Wellington, FL – March 24, 2012 – The 2012 USEF National Show Jumping Championships and Selection Trials for the U.S. Show Jumping Team for the 2012 Olympic Games concluded on Saturday evening with an exciting fourth and final round under the lights at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. It was a full house of over 7,000 spectators as veteran competitor Margie Engle and young rider Reed Kessler tied for the championship title and shared the victory gallop.

The competition this week was held as both the national championship and the selection trials for this summer’s Olympic Games concurrently. For the national championship, riders scores carried over through each of the four rounds of competition and $200,000 was awarded to the top twelve competitors overall. Those standings will also help to determine the long list for the riders that will compete in the Olympic Games in London this summer. The long list will be announced on Sunday.

Alan Wade of Ireland set the courses for all four rounds of competition held throughout the week and finished out with another great course tonight. Twenty competitors returned for the final round, and just three were able to clear the course without fault.

Reed Kessler and Cylana

The final two horse and rider combinations on course tonight were Margie Engle and Indigo and Reed Kessler and Cylana. Each came into the last round carrying cumulative scores of eight from the previous three rounds. Both pairs then had a score of four over tonight’s course to finish with twelve fault totals. The riders agreed to jump their horses no further in a jump-off and share the championship honors.

In addition to her ride aboard Cylana, Kessler was the first rider to clear the course without fault tonight with her horse Mika. Kessler and Mika carried 13 faults into the final round and kept their final score at just that. The pair finished in a three-way tie for third place overall with Mario Deslauriers and Jane F. Clark’s Urico and Rich Fellers and Harry & Mollie Chapman’s Flexible.

Kent Farrington and RCG Farm’s Uceko also jumped a clear round over tonight’s course and finished on an 18 fault total to earn the fourth place prize overall.

Beezie Madden and Abigail Wexner’s Cortes C were the only other pair to clear the course. Madden and Cortes C carried 20 faults into tonight’s round and remained at that score for the overall standings. She ended up tied for the fifth place prize with Laura Kraut and Stars and Stripes’ Teirra.

Commenting on the decision to share the title and not jump another round, Engle explained, “I actually thought beforehand that it was a lot of jumping that the horses had done and it has been really hot all week. Four rounds in basically three days is a lot. My horse had plenty of energy, but it is a lot of jumping big jumps and you want to have a little bit left, have something left at the end. We still have two more observation trials and an Olympics. I went to Reed, and for the welfare of the horses, it was the best idea to save them and not do anymore pounding. They jumped their hearts out and I think it was best to try and save them for what’s really important for what’s ahead. It was a quick decision for me. This way there are no losers. Both of us are happy this way.”

Kessler agreed with the decision, but left the ultimate choice up to her trainer, Katie Prudent. “I don’t make those big decisions; Katie does. But for Katie, it immediately made sense,” Kessler stated. “I agree with Margie. We have the jog first thing in the morning and these horses have been jumping huge tracks all week. I would hate to be greedy and make them do one more round and god forbid something went wrong for the jog tomorrow. I’d hate to be greedy just for the money or the title. I thought that was a great idea and Katie made the decision. I said it was awesome because she (Margie) was 99% probably going to beat me.”

Margie Engle and Indigo

Engle’s mount Indigo is a twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Indoctro, owned by Griese, Garber, Hidden Creek and Gladewinds.

Engle spoke about tonight’s class in comparison to the difficult track that they jumped on Thursday night. “I thought it was a good course. After the other night, it’s what I expected,” she said. “My horse felt great. The rail that I had was more my mistake. I kind of rushed the turn a little bit. I was kind of worried about the time. I just hurried a little bit and I pushed him at it. He’s very sensitive, so if I push him too much…I just got a little bit past it. The rest he felt great. I was really proud of him. I didn’t come into this where I wanted him, jumping fitness-wise, but he’s got so much blood and so much heart. He just digs down and just keeps trying harder and harder all the time.”

Kessler’s mount Cylana is a ten-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare by Skippy II x Darco.
The pair has been together just five months.

Kessler’s voice shook with emotion as she took in the magnitude of her accomplishments this week. Earlier in the week, she was the only rider to jump double clear through the first two rounds. Although she had rails with both of her horses in the later rounds, she still remained at the top of the standings in a field of exceptional horses and riders, and now the possibility of an Olympic dream lies open.

Reed Kessler in her winning presentation with Katherine Bellissimo, ringmaster Cliff Haines, Paige and Nicole Bellissimo, Sally Ike of the USEF, and Mark Bellissimo

“I just can’t even believe I’m sitting here. I really didn’t think I would be in this position,” Kessler said after the class. “I was just looking forward to having a really positive first experience and so far it has been that! I think it would be unrealistic of me just to expect to be on the team. I have no experience and Cylana and Mika are both relatively green at this level too. From here on in, I’ll do whatever (Chef d’Equipe) George (Morris) tells me and I’ll do my very best. It has just been the best week of my life. I couldn’t predict any further because I could not possibly have predicted this.”

Kessler spoke about the difference between her two mounts, explaining, “They are polar opposites. Mika is in general pretty nervous. We spoil the daylights out of him to get him to be cheeky and confident. He has become such a confident horse. I think just finishing the trials like this has really raised his level. Normally the way I ride him, I just pick up a lick and don’t use that much leg at the jump because it just flattens him out. He has such a tremendous amount of scope for how little leg I use. It has been a really interesting experience for me because through the trials. He has jumped and jumped and gotten more fatigued, and I have had to change my ride a bit. I can’t describe the amount I have learned about my horses and myself through this experience.”

“Cylana on the other hand is the total workman. She is so brave and so unemotional,” Kessler declared. “We joke that she doesn’t have that much of a personality. She’s kind of bratty in the barn. She’s not the most lovely and delicate little thing, but she is all business all the time. She is so scopey and so easy. They’re really both very different, but they’re both phenomenal. With her, it is two different experiences. Before Florida, she had never jumped above 1.45m. I’ve only had her for about five months. At night she has only done one or two other night classes now. She got very electric with how much pressure I was under. I was a little electric too! I think I had the last jump down because I pushed her a little and got a little excited. During the day, it’s a normal ride helping her at the base of the jump, cantering and lifting and supporting. Under the lights, it’s a lot less leg.”

Margie Engle and Indigo are honored in their presentation

Prior to the Trial, a full schedule of jumper competition was held throughout the day in the International Arena. Kelsey Thatcher started out the day with a win in the Surpass Medium Amateur-Owner Jumpers aboard Pony Lane Farm’s Klotaire Du Moulin. Kira Kerkorian earned a victory in the Griffis Group High Junior Jumpers riding Lisa Kerkorian’s Malcolm. Randy Levesque and his own Lyla won a class in the Masters Jumpers. Meagan Nusz then jumped to a win in the $15,000 SJHOF High Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic with Amalaya Investments’ Vesuvius.

Saturday Hunter Champs Beat The Heat

Tracy Scheriff-Muser of Wellington, FL, rode to the top of this week’s Bainbridge Amateur-Owner Hunter 18-35 division atop her mount, Absolut. The pair scored two firsts, a second and a third over fences and finished second under saddle to capture the championship tricolor with 36 points. Reserve honors were awarded to Moshi, an eight-year-old Belgian Warmblood ridden by Stephanie Riggio. Riggio and her mount finished second, second, third and fourth over fences and third under saddle, earning 22 points for reserve.

The winning mount, Absolut, is a ten-year-old KWPN by Cassini. The dark grey gelding was imported by Morgan Thomas as a five-year-old and purchased by Scheriff-Muser within a week of his arrival. Dubbed “JJ” in the barn, Absolut began his show career as a Pre-Green and First Year Green Hunter and has since found success in the Amateur-Owner Hunter ring. According to Scheriff-Muser, finding Absolut was a blessing. “He has turned out to be the best horse ever,” she added. “He’s just a good boy, so reliable and so much fun to ride.”

Tracy Scheriff-Muser and Absolut

Following today’s victory, Sheriff-Muser commented on JJ’s performance in the show ring. “Yesterday he was really good,” she explained, “He just had a light rub in the first class, and he went well in the handy and ended up second. Then, he was just on his game today and won both classes.”

Describing JJ’s personality in the barn, she added, “He’s always sleeping when I show up. I go in the stall and sit with him and I’ll make him a pile of carrots and hang out. He’s really sweet and very lazy!”

Scheriff-Muser, a rider of twenty years, is a veteran of the FTI WEF circuit. This season, she has been happy to compete in the 3’3″ Amateur-Owners as well on her mounts Macallan and Iraval. Macallan is a nine-year-old Holsteiner by Carentino, and Iraval is a seven-year-old Holsteiner by Lasino. In the coming weeks, the Amateur rider is looking forward to wrapping up the season and watching the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.

Tracy Scheriff-Muser and Absolut receive championship honors

Additional hunter champions this week include Right In Time, who won the 2’6″ Low Hunter division, and South Hill, who topped this week’s Pre-Green 3 & 4 Year Old division. Right In Time is a six-year-old bay Warmblood owned and shown by Elizabeth Ott, while South Hill is a four-year-old bay Warmblood owned by Stephen Dixon and shown by Wayne McLellen. 

The eleventh week of competition at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival will conclude on Sunday with the $25,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic at 2 p.m. in the International Arena. The Coldwell Banker Children’s Hunter 15-17 division will present championship honors in Ring 8.

For full results, please visit www.showgroundslive.com.

Photo Credit: Photos © Sportfot, Official Sport Photographer of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, www.us.sportfot.com . This photo may be used only in relation to this press release and must include photo credit.