After two weeks of high-caliber competition, the 140th National Horse Show concluded on Sunday, November 5, with the ASPCA Maclay National Championship, presented by Chansonette Farm. This prestigious equitation final brought together 228 junior athletes from the United States and several countries at the Alltech Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, competing for the coveted championship. Following two jumping rounds and a flat phase, Carlee McCutcheon emerged as the 90th winner of the ASPCA Maclay National Championship.
McCutcheon, aboard Chacco Star, a 2008 Oldenburg gelding (Chacco-Blue X Carieny Z), led the competition from start to finish, securing the title as the Maclay champion. She discussed her partnership with Chacco, stating, “I think having a partnership like I have with Choco is a big advantage for me. He makes me so confident and brave every time I walk in the ring. I know he’s so good at the equitation. He’s very seasoned at it. He’s way better at it than I am, for sure.” McCutcheon expressed her gratitude for the show and her support system, which includes her parents, grandparents, trainers TJ O’Mara and Max Amaya, and the entire team at Stonehenge.
TJ O’Mara added, “I was really glad to see that she kept her cool this year. You can really see that she matured as a rider. Like I said, I’m glad it could have ended on such an incredible note.” Amaya and O’Mara, the trainers who skillfully guided McCutcheon through the challenging championship, received the Maclay National Championship Trainer Award, a prestigious accolade presented by the Walker Family in memory of Maryl Walker and John Y.G. Walker, Jr. McCutcheon also received The Gordon Wright Perpetual Trophy and the Wilson Dennehy Award, granted to the rider with the highest score across both the Medal and Maclay finals.
Eleanor Rudnicki and Waldo, a 2007 Warmblood Gelding owned by North Run, secured the second-place position. Reflecting on the performance, she mentioned, “He’s [Waldo’s] a little newer to us, but he’s competed in high-level jumpers, and he’s always been great. I got to show him at the USET finals, and he was perfect there. So I was pretty confident going in today that he was going to be good, and it was going to go well.” Their exceptional performance during multiple rounds of testing highlighted their capabilities under the guidance of trainer Berry Porter and the North Run team. Porter expressed his admiration for Eleanor’s abilities and her role in developing horses for the future.
Tessa Downey, riding her own HH Moonshine, a 2011 Holsteiner gelding (Quick Fire X Cassini I), secured the third position. She remarked, “I finished with the same result this year as I did last year, but to me, the outcome could not be more different. I am a lot prouder of this result than I am of my result last year. I competed on him at my first Maclay finals, and I’ve now competed on him at my last Maclay Finals. ” Her performance in the competition under the guidance of trainer Peter J Pletcher was commendable. Pletcher praised the show and the challenging course, highlighting that it poses numerous questions to the top riders.
The course commenced with a challenging sequence: a bending line leading to another bending line that required riders to adeptly transition from a forward pace to condense their horse’s stride for the next jump. Notable obstacles included the towering triple bar, a four-stride line leading to a narrow jump, and a unique combination of one-stride to a five-stride line, followed by another one-stride. A significant addition was the “Gucci” wall, introduced last year, providing both a visual spectacle and a technical challenge. Riders had to approach it with a forward and alert mindset.
After the first rounds, Carlee McCutcheon secured the top spot on the standby list with an impressive score of 96.5, earning the Hannah M. Serfass Memorial Award. Eleanor Rudnicki earned the second-place position on the standby list with a score of 94.75, and Maddie Tosh followed in third place with a score of 93.5. The cut-off score to remain in the top 24 after the first round was 87.125. The athletes then advanced to the flat phase, where they showcased their technical skills, performing with and without stirrups, counter canter, lead changes, and extended trot.
The same 24 horse and rider pairs returned for the second round of over-fence challenges in reverse order of score. The riders faced a series of technical turns and questions for the competitors. Notably, they were asked to hand gallop jump 4 early in the course, setting the horses on a large stride that created a challenging question later in the course, involving a short outside line consisting of a combination and then six strides to the oxer out. No additional testing occurred after the second round.