Syracuse, N.Y., Nov. 7
It got so quiet in the ring during Hayley Barnhill’s first round of the ASPCA Maclay Finals that you could hear a whisper. Barnhill had all eyes on her and all the pressure of being the class favorite today in the Maclay Finals.
But she didn’t blink, and rode just as calmly, precisely and fluidly as she had to, claiming her second major equitation title, following up her win three weeks ago in the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals with blue in the ASPCA Maclay Finals.
“We liked that she rode so well under pressure,” said Melanie Smith Taylor, who judged the class with Scott Hofstetter. “She moved up to the top in the flat and was very good and consistent all day.”
Barnhill didn’t have a perfect first round. “He was a little unsure in the first round and I had a swap,” Barnhill said of her horse, Podest. “But it all worked out in the end. He’s good on the flat and he helps me look elegant.”
Barnhill, of Collierville, Tenn., grew up riding with David Pellegrini and last year started getting help from Tom Wright, and Tim and Kelly Gougen. Trainer Missy Clark entered this picture this winter, and provided the missing piece of the horse, Podest, who also competes in the amateur-owner hunters with owner Emily Gardner.
“She’s always had an amazing talent; it was just getting her into a structured program that could take her to new levels. It’s been a team project,” said Wright.
Barnhill rode Podest at the Medal Finals for her win there as well, but the lanky chestnut traveled to Clark’s farm in Vermont after that. Barnhill rode another of Clark’s horses in the Washington Equitation Classic Finals, where she placed ninth. She then met Podest again in Syracuse a few days before the Maclay Finals.
Round 2 Was Exactly Right
Taylor Ann Adams was on top after Round 1, with Barnhill in second. After the flat, however, Adams dropped to fourth and Barnhill moved to first. And then Barnhill laid down another elegant round in the second course to cement her win. “You can’t ever expect to win, and after the first round, I wasn’t sure,” Barnhill said. “But the second round was great for my horse. I had my plan and it went exactly as I hoped.”
“It was close after the first round,” Hofstetter said. “The swap was what put her second in that round. She chose to keep the horse on the right lead in that bending line, and he shifted off it at the jump. But we really like her style.”
Adam’s flatwork wasn’t as soft and fluid as Barnhill’s, which dropped her to fourth going into Round 2. Michael Hughes, who is just 13, moved up from fourth after Round 1 to second after the flat work. “I had a couple of boo boos in the first round, but when we were called back fourth, I was happy. And then the flat phase went well,” Hughes said.
He clinched second with a flowing trip in the second round. “The thing I liked is that Michael was very soft. He never looked rushed. He looked like he really knows his horse and trusted him,” said Hofstetter.
“In the second round, we started with a very long distance from jump 1 to 2. It seemed like where everyone else was really worried about it, Michael trusted his horse and just very softly asked for it, and his horse gave it to him. It shows they have a good partnership. Nothing was rushed. The second round was hard, with the turns, to stay consistent and not make it look hurried. Even to the last line, he was very smooth and soft and the horse just lofted off the ground. It was a beautiful round.”
A Real Test
Hofstetter and Taylor set a track for the first round that asked riders to show off their ability to ride off their eye, their sense of track and balance, and ability to ride forward, but it was basically a straightforward course.
In Round 2, however, they upped the ante. Riders had to jump a hogsback jump as Fence 1 (a hogsback is a triple bar where the first and third rails are the same height and the middle rail is higher) and then canter a very forward four strides to the ASPCA wall.
They then rode a bending line to the right over a Swedish oxer. Then an unusual test came. Three jumps were set in the middle of the ring, with two walls parallel flanking an narrow oxer. Riders had to jump one wall off a right turn, then circle to the left to jump the oxer, then circle back to the right to jump the second wall. In general, the question rode well.
Immediately after the second wall, riders had to ride four strides to in-and-out that was angle in a fan patter, so the distances ranged from very short to long. Riders had to choose a line at the combination that suited their horse’s stride. The course map explained that either one or two strides was acceptable.
Riders then jumped a line up the long side, with an oxer to a vertical to an oxer. But they had to trot the middle vertical, which was set in a five-stride distance from the oxer. The second oxer was four quiet strides after the trot fence. They then had to choose between two different verticals out of the corner of the ring before galloping down to a long one-stride oxer-oxer in-and-out.
The second round had some dramatic consequences. Lucy Davis was in 15th after Round 1 and the flat phase, but a lovely Round 2 course moved her all the way up to eighth. Catherine Tyree was in eighth coming into Round 2, but impressed the judges enough to put her in third in the end.
Samantha Schaefer, who was second to Barnhill in the Medal Finals, came into Round of the Maclay in seventh, but her horse stopped at the B element of the angled one-stride combination, putting her out of contention. Theo Boris was in fifth before Round 2, but a late transition to the trot at the trot jump helped drop him to sixth overall.
After Round 2, Hofstetter and Taylor discussed things, then decided to pin the class. “Hayley came in on top and the second round seemed to be her and her horse’s best round. She rose to the top under the pressure. That’s why we felt like we didn’t want to test any more,” Hofstetter said.
You can click on the ASPCA Maclay Finals Blog green button on the Syracuse Invitational/National Horse Show page on the Chronicle's website, where there’s a round-by-round description of the action. On that page are also links to a first-round course photo and description and other coverage from Syracuse.
Also, full coverage, with in-depth interviews, photos and analysis, will be in the Nov. 19 issue of the Chronicle.