November 12, 2013--After three challenging rounds and a work off, Katie Aoki (Jan Hainze, trainer) led the victory gallop aboard her Truman in the prestigious Onondarka Medal Final at the LA National (Nov 6-10). "It was super exciting to win," Katie shared. "I competed in the final last year and had kind of a tough time, so it was definitely something I have been working towards and looking forward to all year." The win was extra special because it was Katie's last year to qualify for the Onondarka as she will show as a 13-year-old come January.
Katie was on the hunt for the lead throughout the final, sitting second after the first and second rounds. In the third round, Katie scored an 82.5, but got bumped to third after Alivia Hart (Lesley Anne Bulechek, trainer) and Conrad (Michelle Parker, owner) moved into second place with an 84.5. Grady Lyman (Michelle Stubbs, trainer) and her Opportunity held on to the lead across all three rounds and went into the work off standing first.
The tough competition throughout the final only encouraged Katie to ride harder. "Grady had a lot of great rounds and that really pushed me to be the best that I could be," Katie explained. "I obviously wanted to win, but I also would have been happy if Grady won because she rode so fantastically."
The top eight were invited back to work off, which shook up the standings and tested the riders' precision and skill. After trotting into a four stride line and cantering a single oxer, riders had to make a left turn and counter canter the next fence. Off of the counter canter fence, they had to hand gallop the next fence and then had only a short distance to halt before the end of the arena.
Several riders had difficulty with the counter canter fence. Some riders chose the inside track and couldn't hold the counter lead on the tight turn while others attempted to land the counter lead and then swapped to the correct one. Though she was in sixth, Finley Burger (Kasey Ament, trainer) and her Smart Bob demonstrated an outstanding work off, landing and holding the counter canter and showcasing a full hand gallop with a quick halt on the backside of the fence. Her work off score of 85 vaulted her to third place and she earned the yellow ribbon.
When it came to Katie's work off, she decided to be conservative. "My plan going into the work off was just to execute everything as best I could," Katie said. "I didn't want to be too risky and make a mistake. That's why I decided to land the correct lead, make the wider outside turn, and then do a simple change to the counter lead." Her plan paid off and Katie rode a beautiful work off with a score of 86. The pressure was on for the two remaining riders, Alivia and Grady. Alivia unfortunately had a rail and a chip, which dropped her out of the top three. Though Grady's work off was well executed, it was not quite as smooth as Katie's and she earned the reserve championship for her efforts.
Katie was happy to have Truman as her partner throughout the show. They were also champion in the Children's Hunters, 12 & Under. "I've had Truman for a little over a year now and I just love him. He used to do only hunters, but he's really settled into doing the equitation as well with me over the past year," Katie elaborated. "I'm hoping we can do the junior hunters next year and see where we go from there."
In addition to the Onondarka Medal Finals, LA National was also host to the Equitation Championships for all ages as well as ponies, which consisted of two jumping rounds, a flat round, and a work off. This year, the Equitation Championships were sponsored by Signature Spurs, who provided the prizes for the winners: a set of beautiful engraved spurs. There were several champions for each age group, but the hardest fought win was in the Equitation Championship, 12 thru 14, which had 31 entries.
The top four riders had a challenging work off that included two changes of lead in a short space before halting in line with fence four. Nina Vogel (Far West Farms, trainer) and her Jamestown moved up to second place after executing two flying changes of lead. Though it was tempting to try for the flying lead changes, Gemma Geist (Devon Gibson and Karen Healey, trainers) decided to stick with her plan. "I did simple changes because I wanted to make sure my work off was solid. I just wanted to make sure we got it done correctly," Gemma recounted.
Her strategy paid off and she topped the standings aboard her Calypso. "It was a great win, particularly with such stiff competition," Gemma noted. "I owe a lot of it to Calypso. He does so much for me and I love riding him." Gemma has been riding for about nine years and was always fascinated with horses. "Well, I would always go to my friend's house and play with model horses. So I think one day I just decided I wanted to start riding the real thing," Gemma recalled with a laugh. Next year Gemma wants to move into the jumpers and possibly also move up in the equitation.