March 20, 2007 -- The Mogavero Arena was filled with high hopes on March 18 as 40 of the best junior riders in the country competed in the Winter Equestrian Festival Equitation Championship for the RW "Ronnie" Mutch Trophy. Maria Schaub took the championship aboard Aaron for the second time, and Maggie McAlary finished second with her own Mid Accord.
The format for the R.W. Mutch Trophy class offers a unique challenge to the riders, as they must prepare for the class on their own. Riders are responsible for the management and schooling of their mount and are required to walk the course on their own. Communication between riders and trainers is not allowed.
The class itself is judged by four judges, two hunter judges and two jumper judges. Three judges score the schooling area and riders can earn or lose as many as two points on the total, based on their warm-up. The judges were George Morris, Rodrigo Pessoa, Peter Leone and Linda Andrisani, and schooling judges were Pierre Jolicouer, Burt Mutch and Joanne Kovacs.
The competition format features two rounds plus the possibility of a third round work-off. The top 10 riders of the original 40 were invited back for the second round, and the final two riders, Schaub and McAlary, changed horses in a third round work-off.
The first course, designed by Mark Leone, was comprised of 13 numbered obstacles and 15 jumping efforts. The first difficult area riders encountered was from fences 2 to 3, a line that could be ridden in four or five strides. Another difficult area was the last combination, which was a one-stride line of two verticals set without ground lines off a galloping curve to the right.
The second round course was similar to the first but included trotting the second fence, an oxer and counter-cantering from the one-stride vertical line along one end of the arena to an oxer on an angle. Like several riders completing the second round, both McAlary and Schaub landed on the counter lead after the one stride.
Schaub, who rides with Frank and Stacia Madden at Beacon Hill Show Stables in Colts Neck, N.J., is in her final year of junior competition and said winning the trophy again has been her goal since last year.
"Aaron, he's fabulous. He's a veteran of the equitation," she said. "He's an amazing horse and one of the coolest horses I've ever ridden. I actually rode him once and in one class on Friday, and that's it." The pair had a slight hiccup in the 4- or 5-stride line, and Schaub said, "Aaron has a huge stride, and I thought I jumped in a little quiet and came forward a little too much there, but I was just trying to make sure I did test and was as conservative as possible."
After the second round, McAlary had earned the highest total with 189.50 points, but the judges called the two riders back to change horses. Schaub had a total of 188.50 points. Schaub had ridden Mid Accord, McAlary's horse in previous competitions, including the U.S. Equestrian Federation Finals two years ago and at the Washington International Horse Show this past year.
In the work-off, McAlary performed a smooth, flowing test but lost the counter-canter in the approach.
"I thought he went really well. I've seen him show with tons of different people and I knew that I could trust him," she said. "He has a huge stride--much bigger than my horse's stride--and I saw when Maria did him she landed left and held the counter lead, which is what I did. He landed left, and then I rolled back really tight and kind of forgot I was on the counter lead and I let him swap right, but he finished up really well."
Earning third place in the Ronnie Mutch class was Julie Welles on Sander, owned by Missy Clark and North Run. Kimberly McCormack took fourth place with Sundance. Fifth place went to Valvert and Carolyn Curio, and Matthew Metell rounded out the top six with his own Oliver.
To read more about Maria Schaub's thoughts on competing in the Winter Equestrian Festival visit her EquiSearch.com blog.