*Originally posted by Practical Horseman*
October 10, 2016—The riders of the Washington International Horse Show Equitation Finals are the ones being judged, but the horses play an important role in winning this prestigious year-end championship. One of the greatest honors a junior rider can achieve, a win in the WIHS Equitation Finals is no easy task.
Just qualifying for the event is a major feat. Riders compete all year to earn points, and only the top 40 riders in the country (30 from the East Coast League and 10 from the West Coast League) are invited to travel to the nations’ capital to contest the final prize. They then compete in three rounds of competition—a hunter phase, a jumper phase and a final work-off in which the top 10 riders switch horses—to determine the overall winner.
The horses are sometimes the unsung heroes of the equitation ring, but WIHS has seen some of the best and remembers the many equine stars who have been a part of its time-honored competition. The stories of some of these great horses, including Harley, Grappa, Logan, Class Action and Massimo, are told here by the riders and trainers who knew them best.
1995: Harley with Jamie Krauss
Equitation star Harley got his start in the U.S. with trainer Missy Clark, after she went to see the horse in Toronto, Canada, early in 1993. In the fall of that year, Missy purchased Harley and took him to Florida to compete for the first time that winter. A young gelding that Clark said no one would have known was a Thoroughbred, standing at an uncharacteristic 17.3 hands for the breed, Harley was just 6 years old at the time.
“I rode him quite a bit myself in the beginning and showed him in the schooling jumpers and the pre-green hunters. You name it, he did everything,” Missy recounted. “I remember Bruce Burr was always mocking me, saying, ‘What are you doing with this horse?’ And I would say, ‘This is Harley and he is going to win the Medal Finals.’ He ended up winning the Maclay that year, eight months later, with Kelley Farmer.”
Harley went on to compete with Kathleen Burke in 1994 before he was sold to Jamie Krauss and jumped to victory in the WIHS Equitation Finals with the young rider in 1995. Jamie rode with trainer Kip Rosenthal with additional help from Scot Evans, but Clark still watched the horse closely as he went on to great success.
“I just remember watching them at Washington and rooting him on. I was so happy because Jamie had done so well with him, too,” Clark recalled. “It was really fun to buy an unknown, green 6-year-old and to have him do so well. He was so mature in his soul. I knew in Florida right after I got him he was going to be great. I am not usually so presumptuous to run around and say that a horse is going to win something, but I knew he had that character and the ability to do that. I did not know that it was going to be that quick, but he was a really great horse. He was one of my favorites.”
Jamie also considers Harley one of the great horses of her lifetime and looks back fondly on the memories she has with him. “I have been very blessed to have some wonderful creatures over my riding career, and Harley was one of the most special of them all,” Jamie stated. “I was extremely fortunate to have him as my equitation horse for the bulk of my junior career. He was an incredibly special horse.”
In the WIHS Equitation Finals where riders switch horses for the final round, Jamie explained that Harley was a bit of a “secret weapon” because not just anyone could figure him out. “He was a little quirky; he required a bit of finesse,” she said. “You just had to know how to push his buttons or he could get really strong. Once he and I clicked, it was kind of like magic, but I knew it would not be so easy for just anyone to hop on him.
“He had a beautiful way of going, which also lent itself perfectly to the WIHS Equitation Finals because he was perfect to ride in the hunter phase,” Jamie added. “He was a big horse with a huge stride and he was just lovely.”
Jamie was 15 years old at the time of her win, which made her the youngest rider to ever top the championship at the time. Though she did not expect to win that year, she described the victory as an incredible surprise and something she had worked hard to achieve with Harley. The pair continued to compete together until Jamie aged out of the junior divisions, after which Harley enjoyed his retirement.
1998: Grappa with Sarah Willeman
In 1998, a young rider named Sarah Willeman won her first national championship in the WIHS Equitation Finals. It was the first of three major victories for the junior competitor, who later topped the 2000 USET (now U.S. Equestrian Federation) Show Jumping Talent Search Finals and AHSA (now USEF) Medal Finals in the same year. It was a dream come true for Sarah, who achieved all three feats aboard a horse who was quickly becoming a legend.
That horse was Grappa, a striking bay Hanoverian gelding (by Grossmogul) who won seven national championships with four different riders in his career, including all four major equitation finals. Grappa was a horse of a lifetime that Missy Clark purchased through Joe Norick as a 9-year-old. He had been competing in the jumpers in California, but quickly took to his new job in the equitation ring when Clark sold him to student Lauren Bass soon after.
With Lauren, Grappa topped the 1996 ASPCA Maclay National Horsemanship Championship and the 1997 AHSA (now USEF) Hunt Seat Medal Final. When Lauren aged out of the juniors that year, she sold the gelding to Sarah, who then took the win in three more finals with Grappa. He went on to a second win in the ASPCA Maclay Finals in 2001 with rider Brian Walker and a third win in the USEF National Medal Finals in 2002 ridden by Maggie Jayne. In addition, Grappa won the CK Equitation Championship at the Hampton Classic Horse Show twice, topped equitation championships at the Winter Equestrian Festival, the Devon Horse Show and the Lake Placid Horse Show, and earned 11 other top-10 national championship finishes during his illustrious career.
One might assume that a winning horse like Grappa was a simple ride, but the gelding had a unique style and character all his own. “He was not easy,” Missy recalled. “Everyone always said he was easy, but you had to be a real rider with him. I think he dumped everyone who rode him. He would buck you off at home. He would spook a lot, and he always had a lot of energy. He was a handful, but he was very unique, and I think that is what made him so good. You had to let him gallop up to the jumps, and he really caught your attention. He was a character, but he was just a great horse. He was really special.”
In 2006, at the age of 20, Grappa received a beautiful retirement ceremony at the Washington International Horse Show. The Willeman family set up the ceremony and showed a special tribute video over the jumbotron. Clark, Grappa’s former riders, and special friends were all in attendance for the occasion to remember one of equitation’s greatest stars and send the gelding out in style. After the ceremony, Sarah spoke about Grappa and the great impact he had on her life.
“He’s such an amazing animal that looking back on it, I just feel this incredible awe of him,” Sarah said. “He is an unbelievable animal in so many ways, and he did so much for me and for everybody else who worked with him. Every time I rode him I just felt that this horse is so unbelievable, that I want to do everything I can to do what’s right for this horse, to do him justice if I can, every day. It made me a better rider. It inspired me everyday to work harder and learn more. He’s a once in a lifetime horse.”
In 2016, at the tender age of 30, Grappa is still enjoying retirement at Sarah’s farm in Connecticut. The Best Horse trophy at the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals is also named after him.
2004: Logan with Brianne Goutal
Grand Prix show jumper Brianne Goutal got her start on ponies and then became an equitation star, going down in history as the first junior competitor to ever win all four major U.S. equitation finals.
Brianne first won the 2004 USEF Show Jumping Talent Search East Finals with Onira, her then 8-year-old Junior Jumper who would go on to great grand prix success. Her next major victory came the same year in the 2004 WIHS Equitation Finals aboard Logan. Brianne and Logan then went on to sweep the 2005 USEF Hunt Seat Medal Finals and the ASCPA Maclay National Horsemanship Finals in the same year.
When Brianne first purchased the Dutch Warmblood gelding through Andre Dignelli’s Heritage Farm, she was training with Peter Lutz.
“I actually vehemently hated him when I first tried him,” Brianne recalled of Logan with a laugh. “He was really uncomfortable, and he was kind of a peculiar type. He did not really fit the common mold, but Peter said he did not care if I didn’t like the horse because he knew I was wrong. My mom and Peter forced me to try him again, and after I tried him the second time, I was obsessed. I think I just kind of missed something the first time, but then I knew I just had to have him.”
Brianne later switched to riding at Beacon Hill Show Stables with trainers Frank and Stacia Madden and Max Amaya and began competing Logan in their first year together with good results. Their second year together was in 2004 when Logan carried Brianne to her win at WIHS, and the rest is history.
“I think it was a pretty quick partnership,” Brianne noted. “In general, the horse just did everything well from the beginning. Unlike a lot of equitation horses, he required very little preparation. I think that is why he was able to have such a long and illustrious career. He had his own way, but most of the time it was the right way. Once everybody accepted that he was the way he was, I think it kind of became the new mold that everybody started looking for.”
Speaking of Logan’s style, Brianne detailed, “He was a beautiful jumper—classic and very correct. Andre Dignelli actually imported him as a 4-year-old, and he was quite a good young horse in Europe. He was very scopey and he had a big stride. He was not a great mover, but he was always even. Once he started jumping he just was different. He was so light, he was great on both leads, he did not swap, and he was not spooky. He was just smarter and more in tune with you than the average horse.” After winning all of the finals, Brianne sold Logan to barn mate Chelsea Moss as the fellow young rider vied for a title in the equitation ranks.
“The only thing I said was that I would not sell him out of the barn,” Brianne stated. “My parents said I could not keep him, and he was only 12, so he was not ready to retire. I was really devastated to sell him, but I was happy that they bought him because he stayed really close and I was able to stay involved for the rest of his career. They kept him until he was retired in 2013.”
Logan is now ruling the roost in retirement at Sloane Coles’ farm in The Plains, Virginia, where Brianne visits him whenever she can.
2008: Class Action with Katherine Newman
In 2008, a young, relatively unknown horse named Class Action jumped into the WIHS spotlight with junior competitor Katherine Newman for a win in that year’s equitation final. The Danish Warmblood gelding was just 9 years old that year and had just gotten his start on the West Coast with trainer Karen Healey. Karen bought Class Action earlier in 2008 from trainers Cam and Becky Smith in California and immediately knew that he was something special.
Class Action is related to Rumba, another striking gray gelding who rose to stardom from California after winning the inaugural U.S. Hunter Jumper Association International Hunter Derby Championship with John French in 2009. The stallion Carano sired both horses, and due to this relation, the Smiths thought that Class Action would be a hunter, but Karen saw different possibilities.
“I watched him all summer because he was a beautiful young horse, and he just had so much presence,” Karen recalled. “Joie Gatlin was showing him in the hunters, and he would canter around politely and step over the jumps, and I just kept thinking that he needed to be an equitation horse. His attitude was perfect. He jumped everything and he never put a foot wrong.”
Karen had been looking for a special equitation mount for her student, Navona Gallegos, and they tried the horse and ended up buying him. Soon after, Navona jumped Class Action in the USEF Hunt Seat Medal Finals. The young rider was not qualified for the WIHS Equitation Finals, however, and Karen heard that Katherine Newman needed a mount.
“I had always admired Katherine’s riding, so I called Susie Schoellkopf who was helping her at the time with Jen Alfano, and I said, ‘Look, I have this horse. He has never done it, but I guarantee you he is going to march in there and be perfect, I just know it,’” Karen remembered. “We took him to Washington and it was a match made in heaven. We certainly did not think we were going to win, but he just cantered around like a machine. That was just the way he was from day one.”
During the competition at WIHS, Katherine rode Class Action in the hunter and jumper phases, and then Jessica Springsteen switched onto him for the final work-off.
“They jumped four jumps in the schooling area and then jumped their round in the ring, and Jessica went straight up into the stands and told her mother and her trainer Stacia Madden, ‘That is the nicest horse I have ever ridden,’” Karen recounted.
The Springsteens decided to buy Class Action, and Navona showed him one last time in the West Coast USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals. The horse then traveled back East and went to his new home. He jumped with Jessica in her final year as a junior and has since carried a few different riders to equitation success in the barns of top trainers Andre Dignelli and Stacia Madden. He is currently competing with young talent Lucy Deslauriers and continues to win at the age of 17.
“I have always enjoyed watching him over the years,” Karen concluded. “It makes me feel so good that he has had that kind of career and continued to perform for every rider that has had him. That horse has never done anything other than try to please. You can absolutely depend on him in any ring, in any circumstance, over any jump. I think he goes down truly as one of the great ones.”
2011: Massimo with Chase Boggio
Many big eq fans will remember the big gray gelding Massimo for his appearances under the winning riders of the WIHS Equitation Finals two years in a row. In 2010, 14-year-old Lillie Keenan became the youngest rider to ever win the final with her first two rounds aboard Uno and a final work-off with Massimo to secure the victory.
In 2011, Massimo carried owner Chase Boggio to the win in his final junior year with two consistent rounds in the hunter and jumper phases. Boggio then sealed the deal with a final work-off riding Calito 7.
Chase purchased Massimo, a Holsteiner gelding (by Cassini) bred by Jos Lansink, in 2009. With the help of trainer Christina Schlusemeyer, he took the young, green horse quickly to the top of the equitation ranks.
“The one thing that really made him special was the fact that he went from an extremely green breeding stallion to a seasoned equitation horse in the span of two years,” Chase explained. “He learned the ropes so quickly. My dad and I went over to Belgium in 2009 to try him, and I remember jumping down a line, and Massimo ran out. He did not even know that you were supposed to jump two jumps in a straight line, but he learned fast.
“He rarely ever put a foot wrong,” Chase continued. “Any mistake that we ever made in a class was usually on my part. He never spooked, he was really brave and he was never fresh. He was just so sturdy for me. I remember my last junior year, I did him in all four finals, which was pretty taxing and demanding on him, but he was really good through it all.”
In 2010, Chase finished the WIHS Equitation Finals in eighth place but proudly watched Massimo help Lillie earn her victory. Chase then got his win the next year and also finished fourth in the ASCPA Maclay National Horsemanship Championship with Massimo that year.
Recalling his win at WIHS, Boggio said, “I remember feeling relief when we won just because I think there was a lot of expectation on me to win at least one final. During my rounds, nothing was too special about our performances. I think we were just really consistent.”
Christina Schlusemeyer was a constant presence in Chase’s young career, but one thing that changed in that final year before his win was the addition of training with Stacia Madden.
“Stacia taught me to ride Massimo in a different way,” Chase noted. “It was tough because he was a lazy horse and he was not really taking the bit or taking the contact in the reins. I had just gotten on and ridden him the way that I thought was right, so we worked really hard on that all year. At Washington, the thing that I remember most was just putting it all together. It felt like the entire year was like school for my riding—I was studying and learning these different lessons—and then Washington was the test and I aced the test. I also think that I just grew to have a lot more confidence in Massimo that year.”
Before Chase even finished his final junior year with Massimo, someone had already committed to buying the horse over the summer. Once the season ended, Massimo went straight to a young rider in Massachusetts with trainers Jean Sheptoff and Cory Hardy. He then moved to the barn of trainer Kristen Bumpus.
“[Now] he is jumping smaller and enjoying an easy life, and I think he certainly deserves it,” Chase said. “His career was maybe a little shorter than some of the top equitation horses, but he definitely deserves to be included alongside the names of the great ones.”
The 2016 Washington International Horse runs at Verizon Center in downtown Washington D.C., October 25–30, featuring the hunter phase of the WIHS Equitation Finals on Friday, October 28, followed by the jumper phase and final-work off on Saturday, October 29. For a complete schedule and more information, visit www.wihs.org.
WIHS Equitation Winners
1992: Megan Johnstone – Lugano
1993: McLain Ward – Polar Bear
1994: Marley B. Goodman – Gospel
1995: Jamie Krauss – Harley
1996: Christine Tribble – Schroeder
1997: Lindsey Phibbs – Northern Magic
1998: Sarah Willeman – Grappa
1999: Kent Farrington – Ginger
2000: Jenny Jones – Pacific D
2001: Jamie Taylor – Ruby Begonia
2002: Whitney Roper – Apollo
2003: Addison Phillips – Ricochet
2004: Brianne Goutal – Logan
2005: Julie Welles – Lando
2006: Jack Hardin Towell, Jr. – Littlefoot
2007: Maria Schaub – I Toon
2008: Katherine Newman – Class Action
2009: Samantha Schaefer – Travino
2010: Lillie Keenan – Uno
2011: Chase Boggio – Massimo
2012: Elizabeth Benson – San Remo VDL
2013: Meredith Darst – Soldier
2014: Michael Hughes – Finnick
2015: Victoria Colvin – Patrick