Kansas City, Mo. – The 2023 show season for saddle seat equitation athletes came to its exciting conclusion on Saturday with the USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final at the UPHA American Royal National Championship Horse Show. A total of 16 entries came to compete in the final, which took place in two phases on a single day.
Isabelle Fischer (Villa Hills, Ky.) closed out her wildly successful season by winning the champion title and gold medal in the final, riding Sugar Fund, her 2015 American Saddlebred gelding. Fischer is trained by Shelley Fisher at Sugar Knoll Farm in Dayton, Ohio.
“I felt like this morning, we had a really good rail and a really, really good pattern,” said Fischer. “I was especially proud of our phase one pattern and the no-stirrups. And then in phase two, I felt like our rail was still strong, but I think the pattern was probably one of our best ever.”
The judging panel of Heather Boodey, Betsy Boone, and Dwayne Knowles tested the riders with two different equitation patterns across the two phases of the final. The workouts included intricate circles and diagonal lines around the arena that required thoughtful horsemanship to execute gait transitions in short spaces. The phase one workout included a no-stirrups posting trot on the rail at the end, requiring riders to perform a strong final pass in front of the judges while maintaining their position and balance without irons.
Fischer was one of the busiest riders at the show, riding in three performance classes on her other horses—and winning all three of them—in between the two phases of the medal final. She prepares for these grueling show days with a rigorous schedule of lessons and time at the barn.
“I’m at the barn three days a week,” said Fischer. “I do equitation lessons two of those days, and then on the weekend, I do some show horse rides and more eq lessons. I really think just the time I spend at the barn and getting to know my horses has really helped me, especially in tight situations like today where I have to get on and maybe have only a few rails to get warmed up. I just know them so well after all this time practicing with them and learning their personalities and what they like. I feel like it’s just really getting to know them and becoming their friend and partner.”
Fischer started riding Sugar Fund, known around the barn as “Belmont,” at the beginning of 2023, and the pair quickly became a formidable partnership in the equitation ring, picking up wins at every show on their schedule, including the Senior Equitation Championship at the World’s Championship Horse Show in Louisville. Earlier this week at the American Royal, the pair won the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Final before coming back to repeat the feat in the USEF Saddle Seat Medal Final.
Fischer and Belmont are all business in the show ring, but back in the barn, they’re best friends who clearly enjoy each other’s company.
“He’s very playful and very sweet, too,” said Fischer. “He’s very energetic all the time. He likes to go fast. And he loves bananas and Gatorade. It’s really cool to get to do this and to get to do it with him. I’m really grateful and really proud of our rides, but it’s a little sad, because he’s been such a great partner this year, and I kind of wish I could do it all again. But I’m so proud of him.”
Having won just about everything there is to win in the sport, and with one more year left as a junior exhibitor, Fischer says she’s going to take the winter to figure out what’s next for her equestrian career and what’s next for Belmont. Whatever she decides, she’s already had an impact on the sport, as evidenced by the young aspiring equitation riders who stopped by her stalls to congratulate her and pose for photos.
“It’s something that I’m really grateful to be able to do for people,” said Fischer. “I really am astonished that I can inspire people. I would have never believed that—I’m a pretty normal, clumsy person, and the fact that I can inspire other riders is really cool to get to do.”
The reserve champion title and silver medal went to Patrick McMurtrie (Orefield, Pa.) riding Nirvana's Queen of the Night, a 2015 American Saddlebred mare owned by Michelle Rivard and trained by Tara Wentz-Goosley. Bostyn Leffler (Zionsville, Ind.) won the bronze medal riding her own 2016 American Saddlebred mare, Soquili's Written in the Stars, trained by Dalton Budd.
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