Victoria Birdsall and Baheera Win Third Annual George Morris Excellence in Equitation Exhibition

Wellington, FL - The highlight for junior riders this season was the George Morris Excellence in Equitation Exhibition, which was held on Friday evening before almost 2,000 spectators in the International Arena at the 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Victoria Birdsall (right) piloted Baheera to the win in the prestigious class, while Schaefer Raposa with Coronado was second. Abigail McArdle riding Apartico was third, and Karen Polle on Radius H was fourth.

The eleventh week of the FTI WEF is sponsored by FTI and runs through Sunday, March 28. The highlight grand prix event of the Winter Equestrian Festival is Saturday night's $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix, CSI 5*. Festivities begin with the Leadline Class at 6 p.m. and the competition starts at 7:30 p.m. The 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of competition that conclude on April 4, 2010, and they will be awarding almost $6 million in prize money through the circuit.

There were 34 entries to go in the first round of the class. All of the riders had to walk the course and warm-up by themselves without assistance from their trainers. The riders showed in front of six esteemed judges in three positions around the arena-George Morris, McLain Ward, Lauren Hough, Jimmy Torano, Todd Minikus, and Nicole Shahinian-Simpson. The judges gave scores for an average score, and a score out of 10 was given for schooling from judge Rodrigo Pessoa was added to their average for their total round scores. The top 12 scores returned for the second round over a different course that included testing elements of a simple change of lead, hand gallop, and a trot jump.

From those top 12, four riders came back for a third round. The judges chose to have the riders do the same course as round two, but without the testing elements. They entered the ring unmounted and were asked to switch horses.

The first to return was Abigail McArdle of Barrington Hills, IL. In the first two rounds, McArdle rode Apartico (right), owned by Old Barrington, LLC, to scores of 84.66 and 85.66 (which included scores for schooling) for a total of 170.32. She moved up from sixth place to the top four. In the final four test, she rode Karen Polle's horse Radius H, owned by Karen Polle. McArdle had a very smooth final round and finished in third place. McArdle trains with Katie and Chris Kappler.

Karen Polle of New York, NY, had two trips on Radius H with scores of 83 and 91.66 for a total of 174.66. She made the biggest jump from ninth place to third going into the final four round. She rode McArdle's horse Apartico and had some trouble in the final round, pulling two rails. She finished in fourth place. Polle trains with Stacia Madden and Beacon Hill Show Stables. Radius H was named the Best Equitation Horse of the competition.

Coming into the final round, Schaefer Raposa (15) of Clinton, NY, sat in second place after a fantastic first round score of 95 and a second round score of 86 for a total of 181. She rode Coronado (left), owned by Elsa Goding. In the final four round, she rode Victoria Birdsall's horse, Baheera. Raposa had a great round that showed off her catch-riding skills, and the judges kept her in second place.

This was Raposa's third year riding in this class, and she moved up from fifth to fourth to second this year in the final placings. She said of riding in the special class, "The horses that I've ridden go in there and want to be a part of the game. That's a good feeling. It's nice to have equitation under the lights with something different and people come out to watch." She added, "The schooling area was great that you got those points too."

The surprising part of Raposa's finish tonight was that this was only the third time that she has ridden Coronado. "I rode him for the first time on Thursday," she smiled. "Susan Baginski has him and Lynn Jayne and her student Katherine were really nice and let me use him for this class. I did a Schooling Jumper class on Wednesday, a little lesson yesterday, and then went for it today. He was awesome and just wants to be good."

Raposa trains with her parents, Kara and David Raposa, as well as Andre Dignelli, Patricia Griffith, and Kirsten Coe at Heritage Farm.

Of Raposa riding her horse, Birdsall said, "I was really impressed with how well she rode him because I know how hard he jumps. It's hard for me to hold on to, and I've grown up with him. She did a good job keeping him on his leads and keeping his jump not so round. If you ride him to the base, he jumps really hard. I thought she did really well."

Victoria Birdsall could not be caught through the three rounds of competition. The 17-year-old from Topsfield, MA, rode Liberty Farm LLC's Baheera to scores of 96.33 in the first round and 93 in the second round for a total of 189.33. In the final four round, she and Coronado had an effortless round to give her the win.

Birdsall said that Coronado reminded her of her own horse at times. "(Schaefer's) horse was really cute. He reminded me a little bit of Baheera. When you went to lead him one way or another, he would jump a little bit harder," she described. "You didn't want to interfere with him too much. It was nice that I got to pick up on him a little like my horse."

In her third year riding in the George Morris Excellence in Equitation Exhibition, Birdsall moved up from second place in last year's class to the win this year. She trains with Frank Madden, and she felt like tonight's class gave her a great boost in confidence with Baheera, who is known as "Romeo" around the barn. Baheera won the Best Turned Out Horse award, thanks to groom Waldo Domingas. Birdsall was awarded the WEF Equitation Championship, her family won a Special Family Award, and her trainer Frank Madden (left) won the top Trainer Award.

Birdsall and Baheera have been together for five years, but she has not shown him at the major equitation finals. "I've had him since he was eight years old. He was really green when we got him. I've been training him, and as I was learning, he was learning," Birdsall said. "It's really been such a partnership that we've had. We haven't done a ton with him. This is his first big win. I'm so proud of him; he stepped up to the game. We've never pushed him like this, and he was awesome. It's a lot more confidence going into the (equitation) finals with him too. "

"It means a ton for me," Birdsall said of her victory. "I just started training with Frank and it's been such a confidence builder with me on Romeo. I've never really done that much with him. (Frank has) believed in him and he's believed in me with him. It was the icing on the cake for a great WEF."

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Victoria Birdsall and Baheera with George Morris, Frank Madden,
Waldo Domingas, Cliff Haines, and Katherine Bellissimo

Final Results: George Morris Excellence in Equitation Exhibition
Place  Horse    Rider    J1    J2    J3 Schooling  Round 1
                                   J1    J2    J3 Schooling Round 2 Final

1   BAHEERA   VICTORIA BIRDSALL  86    91    91     7      96.33
                                            85    82    88     8      93.00 189.33
2   CORONADO  SCHAEFER RAPOSA    88    88    88     7      95.00
                                             82    78    77     7      86.00 181.00
3   APARTICO  ABIGAIL MC ARDLE   77    81    78     6      84.66
                                             75    77    84     7      85.66 170.32
4   RADIUS H   KAREN POLLE    78    82    74     5      83.00
                                              83    87    87     6      91.66 174.66
5   SIR NEEL  LILLIE KEENAN  79.5  80    71     7      83.83
                                              81    76    75     8      85.33 169.16
6   SUNDANCE  CHARLOTTE JACOBS    83.5  85    84     7      91.16
                                              64    72    76     7      77.66 168.82
7   PROSECCO 24  PAULENA JOHNSON   80    78    76     6      84.00
                                              74    77    74     6      81.00 165.00
8   CAMPARI 112  KATHERINE SCHMIDT  84    85    83     5      89.00
                                              68    74    68     6      76.00 165.00
9   CHARLIE Z  CATHERINE PASMORE   69    74    81     7      81.66
                                              77    81    70     7      83.00 164.66
10  ASTEN   PHOEBE ROBINSON    81    72    69     6      80.00
                                              71    80    73     6      80.66 160.66
11  EASTWOOD   SHAWN CASADY  79    81    85     5      86.66
                                              39    37    40     7      45.66 132.32
12  PAPILLON 136 MAHALA RUMMELL  73    75    72     6      79.33
                                              40    35    40     6      44.33 123.66

The 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival has 12 weeks of top competition running from January 13 through April 4. WEF is run by Equestrian Sport Productions, LLC, and Wellington Equestrian Partners and held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. All 12 shows are "AA" rated and Jumper Rated 6, and more than $5.5 million in prize money will be awarded.

Photo Credit: All photos © 2010 Randi Muster/Mustphoto, Inc., Official Sport Photographer of the 2010 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival,