateur division. I am looking forward to many more years of riding Aphrodite at the Preliminary level, with Stephen as my coach.
Photo credit to Brant Gamma Photos.
Preliminary – OPEN
Lindsay Kelley & Buckharo – Champion
I believe that the horses we have the opportunity to ride along the way shape who we are and what we become in so many different capacities - and Buckharo completely defines that statement for me.
I claimed Bucky as a four-year-old steeplechase horse in 2004 to be my first proper event horse prospect. I was galloping at the barn he was in training and was drawn to his talent, jumping ability, work ethic, and personality. When the trainer said he was running in a claiming race- I panicked- that meant someone could claim him and he would never come back to the farm. At that point, I decided I was just going to claim him myself.
And that is where our journey began- Bucky won the race and the next day was shipped back to me to start his new career. At that point, I didn’t know just how much this one single horse would contribute to my life. I could potentially write an entire book on just how much I owe to this horse, but following are just a few of the highlights.
Bucky, first and foremost, instilled the love of eventing in my blood. He was the first event horse I ever owned and even competed. The process of getting him to his first event certainly had its moments of laughter and tears! But, it was Bucky who taught me to love the sport and eventually want to pursue it as a career.
Bucky taught me to love the off the track thoroughbreds. He is the epitome of all the OTTBs have to offer. He has the talent, athleticism, drive, work ethic, and desire to please that everyone is searching for. He truly wanted to create that partnership with me that allowed him the confidence to trust all that I faced him with and for me to trust he could conquer everything I ever put in front of him to figure out.
Bucky taught me that persistence and hard work always pay off in the end. I took on training Bucky as a young fit steeplechaser when I was 15. He taught me the process of transforming the career of an OTTB from start to finish. Every single day I learned something new and still continue to! He showed me just how rewarding the process is in the end.
Bucky also gave me the opportunities to train and compete with world-renowned trainers along the way. He helped me make connections with people that I never would have without him. He helped me create relationships both personally and professionally that will forever give me a leg up in the horse world.
It is obvious that this horse is a special individual in so many different areas of my life. And luckily he is now in the hands of an owner that is also someone who is certainly a special individual and has given me immeasurable support and a leg up in the eventing world as a professional. I sold Bucky in 2008 to Beth Sokohl just before I left for college. Beth has since become a best friend, mentor, supporter, and owner. She is the very reason that I Bucky and I were awarded champions of the open preliminary division this year.
Beth gave me the most valuable opportunity to pick up my relationship with Bucky this year right where we left when I sold him to her before college. Due to an injury, she had to take some time off from riding and allowed me to take Bucky back for a while. In the winter of 2011 Bucky and I started to gain our partnership back through fox hunting in the winter for some fitness work and then once spring rolled around, by tuning up for the eventing season. Beth gave me the opportunity to compete Bucky 4 times this spring at the preliminary level. We went through each of those events finishing on our dressage score each time. At that point, Beth offered the most valuable opportunity to me- TO COMPETE BUCKY AT BROMONT!
The experience at Bromont CCI* this spring was the most educational and enlightening experience to date- and to share that with Bucky was something I could not even fathom. It was there that it was solidified that I wanted to go hard at competing at the top international levels as a career.
Overall, Bucky deserves this award more than any horse I have or will ever own! I owe it all to him.
Mardi Herman & Go Gilda – Reserve Champion
Gilda was a lot of fun again this year but unfortunately I only got to a few events missing all of the Spring due to a broken foot and then getting sick in the Fall. Gilda is a homebred and is an Irish/TB cross. She is a cousin to my retired Prelim mare Zoe who is in foal for the first time. I'd like to again thank my trainers Sally Cousins and Phoebe Devoe-Moore for all their help. My husband and children were as usual very patient and supportive
Photo credit to GRC Photography
Preliminary – Young Horse
Courtney Cooper & R Star – Champion (6 year old Irish Sport Horse & Dutch Warmblood cross)
R Star, aka Hope, is our 6 year homebred. She is turning out to be a very special horse, and is often called affectionately our "heart horse," She had great success this year and in her 6 events at Prelim, she was only out of the top 5 once, and she finished 2nd three times.
Unfortunately her 2012 season was cut short with my bad accident, and so she has spent the last 4 months turned out, and is now starting back to work. We have big plans for her in 2013, and look forward to her joining her big brother Who's A Star at the Upper Levels.
Photo credit to GRC Photography
Intermediate – Adult Amateur
Erika Gonzalez & Copper Dancer – Champion
Rider: Erika Gonzalez Age: 22
Horse: Copper Dancer aka “George” Age: 12
George is a 17.2 hand TB cross gelding that has so much talent and was made for this sport, but has a quirky chestnut attitude that makes you work hard for what you get. He is also “in-your-face” and needs to be center of attention. I guess you would call him a “mama’s boy”, but at the end of the day he would do anything for me. I have been lucky enough to be paired with this fellow for 4 wonderful years now so he holds a very special place in my heart. In 2010, we were busy competing at the Prelim level with a great deal of success. At the end of that year, George experienced a serious injury that unfortunately left him out of competition and on the mend for all of 2011. So this year was about getting back to where we left off! We began the season with a few Prelim events and in June we made the big leap up to Intermediate level. This level of competition was new to both of us so the rest of this year has truly been a learning experience. Not only did we have to learn to adjust to this level of competition, but also learn the smoothness and precision that we need to have in our partnership to make it all come together. Needless to say the fall season has had its ups and downs, but it has only made me want to work harder to get better---together! We ended our season with our best dressage score as well as our first double clear stadium at this level, so this in itself was a great milestone. We are very aware of our homework for the winter months so we hope to kick butt at Intermediate in the 2013 season! I want to give a special thanks to my trainer, Kate Chadderton, for all of her patience and guidance this year, the supporting team/family at Bennett’s Creek Farm, and Dr. Norris Adams at Marion DuPont Equine Medical center for giving George the ability to return to 100% soundness, compete at the upper levels and still maintain perfect health throughout this season!!
Photo credit: Carlos Gonzalez