Washington, D.C.—Oct. 27
Stacia Klein Madden has been coaching riders to equitation championships for years, but when Elizabeth Benson won this year’s Washington International Equitation Classic Finals  she wiped away tears on her way to join Benson in the ring.
Madden started coaching Benson three years ago during a rough point in the young rider’s life. Benson’s father had fallen ill from cancer and asked Madden to take over coaching his daughter.
At Washington, the judges read the results of the top 10 in reverse order, until just Benson and Hasbrouck Donovan were left. When the announcer called Donovan’s name as the reserve champion, Benson broke down crying, but she earned a standing ovation from everyone in the audience. When she walked out of the arena, it took a good 10 minutes before well-wishers finished congratulating her, just long enough that she get out of the in-gate.
“I think she probably has the biggest fan club out there, and it’s deserved,” said Madden, who trains Benson along with Krista Freundlich, Heather Senia and Max Amaya. She received 33 texts congratulating Benson within minutes after her win from friends watching the live stream.
“It’s not just because she’s a cheerleader. She’s talented. People have seen her struggles, and they’ve seen that nothing gets her down. She can be having a bad day, and she’s letting others lean on her,” she said.
After two rounds of competition, the top 10 riders returned to swap mounts. Few riders had significant problems with their new rides, but Catherine Tyree suffered a refusal on Drake, dropping her from fifth down to 10th.
Benson stayed steady throughout the competition, tacking up her partner San Remo VDL for the hunter and jumper phases. Like last year, she earned second in the hunter phase and won the jumper phase, heading into the work-off on top. But while last year she faltered in the final round, this time around she stayed steady aboard Catherine Tyree’s original ride, Patrick, to keep the lead.
Donovan, who tacked up Drake for Rounds 1 and 2, moved up from fifth to second after the jumper round. She swapped onto San Remo VDL, scoring the high mark of 91 in that round to take overall second. USEF Talent Search Finals—East winner Jacob Pope scored second in the work-off (he swapped his Uno for Sarah Milliren’s Alando) to take third.
Though Benson and Donovan are in their final year as juniors—both are 18—they’ll have plenty more opportunities to ride together as they’ve both signed with Auburn University (Ala.). While Benson has been commuting back and forth between school and the major equitation finals, Donovan begins school in January.
“I was thrilled,” said Benson, Whitehouse Station, N.J. “I never imagined I’d be in this spot.”
Nusz Proves Her Consistency At Washington
“I didn’t need added pressure on myself,” said Nusz, “but I still wanted to go in and give it my best shot to win.”
Despite her laid back attitude about Washington, her performances during the week on Vesuvius earned her the high junior/amateur-owner championship title, the same title she earned last year with Banana D'ive Z.
“I’m thrilled; I’m on top of the world,” she said.
The ring at Washington presented particular challenges. “This [arena] rides a lot different because it’s so narrow and long. It’s a basketball court, and so a lot of things come up a lot quicker than you anticipate," she said.
To counter that, when Nusz walks the course, she tries to anticipate where “Suvi,” a natural spook, might look twice at something beyond the arena. “So then when he falls in a little bit because he spooks at the scoreboard, I’m not on top of the [next jump],” she said. Nusz, 25, splits her time between her farm in Lexington, Ky., and Wellington, Fla. Although she has no immediate plans to turn professional, she and trainer Kent Farrington have started gearing her mounts toward open classes.
A rail in the jump-off of today's $10,000 High Junior/Amateur Owner Classic relegated Nusz to fourth in that class, but she finished first and second earlier in the week to take the division title. Katherine Strauss rode Chellando Z to win the classic with two clear rounds. Although seven horses made it into the jump-off, only the top three jumped the shortened course clear.
Hughes’ Hot Mount Pulls Through
Michael Hughes’ Red Hot might be a veteran jumper at 14 years old, but he still has some fire that showed clearly and helped Hughes win today's low junior/amateur-owner classic and championship title.
“He got a little bit crazy near the end,” Hughes said. “Red Hot is really, really careful, and toward the end of the course he tends to get crazy, so I have to get progressively slower and slower as I go around.”
Nonetheless, Hughes, 16, knows this horse well enough to know just how to handle it. The gelding’s short stride forced Hughes to add a stride in each of the rounds when he wasn’t expecting, but his clear rounds still beat out Casanova Junior ridden by Emanuel Andrade.
Nine horses made it into the jump-off, including two ridden by Reid Patton. She piloted her Tissem to third and Von Dutch to fourth, not taking a rail the entire class.
For results visit www.wihs.org .