Woodside, CA - In a nail-biting finish in the two divisions of the Woodside Preliminary Challenge, the victors prevailed, maintaining their leads from start to finish. The unique competition, with a record entry of 58 total participants, was the feature of the Spring Event at Woodside on May 22-24.
Frankie Theriot Stutes, of Occidental, CA and Chatwin took the top prize in the Preliminary Challenge Horse Division, finishing on their dressage score of 26.5 over James Alliston and RevitaVet Elijah (31.4) and Erin Serafini and Another Star (32.6).
Tristen Hooks, of San Luis Obispo, CA and Learning to Fly brought home the blue in the Preliminary Challenge Rider Division, finishing on their flawless score of 26.3, over Ruth Bley on Rodrigue Du Granit (30.1) and Julie Flettner on Ping Pong (30.1). Bley and Flettner finished tied on the same score, but the tie was broken by Bley finishing closest to the optimum time on cross-country.
"I would have to say it's a little bit of a dream right now," said an ecstatic Hooks. "I can hardly believe it's happened. For me as an amateur, it's our Olympics. It's pretty awesome."
Learning to Fly is a 15-year-old Holsteiner/Dutch Warmblood-cross, whom Hooks has developed over the last nine years from his first event at Beginner Novice. Hooks is an equine veterinarian, and found him standing in another veterinarian, Carter Judy's, pasture after being given up by a previous owner following an injury. Hooks started eventing the horse at age 6, and they have been at the Preliminary level for three years.
"Carter says he's my dog," said Hooks with a laugh. "He knows when my truck pulls in. He comes galloping across the pasture. He jumps in the trailer like a dog in the back of the truck. He's my pal."
Hooks, Bley and Flettner were within a hair's breadth of each other all weekend, and Hooks felt the pressure from her friends and fellow competitors. "The pressure was on right after dressage," she said. "There was less than 4 points between the top 10 people."
"I think that after the cross-country run today I was so pleased that I thought, 'I'll just ride him the best that I can ride him and the poles will stay or fall. I can't really control that.' I just tried to make the best ride I could to every fence. He actually had to do a little bit of acrobatics to bail me out," she added.
Hooks was also part of the winning preliminary team, which included her top-placed competitors Bley and Flettner, as well as 13th placed Nikki Lloyd and Paloma Paz.
Hooks and Learning to Fly had competed previously in the Challenge, finishing second in 2013 after lowering one rail in show jumping. Horse division winner Stutes is also a return competitor, and a previous winner on Uphoria, though this was Chatwin's first time competing in the Preliminary Challenge.
Leading up to the event Stutes thought she may not be able to compete Chatwin in the Preliminary Challenge, making the victory that much sweeter. Chatwin severely injured his right eye in March, resulting in several weeks' stay at the UC Davis Equine Medical Center, and several more weeks wearing a catheter so that his eye medications could be administered every few hours. Stutes was able to ride him while he was wearing the catheter, but the eye has continued to have some issues and he may require surgery to prevent infection in the future.
"He rolled on a shrub and sliced his cornea open, and when I found him in the morning a portion of his cornea was hanging off," said Stutes. Her former advanced mount Fric Frac Berence had a similar injury that ultimately resulted in the loss of his eye, so Stutes knew immediately he needed to get to a specialist.
"I'm just so lucky that he has full vision. He can see completely fine, but has one spot that hasn't sealed. He may need to have surgery to seal it over, but we'll see. Fric's eye doctor is one of Chatwin's doctors and I feel very fortunate he has such a remarkable team of specialists," she said.
If that wasn't enough, Stutes is also almost five months pregnant. She and husband, baseball player Mike Stutes, are expecting a son in October. "It's a different element to add," admitted Stutes with a laugh.
All of these challenges meant that Stutes approached this competition a bit differently. "My goal is just to have fun with him. I'm pregnant and he had to be laid up for a while. All weekend and all season really, I have told myself to have a good time and enjoy the ride," she reflected.
"I knew he was capable of winning - but this division had some incredible horses and riders in it, and it could have been anyone's weekend. I had so much fun competing with so many of my friends," she said.
Both Hooks and Stutes had high praise for Ian Stark's redesigned cross-country course, which re-opens sections of the property not used for many years.
"It was so refreshing to get to do something you haven't done here, and it rode great," said Stutes. "He used the terrain so differently than we've seen. It was so fun to go in the trees again. With the terrain, I was surprised how quickly some of the jumps came up. Ian's courses always have 'rider frighteners', as he calls them, but if you can keep moving forward, then you are OK."
Hooks agreed with the term 'rider frightener'. "It was awesome. There were two or three places where I was terrified, but my horse handled it beautifully. It rode really well and was very challenging. It was great! The oxer in the trees to the skinny and the new coffin - those were my two 'whoa, I'm not sure I have the skill for that'. But we proved that we do."
Hooks also complimented the format of the Preliminary Challenge. "It's a super test of their strength and agility because we do cross-country and show jumping on the same day. And it's such an atmosphere - the large arena, and two judges, and they just set it up so well to make it a real event. And I think it's really challenging," she said.
The crowd of nearly 1,000 started the Saturday evening of show jumping by watching the retirement ceremony of Tracy Bowman's Killian O'Connor. The gray gelding competed through the CCI4* level with Jolie Wentworth, finishing 18th at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2009. "Connor's" riders, first Wentworth, and then young rider Maddy Mazzola who competed him after he stepped down from the top level, spoke about his heart, talent and hard-trying personality.
Other winners over the weekend include James Alliston and Tivoli, who secured a decisive victory in the Advanced division on a score of 27.8. Amber Levine, aboard Valerie Mackey's Guinness St. James, took home the top prize in the Intermediate division with a score of 28.3. Over 420 competitors vied for ribbons and generous prizes.
CARMA (California Retirement Management Account) funds aftercare of off-the-track Thoroughbreds and proudly presented Amber Pearson and Patagonia with a check for $1,000 for finishing as the top placed off-the-track Thoroughbred. The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP) added another $100 as part of their Incentive Award Program. Pearson and Patagonia finished fifth in the Preliminary Challenge Rider Division.
A special award, the Candice Rice Volunteer Award, was presented to Betsy Wobus in memory of long-time scorer and volunteer Candice Rice. Wobus was chosen by the committee of Juliet Clark, Katrina Deane, Cassie Harkins, Julie White, Shawn Powers and Meagan Beachler. Wobus received a $100 certificate to a local restaurant.
For winning the Preliminary Challenge Horse Division, Frankie Stutes took home a JRD saddle, plus a Woodside stall plaque, a bottle of Advanced Protection Formula donated by Auburn Laboratories, an Event at Woodside cooler donated by Professional's Choice, $100 Ice Horse gift certificate, a certificate for a one month subscription to Event Training Online, a $50 gift certificate off a full weekend video package donated by Ride On Video, and a prize money check for $2,500.
In the Preliminary Challenge Rider Division, Tristen Hooks was presented with a Devoucoux saddle, plus a Woodside stall plaque, a bottle of Advanced Protection Formula donated by Auburn Laboratories, an Event at Woodside cooler donated by Professional's Choice, $100 Ice Horse gift certificate, a certificate for a one month subscription to Event Training Online, a $50 gift certificate off a full weekend video package donated by Ride On Video, and a prize money check for $2,500.
Total prize money for both divisions totaled $16,650, with ribbons and checks given to 10th place.
Presenting Sponsors of the Preliminary Challenge are Equine Insurance of California, CWD, Devoucoux, Professional's Choice and CARMA (California Retirement Management Account, funding aftercare for OTTBs).
Sunsprite Warmbloods is the Gold Medal Sponsor.
The Silver Medal Sponsors are JRD Saddles, SmartPak and Voltaire Design.
The Bronze Medal Sponsors are Auburn Laboratories Inc., Elk Grove Milling, Finish Line Horse Products, Geranium Street Floral, Ice Horse, the Professional Riders Organization, Ride On Video, and Shires Equestrian Products.
Friend Sponsors are American Medical Response, Eventing Training Online, RevitaVet Therapeutic Systems, Steinbeck Country Equine Clinic and Triple Crown Nutrition.
To learn more about The Event at Woodside, go to www.woodsideeventing.com. To learn more about eventing, visit the U.S. Eventing Association's website www.useventing.com.