North American Junior and Adult Amateur Equitation Championship Winners Crowned at Capital Challenge

The Capital Challenge Horse Show’s Equitation Weekend, presented by Bigeq.com, concluded on Sunday, October 1, at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, with the naming of two new major equitation championship winners. Capital Challenge Horse Show continues with more top hunter, jumper, and equitation competition through Sunday, October 8.

Emma Kurtz of Hudson, OH, won the Palm Beach International Academy (PBIA) North American Junior Equitation Championships riding Carl, and the win in the North American Adult Amateur Equitation Championships went to Ashley Foster of Brookeville, MD, riding Carlsberg.

Emma Kurtz Wins Palm Beach International Academy North American Junior Equitation Championships

Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

“This is my first major finals win, and it feels amazing,” said Kurtz, 16. “I’ve worked so hard to get here, and my whole team has worked so hard to get me here. It’s amazing to not let them down.” Kurtz was one of 110 talented junior riders from throughout the U.S. who contested the PBIA North American Junior Equitation Championships first round course set by Kenneth Krome.

Following the conclusion of the first round of competition, the field was narrowed to the top 20 riders, as determined by the six-person judging panel that included Linda Andrisani, Chance Arkelian, Brian Lenehan, Bobbie Reber, Danny Robertshaw, and Steve Wall.

Heading into the second round, Elli Yeager of Westlake Village, CA, held the lead with a score of 91, while Kurtz sat in second place with a score of 88.66. Saturday night’s winner of the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals–East, Maverick Helmer, sat in third on a score of 88.63, and Emma Wujek of Grosse Pointe Farms, MI, rounded out the top four on an 88.58 score.

Riders returned in reverse order of their standings for the second course, and a second-round score of 91.16 – for a two-round total of 179.82 – quickly shot Kurtz to the top of the leaderboard. For Yeager, a score of 85.58 for a two-round 176.58 total moved her from the lead to the eventual tenth place finish. With Helmer and Wujek close behind Kurtz at the end of the second round, with scores of 178.29 and 177.91, respectively, the judges asked the top three back for additional testing. The test asked riders to go directly from the in-gate to a triple bar and featured a trot jump, a highly difficult angled line, and a counter-canter to the final oxer.

Wujek of Grosse Pointe Farms, MI, was the first to return and finished the test with a score of 64; Helmer of Roanoke, VA, earned an 81, and it was Kurtz who turned in the top score of 85 to cement her place at the top, leaving Helmer in second and Wujek in third.

“It was a very difficult test, so I just wanted to go in and play it safe and have as nice a round as I could. It all worked out,” said Kurtz, who trains with Amanda Lyerly, Mike Rheinheimer, Scott Stewart, and Ken Berkley. “In my first round, I went in and just had a solid round like I was planning. Then in the second round, I picked it up a little more and took some more risks, and I thought it was more impressive to watch.”

Kurtz earned the victory aboard Carl, an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding leased by Dr. Betsee Parker, that lives at home with Kurtz and her family. “I get to ride him every day, and I know him really well at this point,” Kurtz said. “He’s such a good horse. He tries so hard. He’s a perfectionist for sure. If he ever screws up, he gets really nervous, and you have to tell him he’s perfect. That’s probably the trickiest part about him. If he ever makes a mistake, you just have to pet him and tell him he’s perfect. You can never really reprimand him.”

Kurtz and Carl will next contest the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final in Harrisburg, PA, but Kurtz is quite happy to have gotten her first equitation championship victory under her belt at Capital Challenge. “I’m very happy; I love it here because it’s a good set-up for the rest of indoors,” Kurtz said. “You get to have one day inside and one day outside; the horses can kind of ease into the indoors feeling.”

As part of the victory, Kurtz and her trainers Lyerly, Rheinheimer, and Stewart, were presented with the George H. Morris Equitation Championships Trophy, donated by Frank Madden and Stacia Madden. Kurtz also received the Best Equitation Rider Award, sponsored by Karen Healey and Amanda Hood, and Lyerly, Rheinheimer, and Stewart were given the Leading Equitation Trainer Award, sponsored by Leslie Steele, Acres West, and Amanda Hood.

Ashley Foster Rides to North American Adult Amateur Equitation Championships Title   

Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

The 21-year-old rider was awarded scores of 86.33 in both rounds of jumping to finish on a cumulative score of 172.66. At the conclusion of the two rounds, Caroline Ingalls of Rancho Santa Fe, CA, sat just behind Foster in the standings with a cumulative 173.33 score, after earning scores of 86 and 87.33.

With less than a point separating the top two riders, the judging panel – comprised of Linda Andrisani, Chance Arakelian, Brian Lenehan, Bobbie Reber, Danny Robertshaw, and Steve Wall – asked Foster and Ingalls to return for additional testing, before ultimately awarding Foster with the win. “It was extremely nerve-wracking! I feel like such an old lady, because I cannot tell you how nervous I was before going in there,” joked Foster following her victory.

Foster trains with her mother, Patty Foster, out of Rolling Acres Farm and is no stranger to success at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, having grown up competing at the prestigious event and earning numerous accolades there throughout her junior career. However, this year marked Foster’s first time showing at Capital Challenge Horse Show since 2013, when she began attending Auburn University to study Horticulture and to ride on the school’s National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) team.

“It’s a lot different going into a final like this,” Foster said. “There are a lot of different pressures, and I haven’t done a test in awhile. It’s nice to get back in there and practice a little bit more. And it’s fun being here at Capital Challenge.” “I love how many people get to watch,” Foster continued. “I love that there’s live streaming because it’s really fun to know that my friends are watching me back in Auburn. I think that’s a really great thing about this horse show. I love all the enthusiasm, all the decorations, and the prizes – I think it makes it fun to show.”

With Foster clinching the win, Ingalls took home the second place honor, while Allyson Blais of Boynton Beach, FL, finished in third with a cumulative score of 168.33.

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