Kansas City, Mo. – The 2022 competition season for saddle seat equitation riders closed with a grand finale at the UPHA American Royal National Championship in Kansas City. The USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final, one of the oldest and most prestigious classes for saddle seat riders, was held on Saturday, Nov. 12, and saw 15 finalists compete for the championship.
Ella White (Medina, Ohio) took home the day’s top prize riding Jalapena Lena, her own American Saddlebred/Dutch Harness Horse cross. Isabelle Fischer (Villa Hills, Ky.) won the reserve champion title riding Sylvanhall’s Pistachio, a 2016 American Saddlebred gelding owned by Dream Blue LLC.
Hearing her name as the winning entry was a thrilling moment for White.
“I had so many thoughts going through my head,” she said. “I had always dreamed of making it back to the top ten, and when I ended up being one of two riders standing, it just felt so surreal. After they called my name, I was so emotional because I felt like all of my hard work had paid off.”
The USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final is held in two phases on a single day. All competitors perform railwork and a pattern during the preliminary phase at the start of the Saturday morning session. The judging panel then selects the finalists to return for additional railwork and a new pattern in the final phase at the end of the afternoon session. Each phase counts equally toward the overall results. The judging panel of Anne Judd (Lutz, Fla.), Christina Parker (Hortense, Ga.), and Sandy Sessink (South Lyon, Mich.), tested the finalists with patterns that included circles and serpentines, simple lead changes on a straight line, and work without stirrups.
“There was a one-month break in between the Royal and the show before, so I utilized the time to practice as much as possible,” said White. “I would do longe lessons for strength training, and my barnmates and I would do group lessons to sharpen our skills for the show ring. I also do a lot of exercises with resistance bands on days that I cannot make it to the barn. Those rides and exercises helped me in the Final because of the endurance we need to show so much in a day.”
This show marked White’s final outing as a junior exhibitor, and the win was an especially sweet victory with her longtime equitation partner, Jalapena Lena.
“’Hazel’ is one of the kindest souls. She’ll do anything for some love and cuddles,” said White. “She is a Dutch Harness/Saddlebred cross, which makes her a bit on the lofty side. Since she is such a big mover, she’s taught me a lot about how to utilize my muscles in ways I wasn’t used to in order to stay close to the saddle.
“Hazel and I had a very long equitation journey together. My trainers, Erin Boggs and Jose Hernandez, started her from the ground up. She was broke to ride in the winter of 2019, and almost immediately started the road to be an equitation star. Erin trusted me to by Hazel’s little girl, and I am so thankful that she did. Hazel has truly been the best thing that has ever happened to me. She taught me patience, and that good things never come easy. Our journey together was not always easy, but in the long run, all of the frustrations and work we put in was all worth it.”
As part of the prize for winning the USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final, White won a $20,000 scholarship to Stephens College. This scholarship was sponsored by Sally Jackson and Stephens College and is new for 2022. The scholarship was created to support students who are committed to continuing their involvement in the American Saddlebred and equine studies. For more information, visit the USEF Saddle Seat Medal page.