Wellington, Fla. – March 26, 2021 – Thirty-nine of the nation’s best equitation riders came together Friday evening at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) to vie for top honors during the annual WEF Equitation Championship. Competing under the lights without the help of the trainers, the win was anyone’s for the taking. Ultimately it was Natalie Jayne who rode away with the victory, marking the biggest win of her equitation career as the winter season winds to a close.
In order to qualify for the prestigious class, riders had to have won a blue ribbon in a 3’6” equitation class during WEF. Riders have been vying for a spot in the class throughout the past 11 weeks of the circuit with the help of their trainers, but the format of Friday evening’s championship is 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 outside help. 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 Ralph Caristo and Michael Morrissey Jr. on one end of the arena, while Chris Kappler and Keri Kampsen sat on the other side of the International Ring 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 Eric Strauss and Diane Landerville. 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 designer Andy Christiansen 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 15 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.
As a final test for the evening, the top four riders were invited back to compete over another shortened track, which included a trot fence, a counter canter and a hand gallop to the final oxer. Alex Alston returned in the fourth position with scores of 85.75 and 87.25 from rounds one and two, respectively. Riding North Run and Missy Clark’s Waldo, Alston was able to execute answers to all of the questions without error. Dominic Gibbs and Mountain King Ranch LLC’s Cent 15 were ranked third with scores of 84.75 and 89. The pair also executed the trot fence and counter canter correctly, but his controlled hand gallop would retain the third place position.
Sitting in second place, Jayne was next in the ring with just .25 points away from the early leader, Zayna Rizvi, having earned scores of 90 and 86.25. Taking a risk with Heritage Farm’s Charisma in an attempt to slide into the first place position, Jayne was the first to take a slick inside turn to the counter canter fence. In the end it proved to be the right move, as their skilled approach and smooth round showcased their partnership.
As the final rider to try their hand at the test, Rizvi received the top score of 92 during the first round and an 84.5 in the second round, earning her the lead going into the test with Jordyn Rose Freedman’s Finnick. The pair chose to also take the inside turn heading to the counter canter fence, but a rub at the vertical would be just enough to move behind Jayne to earn second place honors. At the end of the night, in addition to the reserve championship, Finnick was presented with the “Class Action” Best Equitation Horse Award. Chosen by the judges, the trophy was awarded to the horse that showcased a true partnership with their rider and enjoyed rising to the occasion Friday evening.
Jayne led the lap of honor aboard Charisma, marking the biggest win of her equitation career as she enters her final junior year. She previously placed third at the World Equestrian Center’s Premier Cup Equitation Final and seventh in the 2020 WIHS Equitation Finals and ASPCA Maclay Championship.
With no communication permitted with trainers, Jayne had to work hard to come up with her own strategy for both the warm-up ring and the show ring, and her strategy paid off as she galloped away with the championship title.
While Friday night’s WEF Equitation Challenge marks the pinnacle of the season for the equitation, riders are already focused on the year ahead as they continue to qualify for year-end finals in Sunday’s ASPCA Maclay and the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal during WEF 11.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Natalie Jayne – 2021 WEF Equitation Championship winner
On winning the championship:
“I’ve been doing well throughout the circuit but consistency has been a bit of an issue for me, so it feels awesome to finally be able to win one of these classes. I haven’t won a big class like this before. I was third in the [WEC Premier Cup Equitation Final] in the beginning of the circuit but I’ve never won a big class like this, so it feels awesome.”
On the test:
“I went in and I knew I just had to do the best I could. I wanted to take risks. I was sitting in second and I knew I had to go all out to try and move up, so that’s what I did and it worked out. I know my horse [Charisma] is really well schooled. He’s done classes like this for many years, so I knew [the inside turn] would be easy for him and I knew I had to take risks. I knew he could do it so I decided to try.”
Zayna Rizvi – Second Place
“I am going on almost three years with him. Before I rode him my sister Yasmin had him. After she had been riding him I was under a little pressure to do well on him, but the first time I showed him was actually at Maclay Regionals and I was eighth there, so after that I knew he and I would be a good match. He’s one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever known and he’s constantly learning new things and teaching me new things. I couldn’t ask for a better horse.”
On Finnick winning Best Equitation Horse:
“I was so excited! I really wanted him to win that because I think he really deserves it. He’s always trying his hardest and he’s never let me down, so I was really excited about that.”
Dominic Gibbs – Third Place
On training without assistance:
“It certainly is different, but I just took the ideas that my trainer [Stacia Klein Madden] has been teaching me and really emphasizing with me with this horse [Cent 15] in particular, and incorporating those into my own style of warm-up. With this horse in particular, I need him to really stretch across the oxers, so I jump a wider oxer in the warm-up, which I don’t do on all of the horses, but for him it’s very important. It’s really just focusing on what we’ve been doing at home and what’s been important for me and the horse.”
Alex Alston – Fourth Place
On competing in the WEF Equitation Challenge:
“This is my first time in this class. I thought it was pretty good. I’ve only shown Waldo for a few weeks now, so I just wanted a smooth, nice round, and I think he did that. I’m very happy with him. I’ve not done a test like that before on this horse.”
2021 WEF Equitation Championship:
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 / R2 | Total
1. Natalie Jayne / Charisma / Heritage Farm, Inc. / 90 / 86.25 | 176.25
2. Zayna Rizvi / Finnick / Jordyn Rose Freedman / 92 / 84.50 | 176.50
3. Dominic Gibbs / Cent 15 / Mountain King Ranch LLC / 84.75 / 89 | 173.75
4. Alexander Alston / Waldo / Missy Clark & North Run / 85.75 / 87.25 | 173
5. Iwan / Madison Rauschenbach / Donald Stewart / 85.5 / 84.50 | 170
6. Mimi Gochman / Heroy Von De Hei / Gochman Sport Horses LLC / 86.87 / 82.75 | 169.62
7. Eric Krawitt / Astro De Ravel / Olivia Robertson /83.50 / 82.75 | 166.25
8. Blythe Goguen / Jarinka / Emma Callanan / 83.25 / 80 | 163.25
9. Amira Kettaneh / Gossip Sa / Heritage Farm & Leigh Kettaneh / 83 / 80 |163
10. Tessa Downey / Quite Cassini / Ashland Farms / 88 / 75 | 163
11. Alexa Elle Lignelli / Any Given Sunday / Donald Stewart / 83.25 / 79 | 162.25
12. Avery Glynn / Campreoll / Missy Clark & North Run / 82.75 / 78 | 160.75