Wellington, Fla. – Mar. 23, 2018 – Coco Fath of Fairfield, Connecticut checked off another box on her list of accomplishments as she took home the eleventh annual George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship title on Friday evening during the eleventh week of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
The nation’s top junior athletes have each been vying for a spot in this year’s equitation championship throughout the past 11 weeks of WEF, and 35 riders qualified for Friday’s event. In order to qualify, riders must have won a blue ribbon in a 3’6” equitation class during WEF.
Fath made her debut in the George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship for the first time last year, where she finished in fourth place with Hillside Farm LLC’s Class Action. The famed 19-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding has been making riders’ dreams come true for years, and this time it was Fath’s turn in the spotlight. Fath purchased him at the end of 2016 for her final two years as a junior.
Some of Class Action’s previous riders include Lucy Deslauriers, Allison Toffolon and Jessica Springsteen. The equitation star is known in the barn as Ranger, but his riders have nicknamed him Puff.
Held in the International Ring, the class’s location added an extra element of difficulty as the equitation is typically held in Rings 6 and 9 throughout the season. Riders had to overcome the unfamiliarity of the new venue, which was intimidating for some horses.
Perhaps most unique to this class is that riders are fully responsible for walking the course, schooling and preparing both themselves and their mounts without help from their trainers. Any form of outside communication is prohibited and each rider is mandated to relinquish their cell phones prior to the start of competition.
Fath, who has been competing for two years under the tutelage of highly respected trainer, Stacia Madden, of Beacon Hill Show Stables, knew exactly what to do in the schooling ring to best prepare herself and her mount.
Riders also received a “schooling score” after both the first and second rounds of warm-up ranging from -2 to +2 points from judge Karen Golding, who is a world-class show groom and FEI steward. The second round’s warm-ups were scored by Pam Rush, a USEF “R” judge and FEI steward.
The schooling score, which is based on time management, efficiency and any questionable practices or procedures from the riders, is added to the combined total of the two panel scores and divided by two to determine the round average.
Renowned course designer Steve Stephens created a 13-fence course for the first phase of competition that included trotting directly from the in-gate through a set of cavaletti, a double combination, roll backs, and a gymnastic set right by the in-gate going towards the International Club.
Riders’ performances over the cavaletti set the tone for the judges’ scorecards, and it caught some horses by surprise. The course also applied a skinny oxer and a triple combination, and riders had to demonstrate two flying lead changes.
Fath received a high score of 88.5 from the judges in the opening round. The two panels of judges consisted of Chris Kappler and Ralph Caristo along with Sissy Wickes and Keri Kampsen. Jimmy Torano and Frank Madden commentated throughout the duration of the class.
At just 17 years old, Fath has been making a name for herself not just in the equitation ranks, but in the hunters and jumpers, as well. Her accolades include two top-10 finishes in the equitation and multiple championships in the Junior Jumpers at venues such as Devon, the Hampton Classic and the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS). At WIHS, Fath earned the title of Show Jumping Hall of Fame Rider of the Month in October 2017 after winning the $15,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame out of 23 other top juniors.
In the second round of competition, the top 15 returned to show over a similarly challenging track, which asked riders to trot a vertical by the in-gate and demonstrate a simple change of lead in the middle of the line from Fence 4 to 5, but it was Fath, Alexandra Worthington, Daisy Farish, and Ava Stearns who impressed the judges enough to be selected for further testing.
Fath and her steady partner earned a score of 90.5 in the second round, placing her in good standing as she headed into the test. The work-off called riders back in reverse order and required them to counter canter Fence 8, canter Fence 2, hand gallop Fence 5, canter the triple combination (vertical-vertical-oxer) going home, halt, and back up.
Last to go, Fath maintained her composure and executed the test flawlessly to take home the top spot of the evening with a total of 179 points. In the awards presentation, she was joined by Madden, Krista Freundlich, Max Amaya, and the rest of the Beacon Hill/Stonehenge Stables team. The previous two years’ winner, McKayla Langmeier, was also on hand for the awards ceremony. Class Action claimed the Best Equitation Horse award.
Coming in second place was Fath’s barnmate, Alexandra Worthington, aboard her own Outshine, while the third place ribbon went to North Run’s Ava Stearns riding Missy Clark’s Eclipse. Rounding out the top four spots was Heritage Farm’s Daisy Farish and her own Capital Hamilton.
Looking ahead, Fath will compete at the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) Miami Beach show following the conclusion of WEF. She will then head north where she and Class Action will have a break before returning to the show ring at Old Salem Spring in May.
For many of these equitation riders, the weekend is just heating up. There is still a full weekend of competition to go for Week Eleven at WEF, and some riders, including Fath and Farish, will transition to the jumper ring on Sunday for the $50,000 Hermes U25 Grand Prix Finale at 12 p.m. at the Stadium Derby Field.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Coco Fath – 2018 George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship winner
On the format of the class:
“It was really a great experience. There is no chance at any other horse show to be able to have the pressure of doing it by yourself and to really use your barn mates and everyone around you as utilities, basically. Not having a trainer is difficult, but next year I won’t be a junior anymore and this is what life is going to be like. It’s just an amazing experience. It was difficult, obviously, because you don’t know exactly what you should be doing. I’m so lucky to have such a great team behind me that is supporting me from the stands today.”
On the course:
“I was walking the course and I could just hear Stacia’s voice in my head. After learning so much from her, I can really figure out the course by seeing what I did in rounds before that I walked with Stacia.”
On the schooling ring inside the International Arena:
“Coming into this, I didn’t love it because everyone gets to see you school and making a mistake is embarrassing, but I actually ended up liking it because the schooling area was really large and we were able to see who and what was going on in the ring. It is good to be under the pressure and have your trainer see you warm up. It is a good part of it. I ended up really liking it, actually, and having it in the International Ring – I would take that any day.”
On her warm-up:
“One thing I did in the second round was prepare for the trot jump. It had a little box in front of it, and trot jumps are normally flat, so I rolled the ground line out. Then, I did the normal things Stacia would have had us done. I channelled my inner Stacia and thought of what she would say. I jumped a vertical both times before I went in and made sure I got a good rub.”
On her plans next year:
“I won’t be doing the equitation, sadly, but I will continue with the jumpers and I will be an amateur since I am going off to college. Hopefully, I will continue my jumper career and follow through with that. I plan to ride outside of college.”
On the test:
“Honestly, I don’t think it was my best test. Testing is my absolute worst thing. I’ve been trying to work on it for years, but the first two rounds brought me high enough up where I was above the other riders with points. I went in there just trying to have a smooth round and not make any mistakes. Stacia always says, ‘Just complete the test.’ That’s the number one thing, and don’t be too fancy.”
On the course:
“Going into it, I was a little bit skeptical because it seemed a little like USET Finals, but going through the first round it was really nice because there were some elements of gymnastics and stuff. It was nice to have a smooth round, but I tried to bring some technical things into the competition. I was a little worried for the cavalettis because the two people before me stopped at them. We worked on them in the schooling area and Puff knows his job. I was just hoping not to stop at them or canter them.”
On her history with Class Action:
“This is my second year with him and we purchased him at the end of 2016. I can’t think of a better horse. I knew going into buying him that it would be my last two years, so why not have the most experienced horse ever? He has just been incredible. I owe everything in my equitation career to him. He’s a horse of a lifetime, for sure. He is the sweetest.”
2018 George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship:
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 / R2 / Total
1. Class Action / Coco Fath / Hillside Farm LLC / 88.5 / 90.5 / 179
2. Outshine / Alexandra Worthington / Alexandra Worthington / 79.5 / 89 / 168.50
3. Eclipse / Ava Stearns / Missy Clark and North Run / 85.5 / 87.25 / 172.75
4. Capital Hamilton / Daisy Farish / Daisy Farish / 82.25 / 87.25 / 169.50
5. Caracas 89 / Kaitlyn Lovingfoss / Elvenstar Farm / 82 / 85.75 / 167.75
6. Any Given Sunday / Grace Boston / Hays Investment Corp. / 87.5 / 78.5 / 166
7. Centerfold K / Rachel McMullen / Henge Hill Investments / 83.5 / 81 / 164.50
8. Cohiba VDL / Grady Lyman / Ashland Farms / 81 / 81.75 / 162.75
9. Conspicuous / Emma Fletcher / Emma Fletcher / 79.5 / 83 / 162.50
10. Waldo / Sam Walker / Missy Clark and North Run / 72.75 / 87.5 / 160.25
11. Quax / Annabel Revers / Beechwood Stables LLC / 85.25 / 74 / 159.25
12. Jarinka / Farah Rizvi / Emma Callanan / 76 / 82.5 / 158.50
For full results, click here.