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Sophie’s the choice in Onandarka Final

Special to the Horsetrader - December 15th, 2011 - Show & Event News

BURBANK — Sunday morning at the LA National (Nov 16-20) started out as a typical chilly and drizzly November day. However, after the second round of the historic and prestigious Onondarka Medal Final got under way, the drizzle turned into a downright downpour. The storm that was predicted to arrive later that afternoon hit several hours earlier than expected, and the sky darkened and brought icy wind and rain.

Sophie Simpson (Nick Haness, trainer) led after the first round, which ran on Saturday, with a score of 89 to Tylor Nowell’s (Nina Alario, trainer) 88.5, but in the second round Sophie soared ahead with a two-round average of 90.75 to Tylor’s 83.5. While the riders handled the rain and cold well, conditions continued to deteriorate.

Show management convened a meeting with LEG CEO Larry Langer, Onondarka founder Don Simington, the judges, and the involved trainers. After carefully considering the conditions and Sophie’s significant lead, they made the decision to pin the class after the second round rather than make everyone wait for two hours or more in the cold and rain for the classes scheduled in the Equidome to finish so the course could be rebuilt and the top 15 riders could walk the course and jump the third round.

“Let’s not forget that the riders in the Onondarka Medal are all aged twelve and under,” explained show manager Michael Curtis of the temporary format change. “We felt the most important thing was to get everyone out of the cold and wet, home healthy and off the crowded roads on an icy Sunday night.”

“It was unbelievable. Totally crazy,” Sophie said of the rain and the last minute change made to the class format. “I wasn’t worried about my safety, because I knew I was on a great horse.”

Sophie, who is 13 but rides as a twelve-year-old, has the pedigree of a champion. Her father is Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson, and her mother, Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, is a successful international grand prix rider.

Sophie was very happy to have won in the last year she was eligible for the final, although she had been looking forward to the challenge of the work off. “I felt really good about my ride; it was solid,” she recalled. “My horse was amazing. I mostly concentrated on being neat around the corners and executing the lines well.”

Sophie attends online school at Laurel Springs School so she can spend more time in the saddle. She looks forward to moving into the bigger equitation classes next year. She also rides in jumpers, earning ribbons in the Modified Junior-Amateur Jumpers and Low Junior-Amateur Jumpers at LA National.

“I am really glad that the class was pinned early,” said Tylor, who finished second. “By the time I went, the ring was a mess. I think that the level of competition was very high. I feel really good about placing second, although I would love to win next year.”

Another Sophie, Sophie Verges (Leslie Steele, trainer) also shone in the equitation ring. She won both rounds of the Equitation Championship for riders 18-35. After a work off that included a trot jump, a halt, backing up three steps, counter canter, and two changes of lead, Sophie emerged as the winner.

“I agonized over whether or not I would do flying changes over the simple changes,” Sophie said, “because I was worried Salerno might be too behind my leg after standing for three rounds, but he felt right with me during the first part of my test so I chose to challenge myself and perform flying changes of lead.” Sophie was the only one to make that choice and the only one to demonstrate exactly three backing steps. Belle Calkin (Joe Thorpe, trainer) placed second.

“I was really thrilled about my win,” Sophie added. “I was disappointed with myself for having a rail in the final round of the WCE Junior-Amateur Medal Finals on Friday and dropping from third to seventh place, so I felt like I was able to redeem myself by winning the Equitation Championship. It felt really good to win a championship at my last show of the 2011 season, and it was a great note to end on. I am so proud of my horse, Salerno, for giving me an amazingly consistent year.”

Conor Perrin (Nick Haness, trainer) dominated his Equitation Championships for riders 15-17, also winning both rounds before taking the top title. Sage Flynn (Hap Hansen, trainer) was second.

Shannon Davidson (Joe Thorpe, trainer), on the other hand, was in second place after the first two rounds in the Equitation Championship for riders 36 and over, but her performance in the work off put her over the top for the win. Holly Scapa (Kathy Megla, trainer) placed second.

“The work off was a solid test,” Shannon recounted. “It started with a short roll back to a single fence, a left roll back to a trot fence and another short turn to a third jump followed by a halt and backing three steps. We were then asked to counter-canter an oxer with a long approach. The test concluded with cantering up the quarter line showing two changes of lead. I believe there were two things that contributed to my moving up in the placing. The first was the long approach counter-canter. My horse is great at counter leads and does not have problems with swapping. I had a solid pace and really allowed my horse to gallop and leave the ground in a relaxed way. His jump felt great over the oxer. I was also really happy with the lead changes on the quarter line. Toby comes back really easily and we did nice transitions through the walk for the simple changes. All of the top four had good work-off tests, so I was unsure as to who would win. I was really pleased it was me!”

Shannon noted that the bending lines, roll backs, and hunter-type lines in the first two rounds made the courses fun, and her horse’s adjustability allowed her to take the forward options where possible. “As always, the competition was solid,” she added. “There are so many great amateur riders, especially in the 36 and over crowd. There is also a nice camaraderie among everyone so, even though we all want to win, there is also a high level of friendship and sportsmanship. I am grateful to be able to ride and compete as long as I have. I did enjoy this win as it was my first big championship win since I started riding with Joe Thorpe and Sovereign Place.”

Nina Vogel (Kost Karazissis, trainer) has done very well in the equitation and medal classes for the past two seasons, and her experience showed in the Equitation Championship for riders 14 and under. She placed second in the first round and first in the second round, and after the work off, she was named the champion. Barn mate Bella Hadid (Kost Karazisses, trainer) earned the reserve championship.

Thirteen-year-old Nina is in eighth grade at Marlborough School. “I was very proud to win the Equitation Championship,” Nina commented. “I have been working very hard with the horse I rode, so winning this on him was a huge accomplishment for me. Our work off was to canter a bending line that had not been in our course and then to make a sharp right angle to a trot fence. Next we had to counter canter around a tight turn and then jump a fence and counter canter on a bending line to another. I did my best and stayed confident. I was very focused this show, so my trainers and I thought through each course carefully and every moment of planning and warming up to prepare for the courses paid off. I kept my focus and didn’t stop riding for a second and we did it!”

Stay tuned for a retrospective photo essay of the show by LEG Up News. Did you miss our coverage of the Legisequine.com $50,000 Grand Prix? Read it here.

For more information on the LA National, including a prize list and complete results, visit http://langershows.com/laec/show_details.php?show_id=193.

More results: See website http://vbvbbv.com

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