Nina Vogel and Durango

San Juan Capistrano, CA – Over sixty junior and amateur riders took to The Oaks International Grand Prix Field for the second annual American Tradition of Excellence Equitation Challenge, presented by Whitethorne. Home after her freshman year in college, twenty-year-old Nina Vogel aboard Pam Stewart’s Durango rode beautifully both days to earn a big win.

The class took place over three phases, with the first day featuring a jumping phase over a 3’3″ Equitation-type track and an educational presentation and Q&A phase with all riders, trainers, and judges that evening. On the second day, competitors took what they learned from day one and applied it to their ride in Phase 3, followed by a work-off of the top six scoring riders.

Georgey Maskrey-Segesman, of Whitethorne, LLC, founder and title sponsor of the event, made a point of explaining that this class is about education, and that winning is only a small part of the big picture. The courses were designed by Karen Healey. She also served as technical delegate and was on hand as a mentor to all participants, along with mental skills coach Tonya Johnston. Bernie Traurig returned as one of the honorable judges, this year joined by Geoff Teall, who along with Robin Rost Brown will be adjudicating the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals this fall. Traurig and Teall presided over each jumping phase and provided written comments for each competitor as well as scores in the open numerical format.

After a warm-up round on Monday and a mandatory rider’s meeting on Tuesday morning, Phase One commenced. Sixty-five competitors set out to answer the questions of adjustability, pace, and fluidity around the course.

Riding early in the class, Rylee Shufelt set a high standard with a forward pace and smooth rollback turns, earning an impressive score of 95 points. Katherine Dash, who rode towards the end of the round, came the closest to catching that score with 89 points. Madeline James and Nina Vogel rounded out the top four scoring riders from Phase One, finishing with 88 and 86, respectively.

Rylee Shufelt and Michael Dennehy

Phase Two was conducted at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel on Tuesday evening. As they entered, riders picked up the judges’ comment cards from Phase One. Soon after, Tonya Johnston gave a “Mental Skills” presentation to the group. Then Riders and trainers watched a video presentation illustrating the history of traditional equitation riding. Traurig commented on how riding styles have developed over time, and which traditional techniques we can use today to further develop our riding skills.

Afterwards Traurig, Teall, Healey, Johnston, and Maskrey-Segesman answered inquiries from the riders. The unique opportunity to receive such extensive feedback from the panel highlighted the educational components of the class and gave the riders a unique leg up in the third phase the following morning, as well as a new perspective on the tradition of equitation.

Phase Two at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Phase Three began at 8:00am on Wednesday morning. Sixty-one entries returned to ride the course for the day’s competition, featuring a more technical track with lines requiring adjustability, a triple-combination near the in-gate, an airy swedish oxer, and two bending lines at the top of the arena.

Many riders found the second round course to be difficult, especially the bending lines, one ridden off the right lead in five or six strides, and the other off the left lead in four strides. Riders who were able to execute a forward pace and an automatic release, as discussed during Phase Two, with the horse between hand and leg throughout, received well-earned solid scores from the judges.

Phase Three jumps and course map

Sitting fourth after Phase One, Vogel didn’t miss a step in Phase Two, executing a flawless round and earning a score of 95, which led to a combined total of 181 points. Yesterday’s top scorer, Rylee Shufelt, was sitting second with a Phase 3 score of 78 and a combined score of 173. Four more would join Vogel and Shufelt for the work-off: Katherine Dash with 168, Madison Dunham with 165, Stella Buckingham, last year’s winner, with 163, and Madeline James with 160.25 points.

The top six riders were required to counter-canter directly to fence one, halt, canter fences two, three, and six, trot fence seven, counter-canter fence eight, and make a wide turn to jump fence fourteen at a hand gallop.

Of the six tested riders, Dash rode a beautiful work-off round, ultimately  moving her up. Vogel also executed a solid ride, which maintained her lead for the win. After the work-off round, the top twelve competitors were brought back for the awards presentation. Announcement of the winner was held until last, second going to Dash trained by Archie Cox of Brookway Stables, and the victory to Vogel, trained by Katie Taylor of Durango Farms.

Nina Vogel wins The American Tradition of Excellence Equitation Challenge, presented by Whitethorne

Generous prizes were awarded to the top riders and trainers, including $10,000 cash to the winning trainer, a Butet saddle and cooler, a full set of EquiFit boots, and a generous Tredstep Ireland gift certificate to the winning rider. All riders received gift bags from Butet, the top twelve also took home gifts from EquiFit and Valencia Sport Saddlery and the second and third place riders were also awarded Tredstep Ireland gift certificates.

After an enthusiastic victory gallop led by Vogel, the top six riders, trainers, and the Q&A panel of trainers and mentors gathered for the press conference.

Nina Vogel and Durango in the victory gallop

Maskrey-Segesman described the changes from last year’s class to this year’s. “The class has developed since its inaugural year and I think the biggest change has been in the courses. Last year, both days of competition featured a hunter derby style course and hunter style jumps. This year, Karen decided to make the second round a bit more technical with jumper-style jumps and a triple combination. It made the second round of completion more technical.”

Two of the six who returned for the work-off and press conference had been in those seats the year before – Buckingham as the winner and Dash in third place. Not only did both return this year, and both earn top six positions, but each emphasized the influence the class had on their entire show season. Buckingham referred to her comment cards from last year before medal finals as well as when she went to compete in this year’s class.

Nina Vogel with Geoff Teall, Georgy Maskrey-Segesman, Bernie Traurig, and Charlotte LaRoux of Butet

Blenheim EquiSports would like to thank all the sponsors and individuals who put tremendous time and effort into this special event.

Congratulations to all on a job well done. More competition excitement still to come this week during Blenheim June Classic 3, including the West Coast Pony Hunter Challenge, presented by USHJA Zone 10 and a Markel Insurance 1.45m Grand Prix.

The American Tradition of Equitation Excellence Challenge, presented by Whitethorne
Place – Horse – Rider – Owner – Rd 1 Score/Rd 2 Score/Work-off Score/Overall Score
1. Nina Vogel – Durango – Pam Stewart – 86/95/85/266
2. Katherine Dash – Need I Say – David Robinson – 89/79/88/256
3. Rylee Shufelt – Kion – Georgy Maskrey-Segesman – 95/78/82/255
4. Stella Buckingham – Nom de Guerre – Lindenwood Farm – 82/81/75/238
5. Madeline James – Exact – Kristy Miller – 88/72.25/72/232.25
6. Madison Dunham – Gusti CK – Katie Murray – 80/85/60/225
7. Lindsey Klein – Econtador – Lindsey Klein – 74.5/83.5/158
8. Jaime Krupnik – Conux – Georgy Maskrey-Segesman – 77/80/157
9. Shannon Davidson – Clifford – Shannon Davidson – 83.5/73.25/156.75
10. Blake Lindsley – Alonso – Neil Jones Equestrian, Inc. – 84/72.5/156.5
11. Ella Frey – Radcliffe – Alex Trubey – 81/73/154
12. Rose Kauffman Skloff – Mac Miller – Show Hunter Investments – 76.5/76/152.5

Question for the Top 6 riders: What made this class special for you?
Vogel: This class was fantastic because it was a learning opportunity and competitive opportunity. Being able to get the judges’ cards was great because it let me know what I needed to do differently in the second round. The competitive atmosphere was great, and the event at The Ritz-Carlton was a wonderful learning opportunity. It was an honor to ride in this class.
Dash: It was great to get the judges’ feedback and implement it into the second round. Being able to learn from and watch the video at the Ritz-Carlton was great as well.
Shufelt: Being able to find out what the judges had to say about our riding and watching the video to learn the different types of classical riding was the most special part of this class for me. It was a very informative and great class.
Buckingham: I loved how much of a learning experience it was. The comment cards were very helpful to see what the judges had to say about our previous round going into the next round.
James: The courses showed us a lot of what we could work on and do better for next time. The comment cards were helpful because we knew exactly what the judges thought of our rounds.
Dunham: This class was a good opportunity to learn about the courses and get feedback from the judges as well.

Question for the Panel: What was your biggest takeaway from this class?
Traurig: I was happy to see so many wonderful, well turned out horses and great riding styles. I don’t go to many horse shows anymore and it was great for me to see so much forward riding, which means there’s great teaching as well. There’s no other class like this in the country. It was a great experience and the course was a real championship course. It was challenging in all the right ways. It was a fantastic opportunity for all of us. Congratulations to all the coaches and riders.
Teall: The biggest opportunity for me was for the kids to learn. I love the fact that you get to do it, talk about it, study some history, and then try it again. The courses were great for learning and understanding what you do know and what you don’t know.
Johnston: From my perspective I think it’s fantastic that people were so open. I talked to a lot of kids and amateurs. Georgy is wonderful for including that piece. You learn about the sport, you have the physical skills, the judges and trainers that are giving feedback, and your mental strength as well. Wrapping that in is a wonderful opportunity and for kids to start thinking of that at a young age will do nothing but serve you for the rest of your life. This class balances the learning and getting to go out and do.

Question for the Top 6 Riders: What was the most challenging part of the two days of competition?
Vogel: The atmosphere this class creates is really special. You have big sponsors, esteemed judges, and big riders at stake. To have that pressure combined with the education opportunity, they’re sort of conflicting. You want to learn, but you want to keep the competitive cool. I thought the courses were fantastic and challenging, but they really made you think.
Dash: It was challenging to balance your nerves from one round to the next. I went into the first round and just wanted to have a good ride. It was challenging to not get caught up in the ribbons and prizes.
Shufelt: Coming back last to go with the highest score was definitely the most challenging part. I know that I need to work on that and continue to improve.
Buckingham: Keeping two consistent rounds was the most challenging part for me.
James: Today’s course asked a lot of questions from us, so continuing on and sticking to the plan, I think, was the most challenging part.
Dunham: Coming back today and holding yourself together was the hardest part. None of us wanted to come out today and do worse than the day before.


Photos by McCool Photography and Blenheim EquiSports