Katie Aoki Triumphs in the Onondarka Medal Finals

Katie Aoki comes from behind to win the Onondarka Medal Final. Photo: Flying Horse Photography
Katie Aoki comes from behind to win the Onondarka Medal Final. Photo: Flying Horse Photography

After three challenging rounds and a work off, Katie Aoki (Jan Hainze, trainer) led the victory gallop aboard her Truman in the prestigious Onondarka Medal Final at the LA National (Nov 6-10). “It was super exciting to win,” Katie shared. “I competed in the final last year and had kind of a tough time, so it was definitely something I have been working towards and looking forward to all year.” The win was extra special because it was Katie’s last year to qualify for the Onondarka as she will show as a 13-year-old come January.

Katie was on the hunt for the lead throughout the final, sitting second after the first and second rounds. In the third round, Katie scored an 82.5, but got bumped to third after Alivia Hart (Lesley Anne Bulechek, trainer) and Conrad (Michelle Parker, owner) moved into second place with an 84.5. Grady Lyman (Michelle Stubbs, trainer) and her Opportunity held on to the lead across all three rounds and went into the work off standing first. 

The tough competition throughout the final only encouraged Katie to ride harder. “Grady had a lot of great rounds and that really pushed me to be the best that I could be,” Katie explained. “I obviously wanted to win, but I also would have been happy if Grady won because she rode so fantastically.”

The top eight were invited back to work off, which shook up the standings and tested the riders’ precision and skill. After trotting into a four stride line and cantering a single oxer, riders had to make a left turn and counter canter the next fence. Off of the counter canter fence, they had to hand gallop the next fence and then had only a short distance to halt before the end of the arena.

Several riders had difficulty with the counter canter fence. Some riders chose the inside track and couldn’t hold the counter lead on the tight turn while others attempted to land the counter lead and then swapped to the correct one. Though she was in sixth, Finley Burger (Kasey Ament, trainer) and her Smart Bob demonstrated an outstanding work off, landing and holding the counter canter and showcasing a full hand gallop with a quick halt on the backside of the fence. Her work off score of 85 vaulted her to third place and she earned the yellow ribbon.

When it came to Katie’s work off, she decided to be conservative. “My plan going into the work off was just to execute everything as best I could,” Katie said. “I didn’t want to be too risky and make a mistake. That’s why I decided to land the correct lead, make the wider outside turn, and then do a simple change to the counter lead.” Her plan paid off and Katie rode a beautiful work off with a score of 86. The pressure was on for the two remaining riders, Alivia and Grady. Alivia unfortunately had a rail and a chip, which dropped her out of the top three. Though Grady’s work off was well executed, it was not quite as smooth as Katie’s and she earned the reserve championship for her efforts.

Katie was happy to have Truman as her partner throughout the show. They were also champion in the Children’s Hunters, 12 & Under. “I’ve had Truman for a little over a year now and I just love him. He used to do only hunters, but he’s really settled into doing the equitation as well with me over the past year,” Katie elaborated. “I’m hoping we can do the junior hunters next year and see where we go from there.”

In addition to the Onondarka Medal Finals, LA National was also host to the Equitation Championships for all ages as well as ponies, which consisted of two jumping rounds, a flat round, and a work off. This year, the Equitation Championships were sponsored by Signature Spurs, who provided the prizes for the winners: a set of beautiful engraved spurs. There were several champions for each age group, but the hardest fought win was in the Equitation Championship, 12 thru 14, which had 31 entries.

The top four riders had a challenging work off that included two changes of lead in a short space before halting in line with fence four. Nina Vogel (Far West Farms, trainer) and her Jamestown moved up to second place after executing two flying changes of lead. Though it was tempting to try for the flying lead changes, Gemma Geist (Devon Gibson and Karen Healey, trainers) decided to stick with her plan. “I did simple changes because I wanted to make sure my work off was solid. I just wanted to make sure we got it done correctly,” Gemma recounted.

Her strategy paid off and she topped the standings aboard her Calypso. “It was a great win, particularly with such stiff competition,” Gemma noted. “I owe a lot of it to Calypso. He does so much for me and I love riding him.” Gemma has been riding for about nine years and was always fascinated with horses. “Well, I would always go to my friend’s house and play with model horses. So I think one day I just decided I wanted to start riding the real thing,” Gemma recalled with a laugh. Next year Gemma wants to move into the jumpers and possibly also move up in the equitation.

Hannah Holik demonstrates her skill and consistency in the ,000 West Coast Junior-Amateur Jumper Championships Individual Competition. Photo: Flying Horse Photography
Hannah Holik demonstrates her skill and consistency in the ,000 West Coast Junior-Amateur Jumper Championships Individual Competition. Photo: Flying Horse Photography

The Individual portion of the $12,000 West Coast Junior-Amateur Jumper Championships concluded on Sunday after three days of competition. After the day’s second round of this Nation’s Cup style competition, Hannah Holik (Randy Henry, trainer) emerged the winner on the junior card, having jumped clear in every single round on Santiago (LLC Czech Mate, owner). She was also one of the winners in the Team competition as part of Team Golden Girls (Meredith Herman, Chef d’Equip). “I was very pleased to have gone clear through the whole competition,” Hannah said. “I could tell Santiago was starting to get tired today, but he always tries as hard as he can and jumps well.”

In addition to her considerable riding skills, Hannah’s ability to remain calm in the face of pressure is certainly a factor in her consistent performance. “I try not to put too much pressure on myself, and Santiago and I have a lot of experience together so I’ve learned not to get nervous. My goal for this competition was just to be smooth and jump clean; not necessarily to be the fastest.”

Amanda McQuady and Picardo top the amateur card. Photo: Flying Horse Photography
Amanda McQuady and Picardo top the amateur card. Photo: Flying Horse Photography

On the amateur card, it was Amanda McQuady (Team McAllister, trainer) who shone on her stallion Picardo with just eight faults for the three days. She was a member of the silver medal-winning Texas Team McAllister in the Team competition. “My goal was to ride consistently throughout the three days,” Amanda recounted. “The courses (Olaf Peterson, Jr., course designer) got more technical and difficult as the competition went on, which I really liked. I thought they prepared me well for Las Vegas next week. There were a lot of bending lines, which is good for me because I sometimes have trouble sticking to my track. This made me be more decisive.”

Amanda competed in this event in 2012 as well. “I love this competition. It’s so much fun and different from what you get to do at most shows. It was really fun having a team; we all rooted each other on, even though we were competing against each other.”

Her trainer, Steve McAllister, is also a fan of this competition. “I think the format is good,” he commented. “It’s something we aren’t used to, but it prepares the riders for other types of competition. The presentations are super nice, because they break up the monotony of regular classes. Having such nice awards and award ceremonies really makes the riders, sponsors, owners, trainers, etc. feel more appreciated. They can feel proud and special to be a part of something like this.”

Faith Cunningham and Barahute top the inaugural ,000 LA National Pony Prix. Photo: Flying Horse Photography
Faith Cunningham and Barahute top the inaugural ,000 LA National Pony Prix. Photo: Flying Horse Photography

Amanda’s barnmate Faith Cunningham brought another blue ribbon to the barn after her win in the inaugural $1,000 LA National Pony Prix, part of the three-week Ponypalooza event at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. In the $1,000 LA National Pony Prix, the 13-year-old got back into the groove on her Barahute to win. “Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a couple of not-so-great rides in the show ring,” Faith explained. “Today I tried not to focus on winning and just focused on going clean. I’m happy I was able to ride clean today and it was really cool to win the first pony prix.”

Though they may have been out of sync the last few weeks, Faith and Barahute have been a great pair so far this season, often holding their own against horses. “Barahute is really brave and she doesn’t ever look at anything,” Faith mentioned. “She clears the jumps with ease and she’s quite talented.” Faith and Barahute were also reserve champions in the Pony Jumpers – 1.00M/1.05M.

Jumpers had several great classes to compete in at LA National and one of the biggest classes of the weekend was the $7,500 1.35M Jumper Classic, which was filled with 40 incredibly talented horse and rider combinations. Jump off rounds were fast and furious, but in the end it was Christian Heineking who continued his red hot streak in Los Angeles with a win aboard Chakira (Isabel Terry, owner).

LA National may be over, but our coverage is not!  Check back for our photo essay covering National Preview and LA National, where we’ll cover more winners including those from the Equitation Championships, jumper classics, and $3,500 LA National Pony Hunter Derby.

For more information about the LA National Horse Show, including a schedule and complete results as they are available, please visit the LEG website.




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