It’s been nearly 25 years since I rode in the equitation finals—25 years! Besides being nearly impossible to believe,I’ve noticed a few trends from the results of the interceding years.
1. Boys win proportionally more times than girls.
Some 12 of the 276 total riders competing in the Medal Finals in 2016 were male. That means that only 4.3% of the riders in the class were male, which makes it even more statistically surprising that a male athlete—T.J. O’Mara—won.
A quick glance at the last few years reveals many male winners—Spencer Smith (2014 Medal), Geoffrey Hassling (2014 USET East), Michael Hughes (2014 WIHS, 2013 USET East), Jacob Pope (2012 Maclay and USET East), Chase Boggio (2011 WIHS).
The same largely held true during the late 80s/early 90s with Peter Lutz (1991 Maclay & USET East), McLain Ward (1990 USET East), Ray Texel (1989 Medal & Maclay), David Olinynyk (1989 USET East) all claiming final titles.
Why do boys win so often? Is it because they stand-out from all the girls? Is it because they tend to be physically stronger? Is it because boys are less likely to stick with riding if they aren’t the best?
2. Professionals’ kids have an edge toward the win.
It’s all those hours at the barn and horse shows. These kids eat, sleep, and breathe horses. They’re winning today—Hunter Holloway (2016 WIHS and Maclay), McKayla Langmeier (2015 Medal), Kelli Cruciotti (2015 Medal), Spencer Smith (2014 Medal), Michael Hughes (2014 WIHS, 2013 USET East), Samantha Schaefer (2011 USET East), Schaefer Raposa, 2011 Medal).
And they were winning 25 years ago—Nicole Shahinian (1990 Medal, 1992 Maclay), McLain Ward (1990 USET East), Kelley Farmer (1993 Maclay).
If anything, the results show that professionals’ kids are more likely to win today.
3. Riders get on a roll.
Win one, win another.
T.J. O’Mara took the Medal and USET East this year. Hunter Holloway won the WIHS and then the Maclay. Victoria Colvin won the USET East and the WIHS last year. Lillie Keenan won the Medal and the Maclay in 2014. Going back a little further there were remarkably four years in a row where the same rider won the Medal and the Maclay Finals: Megan Young (2004), Brianne Goutal (2005), Maggie McAlary (2006), Kimberly McCormack (2007).
Double winners from my time included Ray Texel (1989 Medal & Maclay), Hillary Schlusemeyer (1996 Medal and USET East), and Peter Lutz (1991 Maclay & USET East).
Generally, I noticed double winners are more common today. Perhaps the pool of talented riders is not as deep today?
4. There’s always next year.
They finished in the top six, even placing second one year, and came back and won the following year or the year after that. See Kelley Farmer, Hillary Schlusemeyer, Matt Metell, Kimberly McCormack, Lillie Keenan, Kelli Cruciotti, Victoria Colvin, Hunter Holloway.
Overall, riders also seem to place one year and come back to win in the following years more often now, possibly because riders are pushed to do the Big Eq earlier and, therefore, spend more years competing in the division.
5. Horses are a key part of the win.
If you look at the top ribbon-winners over a span of five to eight years, you’ll see some familiar horse names—then and now.
Then: Glen Owen (Laura Tidball Balinksy, Laura O’Connor, Steve Heinecke), French Leave (Sandy and Karen Neilsen), Black Ice (Nichole Shahinian, Karen Chandler); Kandi (Shahinian, Craig Shegog); Gulliver (Karen Kay, Carlee McKay), Sight Unseen (Jennifer Clarkson, McLain Ward); Loophole (Cheryl Wilson, Samantha Darling).
Now: Patrick (Lucy Davis, Charlotte Jacobs, Victoria Colvin, Catherine Tyree); Ivy (Haylie Jayne, Zazou Hoffman).
If anything the same horses pop up more often 25-plus years ago than they do today—perhaps because eq horses don’t last as long today due to heavy year-round competition schedules and intense drilling.
6. It’s all in the family.
Siblings took top ribbons in the Finals then and they take top ribbons in the Finals now. The Ashes, The Nielsens, The Chandlers, The Jaynes, The O’Maras.
More recently, we’ve also seen children of former ribbon-winners placing in the finals—Sophie Simpson, Lillie Keenan, Charlotte Jacobs, Lucy Deslauriers, McKayla Langmeier.
7. It takes a village.
Looking back at the results from 1992, there are one to three trainers listed for each ribbon-winner. For this year’s medal, two riders had only two trainers listed. Three riders had six trainers listed and two had seven trainers listed!
Trainers listed in 2016:
Trainers listed in 1992:
Why? Probably because barns are bigger these days and have so many more trainers. Sometimes a rider will have separate training staff at separate barns for the equitation and the jumpers and both groups need to be acknowledged. It’s also because as a rule riders no longer prepare their own horses and even the assistant-assistant trainers that prepared the horse need to be recognized.
8. Money is important.
No naming names here but then and now, riders from families with incredibly deep pockets are often in the top ribbons. Talent and ambition are important, but so are the funds to bankroll the horses, the shows, and the training.
9. But working students can still pop up for the win.
Then: Andre Dignelli. Now: Jacob Pope, Zazou Hoffman.
10. You don’t have to win a final to go on to greatness.
If the past is any predictor of the future, there are lots of great riders who came close but didn’t win a final, or didn’t win as many as they were predicted to, who have gone to be top professional riders. Just look at Molly Ashe Cawley, Candice King, Richard Spooner, Aaron Vale, and McLain Ward.
Special thanks for www.medalmaclay.com for their comprehensive listing of equitation finals results through the years.
About the Author
Kim Ablon Whitney is the author of The Perfect Distance, a novel about the equitation finals.