Washington, D.C. – Oct. 26, 2019 – As one of the most prestigious equitation championships of the year, 40 top junior riders were invited to compete in the 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final, sponsored by Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund. The three phase final began with a hunter phase and continued with a jumper phase, followed by a final work-off where the top ten riders returned to the Capital One Arena for one last chance at winning the coveted title. Ultimately, it was Canada’s Sam Walker who topped the leaderboard to receive the national championship honors. The 17-year-old rode consistent trips, impressing the panel of judges to earn an undeniable lead with his leading scores.
The final work-off required riders to swap horses to ride the jumper phase course for a second time. With only three warm-up fences before entering the arena, the athletes had to quickly adjust to an unfamiliar horse in order to produce a consistent round. Judges Walter T. Kees, Sue Ashe, Chance Arakelian and Laura Kraut combined athletes scores from the hunter and jumper phases with their work-off score to calculate which rider would lead the victory gallop at the end of the evening.
Walker made the best first impression he could, receiving scores of 95 and 91 in the hunter phase to start the final with a win. His success continued in the jumper phase as he rode to two scores of 92 for second place. Walker led the way into the work-off with Ava Stearns hot on his heels as less than 3 points separating the talented young riders.
In the work-off, fellow barn mates Walker and Stearns gained an advantage when it came time to swap horses. Both train with Missy Clark of North Run and have experience riding one another’s mounts. Luckily, Walker and Stearns drew each other’s horses, reassuring them of their abilities to conquer a confident ride.
Walker was the final rider to tackle the work-off. Riding Stearns’ Acer K, he completed a seamless trip for scores of 94 and 92. Stearns’ previous round aboard Walker’s horse, Waldo, was rewarded with a 92 and 81 from the judges, totaling to 269 and making Walker the leader by a whopping 9 points. Rounding out the top three was Dominic Gibbs, who rode Emma Fletcher’s Bournedale to an 89 and 80, totaling in 265.125.
The winner of the 2018 ASPCA Maclay Finals, Walker is a veteran to the equitation finals. Walker has also competed in the WIHS Equitation Final three times prior and finished tenth in the 2018 edition. He was well-mounted on his long-time partner Waldo, a 12-year-old Warmblood gelding, who he has developed over the past few years for trainer Clark. Walker’s confidence and charisma were apparent as he continuously layed down trips that never scored below a 90.
The 2019 Indoors season is wrapping up, with only one major equitation final remaining, the ASPCA Maclay National Championship during the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky. Stay tuned to Phelps Sports for complete coverage of the Maclay Finals and the National Horse Show.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Sam Walker – 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Champion
On winning the championship:
“So, this is my third year competing in the Washington Equitation Final. I’ve been very, very grateful to have the ride on the same horse each year. I always look forward to coming to this horse show. It’s extremely well organized. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a real show. In regards to my horse and my preparation, we just kept it simple and tried to stick with the plan. I’m just really happy with how today went.”
On when he made the WIHS Equitation Final a goal of his:
“Right after it ended last year! I was 10th place here last year and third the year before, so I was a little bit hungry to get back in the ring here.”
On riding Ava Sterns’ Acer K in the Work Off:
“When we’re at home, we spend a lot of time schooling on our own horses –
obviously Missy and John’s horses, but the ones that we ride every day. Ava has
actually had the opportunity to ride Waldo in the final round of this final two years ago,
and I had the opportunity to show Max, or Acer K, when he showed up to North Run this
past winter. So I had the opportunity to show him, and Ava’s had the opportunity to
show my horse, so I think it worked out in our favor.”
Ava Stearns – 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Reserve Champion
On being at the WIHS:
“Last year, I won the Lindsay Maxwell grant, and I was so grateful. It’s a great opportunity to come here. Obviously, I love coming to this horse show. It’s a very special environment here in D.C. My horse – he’s new to me this year. He’s owned by Missy Clark and North Run. He is really something special. He went in the ring – it’s his first time – and put on a show.”
On riding Sam Walker’s Waldo in the Work Off:
“I think that knowing the person in your barn whose horse you’re swapping on to and
seeing the horse every day is a big advantage. I watch that horse go all the time, and
Sam watches mine. I know that he has my best interests at heart, as I do for him, and
he’s going to tell me what I need to know, and they’re both such top notch horses that
you really couldn’t go wrong.”
Dominic Gibbs – 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final third place
On Cent 50:
“So the horse that I’m riding is Cent 50. He came to me in a gift-wrapped box in February. It’s been a real pleasure for me to ride him. He’s been by far the best horse I’ve ever ridden. I’ve come so far with him, and he’s taken me much further than I would have ever expected to come. I loved coming to this show. It’s my first time here, my first time doing all of the 3’6” equitation finals, so it’s been a real great opportunity and experience.”
Missy Clark – Trainer of Sam Walker and Waldo at North Run
On preparing for the WIHS Equitation Final:
“Our preparation isn’t any different than what we always do. They’re both coming out of the Medal Finals, so we were pretty much in the groove. We had a nice week off at home – we actually let the horses kind of relax, we didn’t need to do much. So they enjoyed a week off before we got here. Then we prepped a bit at Capital Challenge, the layover place. These two are so well schooled, and in the whole scheme of things, veterans of equitation. They were pretty prepared when they arrived, and the horses were awesome. I’m so proud of them. Ava’s horse is only 8 years old. So this was his first year doing it, and Sam has helped develop Waldo, another horse that we also own. He had never done equitation until Sam started with him – at this level. It’s been fun working with both kids and both those horses.”
Sue Ashe – 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Judge
On the quality of the horses:
“I’ve never seen so many fabulous horses, and you guys brought them to the top. Ava, I was so impressed with you because I knew that yours was a young horse, I knew it was its first time in the ring with you and awesome – really, really awesome. Top horse. Lucky girl. Lucky horse. Dominic, I’m just going to say that as far as I’m concerned, that’s the best horse. I think it’s better than Charge Account who was the best equitation horse ever. You are just one lucky child!”
Timmy Kees – 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Judge
On judging the finals:
“It’s such a treat to see – it’s the crème de la crème. I mean it’s the very, very best. The horses and the riders – the combinations that the trainers have put together, it’s a real treat to watch. When the scores get as good as they got at the end, that’s so much fun to watch, and it’s a pleasure to judge. It’s a pleasure to watch the caliber of instruction, the horses – when I first started doing this 100 years ago, the change is so dramatic, and it’s so impressive. The quality of the instruction – it’s great. “
Chance Arakelian – 2019 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final Judge
On the top three riders:
“I’m a big fan of Sam’s. I just think he rides so forward and light. Great hand. Sam, your third round was absolutely beautiful. Ava, your second round was unbelievable as well. You’re a very strong rider, and you ride that horse beautifully. Dominic, you came so far, so fast this year. You should be really proud of what you accomplished. You were all great. Great class.”
Place / Name / Horse / Hunter Phase / Jumper Phase / Work-off / Final Score
1. Sam Walker / Waldo / 95, 91 / 92, 92 / 94, 92 / 278
2. Ava Stearns / Acer K / 90, 88 / 93, 94 / 92, 81 / 269
3. Dominic Gibbs / Cent 15 / 94, 88 / 89, 90 / 89, 80 / 265.125
4. Grace Debney / Quimby / 89.5, 88.5 / 87, 86.75 / 87, 83 / 264.875
5. Mimi Gochman / Kaskade / 89.25, 89 / 82.750, 82.5 / 87, 83 / 256.750
6. Emma Fletcher / Bournedale / 93, 81.5 / 91, 88.5 / 80.5, 79 / 256.75
7. Tanner Korotkin / Aribo / 88, 90 / 84.75, 85.5 / 86, 78 / 256.125
8. Alexandra Pielet / Conthacco / 85, 87.5 / 86.5, 79.5 / 85, 86 / 254.75
9. Zayna Rizvi / Finnick / 84.75, 85.25 / 84.25, 84.75 / 83, 77 / 249.5
10. Augusta Iwasaki / Vanderpump / 85.5, 86.5 / 88, 87.5 / 70, 70 / 243.75