Tryon, N.C. – Oct. 24, 2019 – As one of the most prestigious equitation championships of the year, 40 top junior riders were invited to compete in the 2020 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final. Typically set at the prestigious Capital One Arena, competitors saw a change of venue to the Tryon International Equestrian Center after the COVID-19 outbreak forced a change in its location. The three-phase final began with the hunter phase Friday, October 23, continuing Saturday, October 24 with the jumper phase and the final work-off between the top ten competitors. In the end, it was Tessa P. Brown that rose to the top of the leaderboard, impressing the judges with consistent rounds over the course of the competition and a flawless final work-off.
The judging panel, consisting of Jimmy Torano, Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, Erynn Ballard and Robin-Rost Brown, set a 9-obstacle track for the hunter phase of competition, hoping to see a forward ride throughout the course. Taking the early lead following the hunter phase was Zayna Rizvi aboard Finnick and Dominic Gibbs riding Cent 15, tied in the top spot with average scores of 90. Both Rizvi and Gibbs demonstrated classic hunter rounds aboard their respective mounts, with the first judging panel breaking the tie to award Rizvi the first place honors in the hunter phase.
Rizvi continued to lead the pack following the jumper phase, earning a score of 88 from the judging panel and a total overall score of 178. Sophee Steckbeck crept into the second place position aboard Zapfier, with Brown rounding out the top three riding Davide. Seven other strong horse and rider pairs prepared to return for the final work-off round, including hunter phase leader Gibbs who sat in fourth place after the jumper phase of competition.
The final work-off required the top-10 riders to swap horses to ride the jumper phase course for a second time. With only three warm-up fences before entering the arena, the athletes had to quickly adjust to an unfamiliar horse in order to produce a consistent round. Judges combined athletes’ scores from the hunter and jumper phases with their work-off score to calculate which rider would lead the victory gallop at the end of the evening.
Coming into the work-off sitting in third place after winning the jumper phase, Brown switched on Gibb’s mount Cent 15, putting down a textbook ride producing a flawless jumping effort. Seated in first and second place heading into the work-off, fellow barn mates Rizvi and Steckbeck gained an advantage when it came time for them to swap horses, as both train with Missy Clark of North Run and have experience with one another’s mounts.
In the end, a few mistakes for Rizvi and Zapfier in the work-off cost them the leading position, with Brown wowing the judges aboard Cent 15 to move up and claim the championship honors, earning a work-off round score of SCORE and an overall total score of 267.25. Steckbeck navigated a near flawless work-off earning her a score of 89.5 to claim second place on a total score of 265.75. Ellie Ferrigno moved up the ranks in the work-off round after switching to Natalie Jayne’s Charisma to end up in third place with her work-off score of 87 and overall total score of 257.25. Prior to the work-off round, the judging panel chose to award Best Child Rider on a Horse, presented by Gotham North, to Brown based off of her stellar performances in both the hunter and jumper phases.
The 2020 Indoors season is wrapping up, with only one major equitation final remaining, the ASPCA Maclay National Championship during the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky. Stay tuned to Phelps Sports for complete coverage of the Maclay Finals and the National Horse Show.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Tessa P. Brown – 2020 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Champion
On her preparation for the WIHS Equitation Final this year:
“I am 15 years old, I am from Jamaica, Vermont and I train Kyla Makhloghi and the team at Rosemont Farm. This year has been very odd, it’s a lot of unknown that we have had to go through. Personally, I was away from my horses at the beginning of quarantine for a while and I have so much love for them and these horses give me so much confidence that being away from them was a little tricky for me. When I got back in the saddle we went to Saratoga and Saugerties, only four shows this summer. It’s unusual, I’m used to going from place to place, show to show, so we kept it simple this year. Every show I rode Davide and we did the Washington Equitation classes and the Talent Search classes, and that helped us secure our spot to come here. When we came here I showed him at the [Dover Saddlery / USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals] and he had last week off. We did a lot of trail rides just keeping him happy. Going into yesterday I just rode for him, I rode with confidence, I rode for the Rosemont team, everything they have helped me accomplish. I went in confident and rode my track. I think that has a lot to say about taking the pressure off a little bit when you focus on the basics and you focus on your horse because that’s what riding is. You are riding a horse and you have a connection. That is something to be very excited about in my mind and I love that I am here doing it on the horse of a lifetime, Davide.”
On competing in the WIHS Equitation Final:
“Last year was my first year at the [Washington International Horse Show] actually. Sadly, because of the unprecedented times, we are not in Washington D.C., but that environment is so fun, it’s really like nothing I’ve done before. I have to say, coming here I didn’t think it would be the same but the Tryon horse show and everybody involved has done an incredible job at keeping the prestige and the excitement and I think that helped the riders and horses pick up a little bit and feel the importance of this class.”
On her preparation leading up to this week’s final:
“Leading up to the class we practiced a lot of flatwork. We try to keep the jumping to a certain limit because we don’t want to overdo it and we think that flatwork is one of the most important things about riding a course. If you can flat your horse right then the jumps come along with it. That plays a role with the amount that we do with him. I went on a trail ride Tuesday, had a flat lesson Wednesday and got started with the jumping. I am personally one not to like to have a lot of time in the schooling ring, so starting yesterday I got on six out, flatted my horse, jumped a handful of jumps and walked in with composure and connection.”
“I got Davide in 2017 and I just have so much love for him. He gives me so much confidence and I feel like as the years go along we grow with each other. I am able to read what he wants, he is able to read what I want, and when we come to finals like this I think it gives us a lot of reassurance stepping into the ring. Since 2017, the first time I sat on him, I have forever fallen in love and I respect him so much. He tries so hard and I am most proud of him for coming, going the way he did, listening to me and I listened to him and I think that is how success comes along.”
On switching horses in the work-off:
“When Kyla [Makhloghi] and I were talking about how we could get into the work-off, I was like, ‘I want to ride Dominic [Gibbs’] horse, I want to ride Cent 15, he seems like so much fun.’ When the lineup happened the way it did and I drew him for my horse I already did it, I already got the chance to ride and I was just so happy. I kind of went in there as another chance of a lifetime on an amazing horse, Dominic is an amazing rider and I just had fun. I keep saying it but I think that is what really helped me, I was having fun out there.”
On her win:
“Like I said, Sophee [Steckbeck] is an amazing rider, she deserved that as much as I did and she rode amazing over the course of two days. When they called me to be first it really felt like all of this hard work, all of these hours, all the sweat, all the tears, all the excitement of what comes along with being an equestrian, it’s here. It came together. I have been with Kyla [Makhloghi] since I was eight years old so to be with her on this journey and this horse, it was emotional because I am just so proud of us. It’s a big deal and I’m really happy.”
Kyla Makhloghi – Trainer of Tessa P. Brown
On Tessa’s win:
“I’m feeling unbelievably proud. I have been teaching Tess since she was showing at age 8. This accomplishment is huge. The reason today was able to go as it did is because Tess and I have prepared like every day, every practice, every class, every show matters. So, when it comes down to a pressure situation, it feels familiar because that’s how we train. It’s easy to get bogged down in scores, points, and qualifying, but at the end of the day sustained success is only possible through sustained practice and today is a testament to that.”
Sophee Steckbeck – 2020 2020 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Reserve Champion
On competing in the WIHS Equitation:
“I’ve done [the WIHS Equitation Final] two years prior to this and I’ve gone to the finals. This is the first year that I’ve been up in the rankings and I am very happy with the results. Over the years, you have the hunter phase and the jumper phase, and having that diverse equitation so you can do both phases – it’s a very cool final to compete in.”
“I rode Zapfier. We partnered early this year at [the Winter Equestrian Festival] with Brian Feigus and North Run. He’s a phenomenal partner. He goes in, he tries hard, he wants to win. I never feel like I am walking in the ring not knowing what my horse is going to do. He always tries his hardest. He’s so happy all the time. He’s a fantastic horse.”
On competing at the Tryon International Equestrian Center:
“I think it went great. I love the way it ran – it was perfect. It still felt like a finals. It was so exciting. Everyone went over to the hunter ring to watch. It still felt like a very competitive competition and I think they ran it great here and I am really excited.”
On switching horses in the work-off:
“The work-off was very cool. Going into the work -off you get a different kind of nerves because anything could happen. I was happy to be on Zayna Rizvi’s horse [Finnick]. She’s a barn mate of mine and I’ve watched that horse go for a long time and I think he’s the coolest horse. Finally getting to ride him was amazing. He’s a really nice horse and he felt great in the work-off. I’ve never ridden him before but he was wonderful and I thought the work-off was great.”
On her future plans:
“I am a senior at Notre Dame High School, and I am committed to Auburn University. I am aging out next week after Maclay Finals and I am hoping to continue with a grand prix career and continuing to grow in the sport.”
Jimmy Torano – 2020 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Judge
On the Work-Off and Tessa Brown:
“When you have a change like that we like to see what the rider can do with the horse. Tessa Brown, our eventual winner, we thought she did an unbelievable job. She made that horse look even better. It’s an amazing horse. It had a rail in the jumper phase with Dominic, but she had the horse so well connected and really supported him off the ground to make him jump up to her. That’s what you are looking for – you want to see how the rider is now going to make that horse jump. We just loved the way Tessa was able to create the jump. Unfortunately with some of these kids, they ride around the course well, they are all very good riders, but you also have to be able to create a jump and we thought that is what she did so well. She was able to create a jump at every single fence.”
On judging the phases of the championship:
“In the end, it’s all about good riding. I am really big on style, so for sure we look for good style and good riding. The hunter phase was maybe a little bit easy. These equitation horses are amazing animals and they cover the stride so easily. The test almost became fitting in the strides because the lines were so easy. It was about good style without posing at the jumps. The jumper phase was about riding a nice track and riding the lines. Again, being able to create a jump. We saw several riders canter down to the skinny and just sort of feed the reins and knock it down. In a jumper class, 100 times out of 100 you are going to get there and you are going to make sure that you jump the skinny clear. That is a difficult, delicate jump, so you had to make sure that you supported the horse and you got a good jump out of it.”
Place / Name / Horse / Hunter Phase / Jumper Phase / Work-off | Final Score
1. Tessa P. Brown / Davide / 86 / 89.75 / 91.5 | 267.25
2. Sophee Steckbeck / Zapfier / 87.5 / 88.75 / 89.5 | 265.75
3. Ellie Ferrigno / FRH Remarkable / 86.25 / 84 / 87 | 257.25
4. Dominic Gibss / Cent 15 / 90 / 84.75 / 82 | 256.75
5. Eliza Kimball / Early Winter / 82.625 / 84 / 85 | 251.625
6. Hannah Hoch / Conthacco / 86.5 / 85.425 / 79.5 | 251.425
7. Natalie Jayne / Charisma / 84 / 85.37 / 81.5 | 250.875
8. Zayna Rizvi / Finnick / 90 / 88 / 70 | 248
9. Austin Krawitt / Vendredi Riverland / 80.75 / 88.5 / 70 | 239.25
10. Skylar Fields / Commentator / 84.875 / 85.5 / 66 | 236.27