Lexington, KY - November 4, 2012 - It was another fairytale day for Jacob Pope of Columbia, MD, during the 2012 Maclay National Championship for the ASCPA Alfred B. Maclay Horsemanship Classes. The Alltech National Horse Show, 129th Edition, welcomed 152 riders for the prestigious event. At the end of the day, it was 18-year-old Pope whose horsemanship outshined the rest to capture the coveted winning title after four challenging rounds of competition.
"I am still in shock that I won," smiled Pope after the victory gallop. "It is unreal, and being on the trophy with such legends such as George Morris, and everyone else that is on the trophy. I just can't believe it."
For the first round, riders had to compete over a technical course designed by judges George H. Morris and Hap Hansen. They began with an "S" shaped bending line with the iconic ASPCA jump to a triple bar, followed by a blind turn to a steady gymnastic line. Then riders made another "S" line with two Swedish oxers and a natural skinny jump with no wings in the middle. Finally they galloped home to a wall fence towards the in gate. While some riders had difficulties during the first round, the course was very inviting overall and gave each rider many opportunities to show off their equitation.
Only the best of the best were able to answer all of the course's questions correctly and advance to the under saddle phase. Elizabeth Benson of Whitehouse Station, NJ, was at the top of the leader board after the first round, followed by Lillie Keenan of New York, NY, and Jacob Pope. All of the riders were invited back for the second round over fences, and they returned in the following order with Lillie Keenan called back on top and Lauren Tyree in second.
1 - Lillie Keenan
2 - Lauren Tyree
3 - Elizabeth Benson
4 - Catherine Tyree
5 - Lydia Ulrich
6 - Jacob Pope
7 - Savannah Jenkins
8 - Victoria Colvin
9 - Taylor Schmidt
10 - Ashton Alexander
11 - Meg O'Mara
12 - Michael Hughes
13 - Schaefer Raposa
14 - Gabrielle Bausano
15 - Sylvia DeToledo
16 - Hasbrouck Donovan
17 - Sophie Simpson
18 - Katherine Strauss
19 - Shawn Casady
20 - Rebekah Chenelle
21 - Adeline Audette
22 - Hannah von Heidegger
23 - Reid Patton
For the second round, the judges asked the riders to jump the same course with the fences in the reverse order and the reverse direction. Lauren Tyree of Chicago, IL, had a costly rail at the final fence, which moved her down to ninth place. Meg O'Mara of Rumson NJ, and Michael Hughes of Ocala, FL, each had very smooth rounds that moved them up to finish fifth and sixth respectively.
The judges asked Keenan, Benson, Pope, and Catherine Tyree of Chicago, IL, to return to the ring for further testing in the respective order. They were asked to switch mounts, with Keenan riding Benson's San Remo VDL, Benson riding Keenan's Clearway, Pope riding Tyree's Patrick, and Tyree riding Pope's Uno. The four finalists then had to dismount, change tack, and show over the course once more aboard the new mount without any warm-up or advice from their coaches or grooms.
Returning in reverse order, Tyree led the way and had a slight bobble at the skinny across the middle, as well as tight distance to the triple bar. Overall though, their round was solid, and she eventually earned the third place honors. "Walking into the final round, I just tried not to put too much pressure on myself. It's just another day, it's just like any other class, and Uno was amazing. Earlier today, I felt really comfortable going into the ring. I have had Patrick for two years, and he is an amazing horse."
Pope was next, showcasing exceptional skill through the course with an unfamiliar mount. The pair was very accurate through the gymnastic line and found a beautiful distance to the triple bar, which created a very flowing final line.
Benson began with a solid round, but as she came across the first "S" line her mount only jumped half of the natural skinny fence, and because she did not circle to re-jump the fence she was called off course, which would cause the 2012 WIHS Equitation Champion to finish in fourth.
Keenan was the last to show over the course, and had the most pressure on her shoulders with the lead in her hand. Unfortunately, she had a tight distance the second fence, one of the Swedish oxers, causing a rail to be lowered. At the end of the day, the judges announced her as the reserve champion, having demonstrated beautiful riding throughout the four phases of competition.
"I would say that I think I had a pretty good day," expressed Keenan. "Being second, especially to Jacob, is really exciting. Going into the flat I was a little bit nervous, but I pulled that through well. My horse is really, really special, and it is actually his first time doing Finals this year. Going into the third round, where we did the course backwards, I thought it was a really good test-we do that at home. I think it helped me a lot that my horse is extremely adjustable, it is the kind of course that welcomes a forward rider, but you also have to have real control of your stride and be able to lengthen and collect."
Keenan continued, "For the test, I got on Elizabeth Benson's horse, and he's awesome. I would say he is very different from mine, but also an extremely talented and fun horse to ride, and I think I just needed to help him out more at the second fence, but overall I was really happy with how he went and I was happy with how my day went."
The year 2012 has been a whirlwind for Pope, who began riding with Andre Dignelli this winter as a working student after winning the 2011 Emerging Athlete Program Championship. In August, Dignelli paired Pope with Uno, and the pair went on to win the 2012 USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals - East just a few weeks ago. Now the talented young rider can add a third championship title to his impressive resume: 2012 ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay National Champion.
"Patrick was fantastic during the test," said Pope. "He's an awesome horse, but he didn't jump the way I imagined. I thought he would be a typical equitation horse-sort of smooth, nice-he was great but it was a little tough to stay with him. He landed both leads and was very smooth."
Pope continued, "I thought the course was great. I thought it tested everything and it was very forward as George explained Friday in the riders meeting. It invited a forward rider, but also tested the abilities to go forward and back, which Uno is great at. It was pretty straightforward with the numbers and Uno was fantastic."
Dignelli trains both the Champion and the Reserve Champion, and was very pleased with both of his riders. "You dream of these days," he stated. "I have been bringing kids to this class as a trainer since 1987. When you have kids like Lillie, Jacob and Schaefer Raposa you know you have a chance. I thought the course was awesome, it was all about track and letting you know where you were. I thought any horse could do it. I thought that at the top, the rounds were incredible. I am not surprised by the results. Jacob has been at the top since the USET Finals, sixth at Harrisburg, third at Washington, and winning here. At this point, even though he had never really done this before, he was seasoned."
"Jacob has it all: style, position, timing, disposition," continued Dignelli. "He has the ability to ride all these different horses better than everybody else. He handled the ride-off extremely cool. I think he is a great role model, but there are a lot of Jacob Popes floundering around the United States, they need to find their way, it's not impossible. You have to find your way, and you have to work harder than everybody else, and I think he has done that. I am not surprised."
Judge Hap Hanson was very pleased with today's class saying, "We saw beautiful riding, it was the top. There were certainly a lot of people in there that could have won today, but these were the best in our opinion. It was a great class. The course worked out really well for us, there were a few people who weren't successful, but overall I thought it was fair, but just difficult enough, these people rode beautifully."
Morris, who is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his win in the prestigious class, added, "My problem with the U.S. is what happens to these people after the 18-20 year old age group. We should have three Olympic teams. That is our problem; it is a big problem. That is the professional's problem. The professional horsemen of this country its their problem to solve. The professional horseman is supposed to run the horse business, every aspect of it. That is a big problem after they reach the age of 18 to 20. What happens to them is a big aspect."
In the near future, Pope, who is a high school senior, plans to go to college and then become a professional rider. "I talked with Andre last week, and I would like to come to Florida as much as I can on the weekends," he explained. "I am happy to come and just help out. I am going to go to college, and I am going to ride while in college, but I think it is important to get an education. After that I am absolutely going to come back and get something going."
The Senior Director of Equine and Special Projects for the ASPCA Valerie Angeli congratulated Pope saying, "The ASPCA, America's first human organization, established in 1866, congratulated Jacob Pope for his win today and welcomes you to the impressive roster of ASPCA Maclay National Champions since 1933. The purpose of this award is to provide the ultimate test of horsemanship skills for young riders and at the same time, to encourage compassion and sensitivity for their equine partners - quite simply, it is to reward excellence in human and responsible horsemanship."
The ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship class has been held since 1933, and it is one of the most prestigious competitions for junior riders in the United States. Its winners are some of the biggest names in equestrian sport. Previous winners include: William Steinkraus in 1941, Frank Chapot (1948), George Morris (1952), Leslie Burr Howard (1972), Stacia Klein Madden in 1987, and Nicole Shahinian Simpson in 1992. The 2010 ASPCA Maclay National Championship winner was Hayley Barnhill of Collierville, TN, and in 2011 Sarah Milliren of Sapulpa, OK, was named the winner.
Founded in 1883 at the original Madison Square Garden, the National Horse Show is America's oldest indoor horse show, firmly established as a major fixture on the national and international sports and social event calendars. The National Horse Show Association's primary activity is the annual production of the National Horse Show and all ancillary events. Over the years, the National Horse Show has provided financial aid to many worthwhile charities. For more information on the Alltech National Horse Show please visit www.nhs.org.
Final Results: 2012 ASPCA Maclay National Championship
1 - Jacob Pope
2 - Lillie Keenan
3- Catherine Tyree
4 - Elizabeth Benson
5 - Meg O'Mara
6 - Michael Hughes
7 - Victoria Colvin
8 - Lydia Ulrich
9 - Lauren Tyree
10- Schaefer Raposa
Photo Credit: Jacob Pope is presented with the 2012 ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Finals Championship at the Alltech National Horse Show; Jacob Pope of Columbia, MD, won the 2012 ASPCA Maclay National Championships. Photo Credit: Rebecca Walton/PMG.