Wellington, Fla. – March 31, 2022 – Forty-six of the nation’s best equitation riders came together Thursday evening in the International Arena of newly minted Wellington International to vie for top honors in the Winter Equestrian Festivals’s (WEF) finale equitation class, the annual WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets. Competing both during the day and under the lights without the help of the trainers, the win was anyone’s for the taking. Ultimately, it was 18-year-old Luke Jensen from Denton, TX who rode away with the victory aboard Jamaica, adding yet another accolade to the junior athlete’s resume of equitation career highlights.
In order to qualify for the prestigious class, junior riders had to have won a blue ribbon in a 3’6” equitation class at least once during the 2022 WEF season. Athletes had been vying for a spot in the class throughout the past 12 weeks of the circuit with the help of their trainers, but the format of Thursday evening’s championship was unique in that riders must compete independently. The class challenged riders to be fully responsible for walking the course as well as schooling and preparing themselves and their mounts without any help from trainers, with one groom allowed to each rider to assist in setting schooling jumps. The class prohibits any form of outside communication, and each rider is mandated to hand in their cell phones prior to the start of competition.
The two judging panels consisted of Alex Jayne and Tiffany Morrissey on one end of the arena, while Chris Kappler and Michael Tokaruk sat on the other side of the International Arena as an additional judging panel. Another innovative facet of the class, riders also received a “schooling score” after both the first and second rounds of warm-up ranging from -2 to +2 points from judges Diane Landerville and Jennifer Matts. The schooling score, which was based on time management, efficiency and any questionable practices or procedures, was added or subtracted, depending on score, to the combined total of the two panels’ tallies and then split in half to determine the round’s overall average score.
Renowned course designers Andy Christiansen and Ken Krome created a 12-fence course for the first round of competition, which included bending lines and combinations where riders had to showcase a smooth and accurate effort. Following round one, the second phase invited back 12 of the highest-ranked pairs to tackle another similarly challenging course in reverse order of the standings. The new track consisted of 10 fences, this time asking riders to demonstrate a simple change of lead in the middle of a bending line and a halt after the final fence before exiting the arena at a walk.
Following the conclusion of the second round, the top four athletes were invited back to the ring for one final test. Brought into the arena, Ellie Aronson, Agusta Iwasaki, Zayna Rizvi and Jensen were asked to complete in reverse order of standing over a shortened course that included two counter canter fences and a hand gallop. Aronson was the first to contest, bringing forth scores of 88.75 and 88.5 from the two rounds. Riding Wolfstone Stables & Sales Inc’s Conthacco, the pair was able to answer all the questions without error. Iwasaki and Kyle Tim’s Izar were ranked third with scores of 91.5 and 86.75 respectively. The pair put in a solid effort, but Iwasaki noted having to execute a simple change into the counter canter after an inside turn to the second jump. Sitting in second place with scores of 93.5 and 88.75, Rizvi and Missy Clark & North Run’s Acer K conquered the test, but unfortunate errors on course left them out of contention for the lead.
Jensen and Stephex Stables’ Jamaica walked into the test on top with scores of 91.625 and 93 from the first two rounds. Though recently partnered at the beginning of the WEF circuit, the duo showcased their already strong partnership, executing a seamless test and strong hand gallop down to the last fence to ultimately secure top honors. Aronson would move up in the placings to finish out the class in second place, with Iwasaki claiming third place and Rizvi rounding out the top four.
At the end of the night, Jensen’s mount Jamaica was presented with the “Class Action” Best Equitation Horse Award. The 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Stephex Stables was chosen by the judges as the horse that showcased a true partnership with their rider and enjoyed rising to the occasion Thursday evening.
Equitation competition at the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival will continue Friday at 8:00 a.m. in the Denemethy Ring with the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search 3*. Week 12 of WEF marks the final week of sport for the 2022 WEF season.
FROM THE WINNERS CIRCLE
Luke Jensen – 2022 WEF Equitation Championship winner
“I rode Jamaica, he comes from Stephex Stables. I am so grateful to them for letting me ride
him. I started riding him at the beginning of the WEF season this year – Missy [Clark] and John [Brennan] let me ride, so thanks to them so much for that opportunity. It’s been so fun. Jamaica really thrives in a big ring. He always thrives, but he really thrives in an open ring like that. It was really just building on what we’ve been working on throughout all of WEF. I knew he would feel his best. Calista Smith groomed for me for this class and she’s incredible, he looked amazing. It was so fun to do this with her.”
On competing without a trainer
“The community is so fun to do this together and work through and solve the problems together to figure it out. It’s one of the most fun parts and when the big classes are going at night, for the grand prix I make it a point to watch the schooling ring because that’s really the most important part, the preparation and the work before. I think that’s a fun part to see what you’ve learned and what you can field.”
On plans after WEF:
“Jamaica is probably excited for time off, he will get some relaxation before we start to head north. We don’t really have a plan yet for me specifically but I’d be super grateful to ride him again. He’s a super horse and I’d love that opportunity but we’ll see what happens.”
On training with the North Run team:
“Missy [Clark], John [Brennan], Maggie [Gampfer] and the whole team we have is so amazing. They work so hard to support us and to coach us in all aspects. The whole team we have at the barn, all of the grooms and working students, Calista [Smith], we are all so grateful to them. They are amazing.”
WEF Equitation Championship
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 / R2 | Total
1. Jamaica / Luke Jensen / Stephex Stables / 91.625 / 98 | 184.625
2. Conthacco / Ellie Aronson / Wolfstone Stables & Sales Inc / 88.75 / 88.50 | 177.25
3. Izar / Augusta Iwasaki / Kyle Timm / 91.5 / 86.75 | 178.25
4. Acer K / Zayna Rizvi / Missy Clark & North Run / 93.5 / 88.75 | 182.25
5. Caretinhus / Amira Kettaneh / Leigh Kettaneh / 86.375 / 90.5 | 176.875
6. Lagerfeld / Alexa Elle Lignelli / Hampton Green Farms LLC / 90.5 / 85.5 / 176
7. Carollo / Annalise Manoog / Nicole Manoog / 87.125 / 86.5 | 173.625
8. HH Moonshine / Tessa Downey / Tessa Downey / 88 / 83.5 | 171.5
9. Chacco Star / Carlee McCutcheon / Kennedy McCaulley / 90.5 / 78 | 168.50
10. Castlefield Spartacus / Isabella David / West Hill / 90.5 / 78 | 168.5
11. Astro De Ravel / Ellie Dupuis / Olivia Roberston / 86.25 / 68.5 | 154.75
12. Cent 15 / Jordan Gibbs / Mountain King Ranch LLC / 90.5 / 40 | 130.5