Sam Walker and Waldo Ride Smart to Win the 12th Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship
Sam Walker of Nobleton, ON, piloted Missy Clark’s and North Run’s Waldo to the win in the 12th Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship. Forty combinations of young equitation athletes and their mounts took to the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on the evening of Friday, March 22, at the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Elli Yeager collected second place, Sophee Steckbeck was third, and Emma Fletcher rounded out the top four.
To qualify for the 12th Annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship, each of the entries had to have previously won an equitation class during the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival circuit or during the 2018 Holidays & Horses circuit leading up to it. The competition was held in a three-round format with all participants contesting first-round course designed by Steve Stephens and Nick Granat. Only the top 15 were asked to return for the second phase in reverse order. Unlike a regular equitation class, the championship requires riders to turn off and hand in cell phones before its start and prohibits any interaction with trainers or staff. Riders were in charge of conducting their own course walk and schooling their own horses with the help of only one groom.
Judging was split into two separate panels consisting of Ralph Caristo and Chris Kappler in panel one, while Jimmy Torano and Lauren Hough comprised panel two. The riders also were present in front of schooling judge, Eric Straus, who awarded each combination points ranging from minus two to plus two based off of their timeliness, efficiency, and practices in the warm-up area. While the first course was straight-forward and featured several rollbacks and bending lines, the second round tasked the riders with more difficult challenges, including a trot fence and a change of lead through the walk after fence eight but before fence nine.
As the top 15 returned for the second round, Wellington, FL, resident Elli Yeager held the top position after receiving an 87.50 score for her first round. However, as the second-to-last to return, Sam Walker and Waldo laid down a flawless trip and picked up a second-round score of 91.50 to shoot to the top of the leaderboard.
Fletcher, Steckbeck, Yeager, and Walker returned in reverse order with the four highest two-round totals for the final testing which asked them to demonstrate two counter-canter fences, a hand gallop, and a halt throughout the abridged course. While Yeager produced another efficient round, Walker’s total score of 177.75 points put him in the early lead and after his third and final round was without error, it was clear he would hold on to the top honors.
Walker and the 12-year-old Warmblood gelding have been a part of the class in previous years which he said definitely played a part in his success tonight. “Tonight, my trainers told me to ride smart; having done the class a couple times before, I’ve studied the rules so I think I was pretty prepared going in,” he stated. “The biggest thing about equitation classes is being able to handle the mental pressure and having good decision-making. For example, in the test after seeing everyone go around the bush, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m on top right now so I’m just going to play it safe and go around like everyone else did, rather than try to cut in front.’”
Fourth-place rider Emma Fletcher voiced agreement with Walker’s emphasis on mental preparation. “There is a lot of mental preparation for this class because you’re doing it by yourself and the rules are very specific, so knowing them before you come into the class is a big thing,” she added. “Asking questions during the riders meeting is really important too. In the second round they didn’t include a transition, but it is on the course sheet, so I made sure to ask about it.”
All four also commented that they felt several aspects of the course, including the fan jumps, played a part in the success of the riders. “In the second round after the trot jump, getting back up to pace was hard, especially to the fan jump because you don’t see that very often,” commented Steckbeck. Her mount, Crossbow, was also awarded the honor of Best Equitation Horse and received an embroidered Equiline stall guard.
“In the work-off, I thought the steady six [strides] was a little challenging, after a hand-gallop especially, since the five was already steady in the first round,” Yeager added.
Walker received an Equiline “Scott Stewart” bridle, hunter saddle pad, and synthetic girth with fleece lining. As reserve, Yeager received an embroidered Equiline “Sandy” jacket.
Cent 15, owned and shown by Dominic Gibbs, received the award of Best Turned Out Horse during the night, his groom Mario Jaime received an Equiline “Sandy” embroidered jacket and embroidered “Nathan” ring backpack.