Young horses are the lifeblood of any discipline. Especially so in eventing which demands a unique combination of heart, athleticism, stamina and grit. Programs to promote and recognize their breeding and development often earn high marks for intentions, but low marks for execution.
Andrea and Connie Baxter always believed young horses should have a special year-end spotlight. For three years, the Baxters’ Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California, has hosted the US Eventing Association’s Future Event Horse West Coast Championship. Its counterpart for older horses, The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse West Coast Championships, have been held at various venues over the years. Dwindling attendance plagued the YEH Championships in the West.
Andrea, a 5* eventer and Connie, a lifelong equestrian, felt the two events should be held concurrently and as a stand-alone event. That hadn’t been done before. Skepticism loomed, namely that it wouldn’t draw many exhibitors or spectators without being staged concurrent with a regular competition.
The October event proved the skeptics wrong.
“I was just blown away by what a good job they did,” says Debbie Adams, the New Jersey-based official who judged the YEH Championships with Peter Gray of Canada. “I had no idea what to expect. You know, you hear things: like the West Coast is not at the same standard as the East. But as soon as I walked the course and saw how the jumps were built, Peter and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is amazing.’
“The course was challenging enough that you could really evaluate the horses and it’s crazy how pretty everything was.”
Double the number of entries in the Young Event Horse divisions over last year was another good indicator. More importantly, Twin Rivers’ staging provided the showcase sought for the region’s breeders and trainers. COVID precautions prevented non-exhibiting spectators from watching the action, which began Thursday, Oct. 22, with a last chance qualifier. Yet those who brought horses appreciated the opportunity to see all the other contenders perform. That’s versus presenting their own horse, then running off to ride another or coach a student in a regular show division.
The Young Event Horse competition features three phases of evaluation for 4- and 5-year-olds: Conformation & Type; Dressage; and Jumping & Potential, with the latter most heavily weighted at 70% of the overall score. The Future Event Horse scores conformation and type for yearlings; conformation and free jumping for 2- and 3-year-olds; and 4-year-olds are evaluated on conformation, under saddle work and in the jump chute.
“We treated it like an FEI event,” explains Andrea Baxter. She has many years presenting horses in the Championships. Her current 5* horse Indy 500 was a YEH horse 10 years ago and this year two of her horses were stars: Cayman was the 4th ranked FEH 3-Year-Old and Accelerator was the 2nd ranked FEH 4-Year-Old.
The in-hand presentations, aka “the triangle,” were staged in Twin Rivers’ big jumping arena atop the property, with flags flying and banners around the ring. “We made it feel like a real championship,” notes Connie.
Back East, the Young Horse Championships have traditionally been held during Fair Hill International, and as a complement to the 4* and 3* competitions. In the West, it’s been folded into a regular show and “kind of got lost amid the Intro through Advanced level competitions,” Andrea explains. “It was a lot for one organizer to put on. And the organizers and the competitors had to really choose what they wanted to focus their mental energy on.”
“They set a real standard for what the Championships should be,” confirmed Debbie Adams. “From the riders’ briefing on the first day, there was a special attitude because it was a stand-alone event.”
Earl and Jennifer McFall are long-time YEH and FEH supporters and winners. “From what I could see it was a proper championships,” said Jennifer. She stayed home with older horses and students in Northern California but enjoyed the action via Ride On Video livestream. “It made a big difference not being piggybacked onto another show. The Young Horses were truly highlighted and, from what I heard from other exhibitors, they felt the same. The milieu of another show going on can make the young horses nervous. This format really allowed them to be shown to the best of their ability. The venue looked beautiful, the jumps were well-decorated and the horses were jumping really well.”
Having such a nice showcase is important for the sport’s growth, notes Earl. “Any way we can cast a spotlight on people producing nice horses is great. It helps to get the right people with the right resources focused on and rewarded for producing horses for our sport.”
Twain’s Fireflight DF was the FEH West Coast 3-Year-Old Champion. Her owner Sarah Mosely is exactly the kind of owner who warrants the recognition received in a “proper” championship. “She is a long-time client who bought that horse from us in utero and with the intent of having a horse she knew from birth,” Jennifer explains. “She slept in the barn awaiting her arrival. That is a very special connection to have going into their riding career.”
Amber Levine is another longtime West Coast young horse developer and fan of the new format and how well the Baxters executed it. “It was super and they did an amazing job.” The head trainer and rider at Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma and a top 4* competitor, Amber brought several youngsters that are part of her Cellar Farm Corp. program. They represent a combination of investment prospects and horses that might become her next upper level partners.
Lots of Learning
The educational aspect of the Championships is critical for the youngsters. Between the last chance qualifier on Thursday and the two days of Championship competition, “They all learned an incredible amount, especially the horses who have just come over from Holland,” Amber reflects. Her Leonardo Diterma was the YEH West Coast 4-year-old champion, edging out his Cellar Farm Corp stable mate, Le Top F, the reserve champion in that division.
The Baxters are optimistic that the successful staging of the YEH and FEH together will lead to Twin Rivers receiving the opportunity to host it again in 2021. The quality of horses presented illustrates that the time is right to be giving tomorrow’s stars their own stage, Connie adds. Andrea would love to build up the combined Championships with extra components. A presentation of past winners currently fulfilling their early promise at various levels is one of her ideas for that.
This year’s success sets the stage for more entries, more sponsors and, ultimately, a fuller pipeline of talented horses for the sport’s future, she concludes.
Dutta Corp. USEA YEH West Coast 4-Year-Olds
Horse, Owner, Rider/Handler
1. Leonardo Diterma, Cellar Farm Corp, Amber Levine — 87.05
2. Le Top F, Cellar Farm Corp, Amber Levine — 84.50
3. Sniper, Robyn Fisher, David Koss — 80.90
Dutta Corp. USEA YEH West Coast 5-Year-Olds
1. Luxury Mail, Adrienne Hillas — 88.60
2. Keep Calm, Cellar Farm, Amber Levine — 88.30
3. Ultimate Irish Rhythm, Bruce Hill — 88
USEA Future Event Horse West Coast Yearling
1. Trilogy, Janine Jaro — 82.40
2. Totality DFEN, Sarah McCarthy, Max Gerdes — 81.10
USEA Future Event Horse West Coast 2-Year-Old
1. RSH Goliath, Michelle Cameron Donaldson, Chloe Smyth — 86.10
2. Ferao DFEN, Sarah McCarthy, Max Gerdes — 84.70
3. Jungle Love DF, Nicole Fuentes — 83
USEA Future Event Horse West Coast 3-Year-Old
1. Twain’s Fireflight DF, Sarah Moseley — 84.20
2. MFS Flywire, Carrie Miller, Anna Collier — 82
3. American Quest, Emily Russell — 79.60
USEA Future Event Horse West Coast 4-Year-Old
1. Sea Lioness, Pam Fisher & Elizabeth Koeppel, Pam Fisher — 76.70
2. Accelerator, Andrea Baxter — 76
3. Calypso MBF, Michlynn Sterling — 74.80