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Battle in the saddle

- October 1st, 2019 - Show & Event News

Medal-winner Nicole McMillion edges Charlotte Murray in Blenheim Int’l Jumping Festival

Special to the Horsetrader

Nicole McMillion takes Hailey Link’s Loverboy to the win in the EMO Insurance/USHJA 3’3″ Jumping Seat Medal Finals-West on Sept. 20. (Amy McCool photo)

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO—Nicole McMillion of Huntington Beach topped 23 entries over two days and three phases of competition and a work-off to win the third annual EMO Insurance/USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals—West at the Blenheim EquiSports International Jumping Festival.

Coming into the Saturday, Nov. 20, competition, 14-year-old McMillion had the lead, winning the blue ribbon in both the flat and gymnastics phases aboard Hailey Link’s Loverboy. Earning fourth in the third phase, McMillion, at 376.5 total points, narrowed her lead when third phase winner Charlotte Murray of Los Angeles finished with a total of 375 points. A work-off between McMillion and Murray ensued with McMillion emerging as the champion.

Scores for each of the three phases were progressively weighted: 1, 1.5 and 2, respectively. In the first phase, riders were randomly divided into three groups, lettered A, B and C. Once being judged, they were immediately asked to counter-canter, demonstrating their flat finesse early on. Judges Bill Ellis (Ocala, Fla.) and Jim Dahlquist (Portland, Ore.) also asked for extension and collection at both the trot and canter. McMillion, who rode in Group A, earned an impressive score of 89. Presley Newton of Atherton was the top score in Group B with an 85 and overall second place in the phase. Top of Group C, Katalina Rickard of Sherman Oaks with an 84.5, finished third in the flat phase.

The gymnastics phase was a test of the riders ability to adjust and to better understand exercises to prepare a horse to jump their best. Internationally acclaimed course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio (Red Hook, N.Y.) created a track with a bounce, a double and triple combination as well as rollbacks. McMillion also earned an 89 in this round, and with the multiplier of 1.5, her total going into the final round was 222.5. With an 88 score and overall 217, Newton held her second spot. Rickard remained in the third position with an 85 and an overall score of 212.

Sitting fifth in the order going into day two, Murray demonstrated a beautiful round to take the win in the third phase of competition. With a multiplier of two, Murray moved into a close second place, just behind McMillion. The rules state that further testing is required for any riders within three points of the leader, and only 1.5 points separated the top two riders.

Entering the ring and receiving no further instruction from trainers, the two girls were asked to jump fences one, two, five, 6b, 7, 8a, 8b, 9, and then return to the line at the sitting trot. Both riders were solid in the tough work-off, and McMillion maintained her lead by a mere half a point.

“I love this medal!”, said McMillion. “It’s a great stepping stone for the [Platinum Performance/USEF] Talent Search. The first phase is a nice start to calm your nerves a bit. The gymnastics phase is really fun and was definitely my favorite part. This was my first year doing it. I really loved the opportunity, and I loved the format of the class.”

Loverboy, McMillion’s medal finals partner, is a 12-year-old gelding owned by Hailey Link.

“He is the most fun horse I’ve ever ridden and I’m really grateful to have had him as my partner for this class,” said the rider.

Jim Hagman, head trainer and owner of Elvenstar, trains McMillion along with Rachel Mahowald, who heads the team at Elvenstar’s location in Orange County. Hagman was full of praise.

“This class is so important for our industry,” he said. “I wish we had it 20 years ago. Blenheim does the best job in the world with these championships, which is just incredible.”

Jeni Brown trains Charlotte Murray and her horse, Great Blue.

“I really enjoyed the qualifying classes for this all year,” said Brown, of Shadowbrook Stables.

More online: http://bit.ly/910medal

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