Claire Simic and Stephanie Fernandez Claim Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 Championships at National Horse Show

Lexington, Ky. – Oct. 30, 2021 – The penultimate day of the opening week of the 2021 National Horse Show (NHS) kicked off Saturday morning in the Alltech Arena of the Kentucky Horse Park. Throughout opening week, age group equitation divisions for both amateur and junior athletes took center ring, welcoming a competitive field of riders to the oldest indoor horse show in America for its 138th annual event. In the Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 division, Claire Simic stood out in the field of 32 entries in Section A, and Stephanie Fernandez bested the 33 horse-and-rider pairs in Section B to garner the championship honors at the conclusion of Saturday’s competition.

Claire Simic and Diatoon

In Section A, Simic dominated the field throughout the two days of Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 division classes. The Californian athlete and her own 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Diatoon, executed a seamless first round course Friday afternoon, rising to the occasion over Bobby Murphy’s (USA) track that challenged athletes and their horses to be ambidextrous by matching their pace, rhythm and stride throughout the mirrored course. Simic replicated her winning techniques in Saturday’s over fences class, expertly navigating the 10-effort track with her trusty partner. In the under saddle, Simic demonstrated correct position and style through the walk, trot, sitting trot, canter and extended canter, to claim her third and final win of the division. Simic’s clean sweep guaranteed her the championship tricolor in the Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 division. Simic was thrilled with the result and looks forward to competing in the Hamel Foundation NHS 3’3” Equitation Championship Sunday, October 31.

Sarah Gould and Catching Fire

The reserve champion honors for Section A of the Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 division were awarded to Sarah Gould and Catching Fire. Gould and Erika Zirkelbach’s 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare were in top form Friday afternoon, placing second behind Simic in the first over fences class. While the pair would not ribbon in Saturday’s over fences, a top-five finish on the flat would secure the reserve champion honors for her and Catching Fire.

Stephanie Fernandez and Tropic Star

Wrapping up the day of top sport, Section B athletes had their shot at the championship tricolors. Of the competitive 33 horse field, Fernandez and Tropic Star shone the brightest. She and the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding wowed the judges during the first day of competition, placing second for their effortless trip. Fernandez came into Saturday’s competition with confidence, successfully replicating her second place finish over the second round course. In the under saddle, Tropic Star and Fernandez strutted their way to a top-five finish, placing the pair atop the leaderboard for the championship honors.

Sharing the reserve champion honors for their consistency throughout the two days of competition was Izabel Fugman and Alexandra Lynn Willner. Fugman and Cabadbaran S, a Rachel Sagalyn’s 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding, got a strong start to the division, taking the top spot in Friday’s over fences class. Willner and Boca’s Instyle, Ponies & Palms Show Stables LLC’s 8-year-old Warmblood mare, claimed a win in the second over fences round to slide into the co-reserve championship position at the end of day two.

Equitation competition at the opening week of the 2021 National Horse Show will come to a pinnacle Sunday, October 31, with the Hamel Foundation NHS 3’3” Equitation Championship, welcoming 177 athletes back to the Alltech Arena.


Claire Simic – Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 Section A champion

On her horse, Diatoon:
“I have had him for a little over a year now and he was the first horse that we purchased. He is a big equitation horse and we bought him in California. We have been competing in California. This is our first time showing on the East Coast and we really appreciate the age group equitation. It is great to be able to [ride at] indoors and it is really fun to be here.” 

On the courses in the division:
“I liked the courses both yesterday and today. I thought that they gave equal opportunity and tested both leads and they were very symmetrical. The courses did not favor one type of horse over another. I had a lot of fun and it prepared us really well for the [Hamel Family Foundational NHS 3’3” Equitation Championship]. My horse got to get his nerves out and I was able to get mine out too.” 

On her plan for her rounds:
“I wanted to have a smooth round and get around and follow the plan that my trainer gave me.” 

On showing at the National Horse Show:
“I love it so much here! It is so different from California with the grass and the hills. I live in Southern California and we have not competed in many places other than the shows there like The Oaks and Desert International Horse Park.” 

On competing in the Hamel Foundational NHS 3’3” Equitation Championship:
“I am super excited to compete in the Hamel for the first time. I am going to have the same plan and have smooth rounds and do my best and have fun!”

Stephanie Fernandez – Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17 Section B champion

On Tropic Star:
“He is amazing and has a giant personality. He is always there for me. When I first met him there was a connection right away and I really appreciate all of his hard work. He is the best horse I could ask for.” 

On courses:
“We were trying to keep our plan as simple as possible, just getting through my corners and keeping my pace. We executed it beautifully and I was just really happy with how it all went.” 

On lessons from Friday’s round:
“Just keeping him in the corners, it really helped a lot today.” 

On Hamel Plan:
“Probably the same plan as I had today. Just really keeping him in the corners and keeping a consistent pace. I am really excited about the class.”

On National Horse Show:
“It is so amazing to be here. This is my first year here and it has just been a great experience so far.” 

On future plans:
“I am hoping to do the Junior 3’6” Hunters and continue doing the 3’6” Equitation medals. I hope to ride in college after my junior years as well.” 

Thank you:
“I really appreciate my trainers Pat Dawson and Keith Hastings.” 


Place / Horse / Rider / Owner
Section A Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation Over Fences 16-17:
1. Diatoon / Claire Simic / Claire Simic
2. Vintage Bentley / Sofia Baron / Tessa Queirolo
3. MTM Lemme Take A Selfie / Isabella Gaydeski / Isabella Gaydeski

Section A Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation Flat 16-17: 
1. Diatoon / Claire Simic / Claire Simic
2. Spiros Z / Emma Arnhols / Jimmy Torano
3. Hardwell / Willow Vince / Summer Stone Farm Horses LLC

Section B Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation Over Fences 16-17:
1. Cabadbaran S / Izabel Fugman / Rachel Sagalyn
2. Tropic Star / Stephanie Grace Fernandez / Stephanie Grace Fernandez
3. Coltrane / Avery Lambert / Avery Lambert

Section B Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation Flat 16-17: 
1. Cristallo’s Carlchen P / Catherine Kramer / Alivia Kohus
2. Konan Z / Victoria Gustafson / Chapel Bartee
3. Corvin CWF / Jaylee McAninch / Jaylee McAninch


Horse / Rider

Section A Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17: 
Champion: Diatoon / Claire Simic
Reserve: Catching Fire / Sarah Gould

Section B Pérez & Bennett Open Equitation 16-17: 
Champion: Tropic Star / Stephanie Fernandez
Reserve: Boca’s InStyle / Alexandra Lynn Willner
Reserve: Cabadbaran S / Izabel Fugman

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