The 2015 U.S. Saddle Seat Invitational concluded on Saturday, June 27 at Cascade Stables, Inc. in New Orleans, La., with the United States repeating their 2013 performance by sweeping the top podium positions in the competition. The U.S. took home Gold medals in both the Three-Gaited and Five-Gaited sections, and won the Individual Competition in both sections.
Athletes from the U.S., Canada, and South Africa performed rail and pattern work in front of the judging panel comprised of Cecile Hetzel Dunn of Weirsdale, Fla., Donna Pettry-Smith of New Lenox, Ill., and Terry Johnson of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
The competition opened on June 24 with the draw of donated horses. Each team had the opportunity to practice on the selected horses for 20 minutes in the respective sections. These horses were unfamiliar to the athletes, making this competition a testament to the skill and tenacity of the athletes and their ability to compete with such ease and comfort on new mounts.
“Each one of them really rode with a lot of confidence and dealt with riding new horses, also being very supportive of one another,” said coach Melissa Smith. “I think each one of them in their own right is an amazing rider, and their trainers did a fantastic job preparing them for the competition. They were not intimidated about riding new horses, but excited.”
“As for the horses, we paired them up with riders pretty much on the first go around of each of our practices,” explained coach Kent Swalla. “Unless there was a major change, we quickly ran through some rail work and a few segments, trying to keep our horses fresh and our team energetic was our focus.”
Official competition started on July 26. In this competition, rail work scores are not announced, and although the U.S. Three- and Five-Gaited sections were stellar in their rail performances, the scores for those segments were uncertain. Once announced, the high pattern scores for the U.S. inspired hope that they would lead at the end of day one. The second day of rail work was equally strong from all athletes involved. The competitive drive of each and every athlete was palpable as they endeavored to make their last rides count. The pattern scores on the second day from the U.S. were also solid and impressive.
New to the competition format this year, coaches were able to substitute athletes for a segment (rail or pattern) where the horse/athlete combination fit best. The U.S. Team utilized this method during the Three-Gaited segments, which was a successful tool in managing the horse/athlete combinations and scores.
The Individual competition between country athletes proved to be just as exciting in its inaugural year, with very close scores in the Three-Gaited section and a three-way tie in the Five-Gaited section after the first day.
The official results were announced at the Closing Ceremonies on Saturday evening with much excitement. In the Three-Gaited section, Canada took the Bronze medal, the Republic of South Africa took the Silver, and the U.S. team collected the Gold medal. Under the direction of Smith (Kansas City, Mo.) and Swalla (Columbia, Mo.), the Three-Gaited section received the stellar scores to achieve this medal. Athletes for this section were as follows:
Katelynn Cox (Custer, Mich.)
Courtney McGinnis (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
Alice Rowland (Kansas City, Mo.)
Kasey Saccocia (Halifax, Mass.)
Madison Stringer (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
Victoria Walz (Ranco Santa Fe, Calif.)
Next, the announcer called forward the winning teams for the Five-Gaited section. U.S. athletes had a strong showing both days, but without knowledge of the rail scores for each day, the final outcome was uncertain. Once again, the U.S. Saddle Seat Young Riders Home Team was awarded the Gold medal, with the Republic of South Africa earning the Silver, and Canada winning the Bronze. U.S. Five-Gaited team members are as follows:
Ashley Brandies (Jesup, Ga.)
Anne Pateman (New Orleans, La.)
Zoe Schaffel (Tampa, Fla.)
Ashley Stewart (Pfafftown, N.C.)
Emily van Duren (Bedford, N.H.)
In the Individual competition, U.S. athletes Courtney McGinnis (Three-Gaited) and Anne Pateman (Five-Gaited) were awarded the Gold medals, with South Africa receiving Silver and Canada winning the Bronze.
"This team was a great group of fine young ladies, and they've been close since our first practice,” Swalla said. “Most of them were sad that it's over, but excited that we came out on top in all four sections.”
“I was very proud of them,” added Smith. “They worked well as a team and embraced the idea of a team in an individual sport.”
The USEF would like to thank to Cascade Stables, Inc. for hosting this event, Margaret Cordes for providing videos through Twitter, the officials, and the volunteers. Also, the organizers extend a special thank you to the following list of horse donors, as this event would not have been possible without them.
Mary & Evan Orr
The Rainbolt-Forbes Family
The Schaffel Family
The U.S. Saddle Seat Young Rider Teams and the U.S. Invitational Competition have been supported by grants from USA Equestrian Trust and the United Professional Horsemen's Association. Additional support has been provided by the following generous donors: Ally Financial, Dr. John and Mrs. Kim Stewart/Scriptor Software, The Rainbolt-Forbes Family, The Schaffel Family, Summit Packaging Systems, Inc., Three Bears Farm, The Kay and Barry Families, Tim and Wendy Pullen, Terry Sturm, and The Walz Family.
For more information, please contact Lori Nelson, USEF Assistant Executive Director, National Affiliates, at firstname.lastname@example.org.