Medal Finalists Take Spotlight at Golden Gate Classic

Equitation riders had the chance to take center stage at Golden Gate Classic (July 4-8) and kick off the medal final season in fine style. Two riders from Jan Pearce Training, Meg Rash and Mimi Kelly, had the chance to give each other a little moral support when they competed in the CPHA Child/Adult Medal Final together, and it add up to a winning formula when Meg was named champion and Mimi reserve champion.

"I was thrilled," Meg reported. "It was my first medal final win, and it was so much fun. It was really exciting to be in there with Mimi and so nice we were the top two. We didn't really think of it as competition; we were just having fun. It was nice to have someone to learn the course with and walk it and talk about it."

Although the teamwork was a help in the girls' victory, 16-year-old Meg , who will be a senior this year at Menlo Atherton High School, found that some good old fashioned hard work paid off. "I did this medal last year and the year before, but I've never done as well as I did this year," she explained. "I've been getting out to the barn and jumping more this year. I dropped all my school sports so I could focus on horseback riding. I'm also going to more shows. It's really nice that my parents allow me to show so much, because it's expensive."

Consistency wins medal finals, and Meg proved that by putting in two solid rounds and earning scores of 76 and 79. "They joined two rings together for the second round course (Brian Post, designer), so it was much longer than the first and I had more time to demonstrate my ability. I thought my rounds were better than my work off, but that was fun, too. One of the things we had to do was canter down the center and do two changes of lead. I've never practiced doing flying lead changes in a straight line like that before, so I did simple changes. I established a good pace from the beginning and the whole ride was consistent and tidy."

The California Professional Horsemen's Association (CPHA) celebrates the winners in fine style, sending representatives to present the awards. The finalists are treated to a full awards ceremony, complete with victory gallop. "I really liked the awards ceremony," Meg commented. "It made it feel really special. I've always loved victory gallops, but I've never gotten to lead one so that was really exciting. Mimi and I took a picture together so that was cool."

What perhaps made the win even more special was that Meg earned it aboard her show ring partner of the past four years, 20-year-old Frankly Speaking. "We've come a long way together," she said. "He's doing fabulously in the 3' ring. He doesn't act 20 at all to me. I give him supplements to keep him healthy and sound, and I don't work him that hard at home so he has a lot of energy at the shows. He always steps up and is a different horse in the show ring. He knows where he's at and that he has to do well when he's showing. He's so cute."

In the CPHA Horsemanship Medal Final, Natalie Dean (Jennifer Kallam, trainer) showed that despite the fact she's really only been doing equitation this year, she was ready to compete and claimed the tri-color. "I was definitely excited," she said. "This is my first year doing the medals, so it was really cool to win." Kerry Cavanaugh (Kelly LaFond, trainer) was second.

Thirteen-year-old Natalie will be going into eighth grade this fall at Keys School in Palo Alto. She has only been riding for three years, and she has clearly put that time to good use, but a medal final can be challenging for anybody. "The courses were harder than I expected," she recalled. "They were challenging but doable. On the second day, a lot of people added strides in the combination when they weren't supposed to, and I think that threw a lot of them off. I was kind of surprised I won, but I think some people who were leading after the first round were overconfident the second day. In the work off, the final oxer was right by the out gate and we had to walk out, so that was hard. I had to make my horse, Tuxedo, walk sooner than I normally do after a fence, but he was good. He stops pretty well. I was happy." Riding on her success in the CPHA Horsemanship, Natalie will try a 3' medal next.

Juliana Ronn had a great show, placing seventh in the $3,500 USHJA National 3' Hunter Derby, winning the Taylor Harris (THIS) Children's Medal class, and capping it off with a win in the Carousel Junior/Amateur Medal Final. "It was really amazing to do well in the Carousel," Juliana shared. "The day before when I did the derby, I was talking to my trainer Buddy Brown, and he set a goal for me to get 78 in the derby. I got 76 in the first round and 80 in the second for an average of 78. So, that was my goal for the weekend. In the Carousel, I got 81 and 89, which is the highest score I've ever gotten, so I was ecstatic. This was my first medal final win, let alone the first time I've placed in one. I talked about the first round with my trainers on Saturday, and they said consistency wins medal finals. I tried to be consistent and make small changes to the jumps, and it worked really well for me."

Going into the work off, Juliana faced a new challenge in battling nerves. "Two people jumped the first jump the wrong direction and the first person fell off," she recounted. "That made us all a little more nervous. Laura Owens (Patrick Seaton, trainer) and I jumped it the correct way. It could have been a better work off for me, but it worked out so I was happy." Laura landed in second place behind Juliana.

Naturally, Juliana's trainer, Vanessa Brown, was pleased with her student's achievement. "One of Juliana's strengths as a rider is that she is so cool under pressure," Vanessa commented. "This allows her to put in consistent performances and perform well in work offs. In the Carousel work off, Juliana may have been a bit conservative in her transitions to the trot, but from a trainer's perspective I was so proud to see her knowing who she is right now. Transitions to trot mid course are not her strength yet with Anton, as he only switched careers this year from the jumper ring. She used his handiness well in the turns and showed off his great gallop to balance out where she needed to be careful. I love to see a thinking rider, and obviously the judges did, too."

Vanessa often has riders in the Carousel Medal Final. "I love the concept of the Carousel Medal," she said. "I think it is important to offer a step between the 3' introductory medals and the big traditional medals. It is not just a step up in height, but also an increase in the technicality of the tracks the riders have to negotiate. Our experience with the Carousel Medal Final is that the courses graduate in difficulty over rounds one and two. Also, some interesting fences are introduced without the jumps themselves being too intimidating. For example, this year's second round course included an S line with a bounce as the middle element, a gymnastic line, and a vertical that used a single rail and no ground lines. It asked a variety of questions and exposed the riders to some simpler versions of more advanced skills without getting anyone into the kind of trouble that you may see in some of the bigger medal finals such as the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search. This final comes at a time of year where it can highlight what skills need to be brushed up before heading into the rest of finals season."

Robert Sean Leckie (Lynn Mullins, owner) was seen all over the show grounds throughout the show catch riding a variety of horses and racking up the wins. On his own Alano, he made a mark on the equitation ring by winning several classes including the CPHA Junior/Senior Medal class and the Nor Cal Junior/Senior Medal class. "I'm really glad it went so well," Sean remarked. "It was a great show, and I did better than I have in the past. I was fortunate enough to ride a lot of horses I haven't before, and they were great."

Sean's penchant for catch riding seems to be having a positive effect on his riding, as he approaches each course with confidence. "Now that I'm getting older, I've been doing more catch riding," he explained. "I don't have the finances to ride as many of my own as I would like, so I'm fortunate to get the catch rides, which I'm very thankful for. It's definitely helping me ride better. My goal is to be a trainer, so riding all these different horses is giving me a lot of experience with the way different horses go. I'm trying to be a sponge and learn from Lynn and other trainers as much as I can. I'm a junior at International High School, and I go to online school in the morning and ride all day long."

Golden Gate Classic provided equitation riders the perfect opportunity to get ready for the medal final season, as well as a great show in the middle of the summer. Did you miss our coverage of the $20,000 Golden Gate Grand Prix, the $3,500 USHJA National 3' Hunter Derby and more? Read all about it on the LEG website.

For more information on Golden Gate Classic, including complete results, visit the LEG website.

Show jumping will continue in Southern California with Gold Coast 5 (July 20-22), and the Verdugo Hills series of shows at Hansen Dam Equestrian Center will wrap up with League Preview (Oct 26-27). In Colorado, the show jumping action resumes Sep 6-9.

Photos: Meg Rash takes top honors in the CPHA Child/Adult Medal Final; Natalie Dean and Tuxedo strut their stuff in the CPHA Horsemanship Medal Final; Juliana Ronn proves that consistency wins medal finals; Robert Sean Leckie leverages his catch riding opportunities to soar in the equitation ring.  Photos: Sheri Scott