Kansas City, Mo. – The top saddle seat equitation riders in the U.S. faced a rigorous challenge on Saturday, November 16, as they competed for top honors in the USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final at the United Professional Horseman’s Association (UPHA)/American Royal National Championship Horse Show. Twelve of the 19 horse-and-rider combinations in the preliminary ride-offs were called back for the final round of competition by judges Kim Cowart (Statesville, N.C.), Michael Craghead (Fresno, Calif.), and Elizabeth McBride Jones (Raeford, N.C.). The stakes were high as these elite riders performed rail work and a complex individual pattern for a chance at the championship title and the prestigious Adrian Van Sinderen Trophy.
Michael Arquilla (Woodridge, Ill.) was crowned champion in the 2019 USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final. Trained by Sheri Brandl, the judges saw Arquilla’s depth of skill and finesse as he performed every test with grace and precision. Arquilla was presented with the Helen K. Crabtree and Adrian Van Sinderen trophies by 2018 USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final champion Haley Berget.
Seventeen-year-old Arquilla had an outstanding competition year culminating with the Medal Final win, as well as a win in the UPHA Challenge Cup Final on Thursday. “All of this is about hard work and I’m glad that it paid off. I know I put in the work and sometimes [the results] weren’t what I wanted, but in the end, things have worked out great,” said Arquilla.
Arquilla rode CH(EQ)Mooi Mooi, Sharon Arquilla’s 14-year-old American Saddlebred gelding, in the preliminary round but elected to ride another horse, My Sudden Surprise, for the final round when he felt his gelding was slightly lame. “[CH(EQ)Mooi Mooi] has the heart of a champion. Even when he’s tired, he still tries his hardest just like any great athlete,” said Arquilla.
Arquilla began working with “Nelson” when he was just 10-years-old. Arquilla, his mother, Sharon, and his trainers saw the horse had incredible potential, but the gelding had a long way to go before he was ready for the equitation ring. “I’ve had ‘Nelson’ for seven years. He came to us as a driving horse and he didn’t even know how to canter! I’m proud of how far he’s come,” said Arquilla.
Alayna Applegate (Ewing, Ky.) claimed the reserve champion title and the silver medal for the second consecutive year. The youngest competitor in the field of 19 rode Kalarama’s New Moon, her nine-year-old American Saddlebred gelding. “I am always working on rising to the top but if I can stay right here, I’ll stay right here as long as I can. It is so much fun,” said Applegate.
“Moonpie” and Applegate are a relatively new partnership of six months. “This was only [Kalarama’s New Moon] third equitation final ever, with the other two being this year! I’m so proud of him,” said Applegate. “He went in there are totally knocked those patterns out today. He is amazing.”
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2019 USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final Top 10
Champion: Michael Arquilla (Woodridge, Ill.)
Reserve Champion: Alayna Applegate (Ewing, Ky.)
Third: Isabella Privitera (Mission Hills, Kan.)
Fourth: Finn Cooper (Denver Colo.)
Fifth: Sophie Yi (Alamo, Calif.)
Sixth: Gabriella Snyder (St. Louis, Mo.)
Seventh: Dawson Archibald (Andover, Kan.)
Eighth: Ashley Perry (Londonderry, N.H.)
Ninth: Kaylee Atkinson (Oro Valley, Ariz.)
Tenth: Ella Hampton (Sheridan, Ind.)
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Photo by: Howard Schatzberg