Lexington, KY - It is no secret that being drawn to go first in any major equitation championship is less than desirable. But when that rider is someone who knows her horse and knows her job, the results can be flawless.
At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, 15-year-old McKayla Langmeier nailed the technical course presented by judges Chris Kappler and Ralph Caristo at the CP National Horse Show. Her performance left them in awe, and it made her the judges' clear and away frontrunner to win the 2015 ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay National Championship and to make history as part of the first ever mother daughter duo to win the prestigious title.
For the first time, the ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay National Championship was held over two days, with 153 showing over the first round on Saturday morning. On Thursday, all of the riders gathered for the draw, hoping not to have to go first, which would mean foregoing the opportunity to see how the lines rode. It was Langmeier's name that was called though, and she knew the pressure would be on.
"I wasn't the most excited to go first, but it worked out in the end," said Langmeier. "I was a little shocked. I knew I had to nail it if I wanted to make it into the second flat. I thought with my horse being prepared so perfectly and with my trainers, it went well. I walked the lines multiple times to see where I wanted to be on the backside of the fence, and with my trainers' guidance, it helped me decide what numbers I was going to do." Langmeier trains with Missy Clark and John Brennan at North Run, as well as with her mother Linda Langmeier.
"When we heard that McKayla was drawn first, I actually walked out of the meeting," admitted Clark. "I got myself together though, and then we had our little pep talk about 'you're just going to go in and do it.' She also had to go first in the rotation of the top four at the USET Finals, so we'd kind of been in that position two weeks ago, and she nailed it that day. I think Chrystine Tauber said she 'laid the gauntlet down.' I said 'we're going to do it again,' and she did."
McKayla proved that she was up to the challenge, taking the inside tracks aboard her veteran mount, Skyfall, and finding each distance out of hand. Her round was so good that it made judge Chris Kappler nervous that the course he had laid out with Bobby Murphy might be too easy.
"I had momentary panic because she walked in, and she rode the course exactly the way that Ralph and I wanted," commented Kappler. "It was like she read my mind. I said, 'My God, I fudged this; it's too easy!' But it all worked out in the end. I was looking for.... the way you would think of it as the first round of a world cup final speed. It was like they read my mind. It made me feel good about the course too, that the first rider came in and could execute it."
McKayla was the leader after the first round, but on Sunday, the top 30 competitors had to return for the flat phase. During this phase, they had to demonstrate their abilities to keep their mounts adjustable and soft through the walk, trot and canter.
After the flat phase, McKayla remained in the lead followed by Madison Goetzmann and Lucy Deslauriers, in second and third respectively, as they moved into the final over fences phase. The second test for the 30 riders included a two-stride to a three-stride in the first line, followed by an 'S' shaped bending line through the middle. Riders then had the option to do six or seven strides from an oxer bending to a vertical-oxer two stride, followed by a tight seven stride bending line to a very skinny vertical. Finally, riders had a long gallop to the final oxer toward the gate.
Deslauriers had the opportunity to watch 27 other entries, and she delivered a poised and beautiful round aboard Great Expectations, impressing the judges and moving up to earn the reserve championship title.
"It's been a great week overall," noted Deslauriers, who also won the USEF U25 Show Jumping Championship on Saturday night. "It was the highlight to conclude with this for the whole year, and even this week is really incredible. I couldn't have asked for a better team behind me. My horse has been amazing the whole week in every round. I'm really, really thrilled."
Goetzmann was the penultimate rider with Play It Again, and she also had an excellent final round to earn the third place award. "It's been a great week, and I'm definitely excited to end off the season with a top ranking in this class," commented Goetzmann. "My horse was great, and my trainers were wonderful. It was a great class overall."
It was McKayla who would once again impress the judges though with her smooth and deliberate round, being effective through each question in the course and supporting her mount over the fences. "She was our 'American Pharoah' that's for sure," said Caristo. "She just nailed it right from the gate, and that was quite impressive. We thought she was great right from the get go."
In 1983, the ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Championship was award to McKayla's mother, Linda Kossick Langmeier, making them the first ever mother daughter duo to win the prestigious title and making it an especially emotional victory.
"When I won the Maclay, it was at Madison Square Garden," said Linda. "I woke up the next morning and saw the front cover of the sports section of the New York Times. They had covered this event, and it was amazing."
Linda continued, "When we knew that McKayla was wanting to ride before she could walk, it was something that her dad and I talked about - the fact that she has the same passion and the same drive for horsemanship. She's genuine and humble. All of that is so important to me - that it's not just winning. She takes care of her horse. She gets up at 3 o'clock. I'm so proud of her."
McKayla smiled, "It's really amazing. I'm so glad that I can share something with my mom that's truly a passion of ours." Of note, second place finisher Deslaurier's mother, Lisa Tarnopol Deslauriers, was also herself a second place finisher in the ASPCA Maclay Final.
At the end of the day, ASPCA Federal Legislative Manager Caroline Schnurr concluded, "On behalf of the ASPCA, I just want to congratulate all of you on a truly tremendous event. I want to congratulate all three of you for just spectacular achievement. It's really a beautiful thing to see. It's been the ASPCA's honor to be a part of this since 1933. In that time, we've seen the top leaders in equestrian sport compete and succeed in this competition and go on to be true leaders in the field for years to come. You've joined those prestigious ranks, and it's incredible."
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 (1987) and Nicole Shahinian Simpson (1992). The 2013 ASPCA Maclay National Championship winner was Lillie Keenan of New York, New York, and in 2014 Tori Colvin of Loxahatchee, Florida, won the title.
For additional information on the CP National Horse Show, please visit www.nhs.org.
RESULTS: 2015 ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay National Championships
1 1 SKYFALL MCKAYLA LANGMEIER
2 143 GREAT EXPECTATIONS LUCY DESLAURIERS
3 116 PLAY IT AGAIN MADISON GOETZMANN
4 4 LEVKOI KATHERINE BUNDY
5 14 HELIO ROUGE ALI TRITSCHLER
6 22 CO CO POP AILISH CUNNIFFE
7 119 MONTERREY KELLI CRUCIOTTI
8 51 GAUDI SYDNEY HUTCHINS
9 134 CANTERBURY KATHERINE STRAUSS
10 137 BEAU VAN HET KEYERSHOF ALEXANDRA LADOVE