Wellington, Florida, USA – March 31, 2022 – The Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) delivered another exciting day of competition on Thursday, March 31, as the circuit’s final week, presented by Rolex, continues toward its thrilling conclusion. While international show jumping was featured on the Derby Field at Equestrian Village, junior equitation riders were in the spotlight in the International Arena at Wellington International with the best of the best vying for the top placing in the WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets. As the sun set, Luke Jensen of Denton, Texas, emerged victorious with Stephex Stables’s Jamaica.
The highlight of WEF 12 and the 2022 WEF circuit is the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* on Saturday, April 2, at 11 a.m. ET. While there is no “Saturday Night Lights” event for WEF 12, fans of equestrian sport are welcomed to cheer on horses and riders at the $35,000 Wellington National Golf Club Spring 1 Grand Prix on Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Riders for Thursday evening’s championship class qualified by winning an equitation class during the 2022 WEF season, the 2021 Holiday and Horses Horse Show, or the 2021 Holiday Finale show. Andy Christiansen (USA) and Ken Krome (USA) designed the 12-fence first course for the 46 qualified athletes to contest. The top 12 were then called back in reverse order for a second round, which had additional challenges woven into the course, such as a simple change of lead between fences six and seven, and a halt after the final fence, fence 10. Four riders returned for further testing, before judges from panel one, Alex Jayne (USA) and Tiffany Morrissey (USA), and panel two, Chris Kappler (USA) and Michael Tokaruk (USA), crowned their champion.
A further challenge for this class is that riders must walk the course and come up with a plan without the assistance of a trainer or staff. Riders hand in their cell phones at the start and can only be assisted by one groom in the warm-up area.
Diane Landreville and Jennifer Matts observed the warm-up for the first two rounds and awarded riders a score ranging from minus two to plus two points, which was added to the combination’s overall score.
Riders proved up to the task this evening, with an extremely competitive field producing an average score of 80 in the first round and just over seven points separating the top 12. The close score differential meant it was anyone’s game coming into round two.
Ellie Aronson (USA) made the biggest jump up the leaderboard with Wolfstone Stables & Sales Inc.’s Conthacco, a 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Conthargos, going from eighth to fourth, and ultimately finishing in second. As the final four completed the work-off in reverse order, Aronson was first to test.
“In the test, since I was first to go, I felt like I had nothing to lose, so I just went out and tried to do my best,” remembered Aronson of her work-off. “I wanted to land the counter canters to then hold the lead. I ended up having to do one change, but other than that I was really happy with it.”
Aronson, who is 16 years old and trains with the team at North Run, was making her WEF Equitation Championship debut this year and has been paired with Conthacco since the start of the circuit. “Taco” is a veteran in this class, having competed with Jensen last year.
“I was most nervous about the schooling, just because I didn’t want to jump too much since Taco is a quiet horse,” Aronson reflected. “I had my groom, Amber, helping me, and she was amazing. I just tried to do as I felt like I needed to and tried not to stress about it too much.”
Zayna Rizvi (USA), who also trains with North Run, has been partnered with Acer K, an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Missy Clark and North Run, for three years. They came into the second round on top, after a first round score of 93.5. Some small mistakes in the second round and work-off saw them finish in fourth place.
“For the second round, one of the main things I was focusing on was the last jump. I knew I wanted to have a bold canter and show off a little,” detailed Rizvi. “I ended up having that rail, which was kind of what I was trying to avoid, but I’ll learn from that mistake.”
She continued, “I thought I did parts of the test really well, and then there were parts I would like to improve on, but those things I will go home and practice for next time.”
The most veteran rider of the top four was Augusta Iwasaki (USA). This was Iwasaki’s fifth time competing in the class, but her mount was the most inexperienced of the group, just transitioning from being a jumper to an equitation horse when Iwasaki picked up the ride in the middle of the circuit.
“Izar is a really smart horse. He always puts his best foot forward. He’s really good at tests, and I was really proud of him tonight,” described Iwasaki of the nine-year-old gelding owned by Kyle Timm.
From her previous experiences, Iwasaki was comfortable working on her own.
“I usually kind of do my own thing anyway. My trainers always get mad at me, because I’m kind of in my own world,” joked the 18-year-old who starts college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, in the fall. “All of my trainers and everyone at Ashland Farms had a meeting earlier and talked about the plan. I know my trainers have told me what I need to know, so it’s really fun to be able to do it with the other riders from your barn and have some team spirit. Everyone was really great, and we all leaned on each other.”
Winner Luke Jensen (USA) gave North Run their third rider in the top four. He piloted Jamaica, groomed by Callista Smith, this evening in his second WEF Equitation Championship appearance and sat in second place after round one. After a stylish performance with the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood by Zurich in round two, Jensen was 2.375 points ahead of Rizvi. He did just enough in the final phase to hold on to the lead and secure the overall win.
“I’m so grateful to Stephex and North Run for the ride on Jamaica. Jamaica really thrives in a big ring. Actually, Jamaica always thrives!” enthused Jensen of the horse he started riding at the beginning of the season. “I just wanted to build on what we have been working on through all of WEF.”
Jensen, who is also in his last junior year at 18 years old, echoed the sentiments of his fellow competitors, that they enjoyed making their preparations with the fellow riders from their barn.
He remarked, “The sense of community is so fun. To be able to do it together and to work through and solve the problems together and figure it out is one of the most fun parts. It’s cool to see how much you’ve learned and what you can feel.”
Jensen’s trainers John Brennan, Missy Clark, Margaret Gampfer, and Martien van der Hoeven received the Trainer Award. Awards for the families of the top two riders, Luke Jensen and Ellie Aronson, were given in honor of their support.
The “Class Action” Best Equitation Horse Award was given to Jamaica, ridden by Luke Jensen and owned by Stephex Stables, and presented by Stacia Madden.
The Best Turned Out Horse Award was presented to West Hill’s Castlefield Spartacus, ridden by Isabella David, and groomed by Jairo Castillo.
Final Results – WEF Equitation Championship, presented by NetJets
Rank / Rider / Horse / Place / Score
1) Luke Jensen (USA) & Jamaica – 184.625
2) Zayna Rizvi (USA) & Acer K – 182.25
3) Augusta Iwasaki (USA) & Izar -178.25
Source: Press Release by Amanda Picciotto Feitosa / Summer Grace / Jennifer Wood Media for ESP – Equestrian Sport Production
Photo: © Sportfot