For Fallon O’Connell, the alley to the ASPCA Maclay Finals has been paved with hours of horse hair, bend grease and old ancient adamantine work.
This Notre Dame Prep senior, from Scottsdale, Ariz., will ride in her first—and only—ASPCA Maclay Finals at the CP Civic Horse Appearance on Nov. 4-5 and has befuddled her all into aloof accepting the befalling to authorize for and attempt at the celebrated equitation competition. For O’Connell, advantageous the challenges that stood amid her, and this cold has accomplished her the bulk of grit, assurance and the accent of a admiring community.
O’Connell was already a green in aerial academy aback she set a “crazy goal” to authorize for and attempt at both the Dover Saddlery/U.S. Hunter Seat Badge and the ASCPA Maclay Finals. Area abounding approaching Medal/Maclay riders alpha assuming in accessible shows in the pony capacity as adolescent children, O’Connell didn’t alpha aggressive until the sixth brand aback her mother, Lori Pillittiere, apparent the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, still aloof in its adolescence in the state.
As a adolescent active in a single-parent household, the bulk of allotment accessible to abutment O’Connell’s adventure was limited, and IEA gave the horseless O’Connell an befalling to accretion appearance arena miles.
In fact, she didn’t participate in accessible shows at all until she was in aerial school, afterwards aing an IEA aggregation in eighth brand accomplished by trainer Kathy Johnson of Willoway Farm in Phoenix, Ariz. Johnson has a continued history of bringing riders to the big eq finals, and O’Connell affiliated with her appropriate away.
“Kathy takes on anymore who is accommodating to assignment hard,” said O’Connell.
Johnson helped O’Connell acquisition a half-lease on an earlier accomplished equitation horse called Mr. Knightly, who O’Connell describes as “the best equitation horse that Arizona had anytime seen.” On “Toby,” O’Connell acquired admired breadth at the 3′ level, assuming in equitation capacity at both ancestry and rated shows.
“I couldn’t accept I had the ride on him,” said O’Connell, who still sounds in awe of her acceptable affluence in affair Toby. “I abstruse a ton on him. He had been to the finals. I anticipate he was consistently so abashed aback he was angry to a bivouac at a ancestry show.”
While leasing Toby, O’Connell abstruse abounding of the abilities all-important to do her own admonishment at shows. It was an acquaintance which both added her horsemanship and helped to accumulate costs down. One of the best admired abilities which O’Connell acquired was the adeptness to anatomy clip. She got so acceptable at it that she began abridgement horses for added riders during appearance season, authoritative money that she again acclimated to accompany her own aggressive and training goals. O’Connell additionally formed at the barn, and Johnson helped abate her costs whenever she could.
When the charter ended, O’Connell begin herself at a crossroads. “We were affectionate of stuck,” said O’Connell. “We are not a big appearance barn, and there were not a lot of added horses to ride. There was annihilation at the barn that could move to 3’6″, and we had no money to spend.”
Undeterred, Johnson began all-encompassing out to a arrangement of colleagues that spanned beyond the country, analytic for a aggressive 3’6″ equitation horse for her accomplished and bent protégé. Best bodies told her she was crazy to apprehend to acquisition a horse with that affectionate of resume in O’Connell’s amount range.
A affiliate of the Board of Directors for the IEA, Johnson beatific a accumulation email to all the IEA coaches aftermost year. A aide in Georgia responded. Brass Verdict, a 15-year-old alarmist nut Hanoverian gelding by Perpignon, had breadth in the inferior hunters and equitation classes with several riders. But he was dark in his larboard eye, and too apathetic for the jumper ring, so equitation was his alone actual niche, and he was affordable.
Johnson went with O’Connell to try “James;” they affiliated immediately, so she and her mother active a charter to acquirement agreement, and James confused west. He is the aboriginal horse she has anytime owned.
With alone two inferior years left, O’Connell anon set to assignment accepting to apperceive her new horse, who she describes as sometimes not absent to be on her team. “We accomplished him and acquainted up his crabbed work,” said O’Connell. “He can be absolutely slow.”
O’Connell credits her all-encompassing acquaintance as an IEA accession with actuality able to amount out James so quickly. IEA shows are structured application a “catch-riding” format, area competitors ride an alien horse with alone bound countdown afore a class. O’Connell has been captivated to see the alignment abound in acceptance aback she aboriginal joined; her aggregation now has added than 20 riders and there are consistently 200 rides at a show. She has competed at the IEA Civic Championships several times, served on the civic IEA Youth Board and is her team’s captain.
“I am acceptable at benumbed altered horses because of IEA,” said O’Connell. “I haven’t had accessible horses. I appetite to accord horses their best ride.”
O’Connell says that her IEA acquaintance has additionally accomplished her admired activity lessons, such as the accent of teamwork. The day afore she larboard to attempt at the Badge Final, O’Connell was at an IEA show; she acquainted accusable about defective to leave early, afore her teammates rode in the cross-rail classes, so she could accomplish it to Harrisburg, Pa., for the Badge Final. “You basis for anniversary other, booty affliction of the horses calm and get to apperceive all of the horse’s quirks,” said O’Connell. “It gives kids afterwards a ton of money a adventitious to appearance and ride.”
In her aboriginal division assuming James, O’Connell did aloof one appearance at the 3’3″ akin afore affective up to the 3’6″ equitation. “We able for the Badge Final that year but couldn’t allow to go and not be competitive,” said O’Connell.
That meant that the 2017 season—her aftermost as a junior—had to be “all in” for O’Connell if she capital to accomplish her dream of aggressive at the equitation finals a reality. They showed at venues O’Connell had never been to, including the Colorado Horse Park, Tucson (Ariz.) and HITS Thermal (Calif.), with O’Connell about accomplishing all of her own affliction and allowance others in adjustment to cut costs. They additionally approved to be cardinal in how they competed. “The plan was to try to get Badge points,” said O’Connell. “We would address in, do the class, and again go home. We didn’t accept the money to do all of the shows.”
When she and James catholic to the Colorado Horse Park for three weeks of assuming at the Summer in the Rockies series, she started out with alone a scattering of condoning points. “I basically had three weeks to qualify,” she said. “My trainer doesn’t usually put a lot of burden on me, but she fabricated it bright that we were there for a reason.”
The added beforehand worked. O’Connell put in some of her best performances to date, authoritative the top four in all weeks. “The aftermost anniversary we had to accomplish it to the top four in adjustment to qualify,” said O’Connell. “We absolutely won. So bisected of my dream had appear true…we knew we were activity to the Badge Final.”
But accepting able for the Maclay was accession story, aback condoning is based on a rider’s agreement in a bounded final. “We may be a baby region, but it is acutely competitive,” said O’Connell. The brace had a accessory blast in a countdown chic the anniversary afore regionals. “It was the best affair that could accept happened, because I had gotten a little relaxed,” said O’Connell. The blow helped O’Connell to acuminate her focus at a analytical moment. Regionals were captivated at the Colorado Horse Park on Sept. 17; activity into the competition, alone the top seven were affirmed to advance. O’Connell accomplished the day in eighth place.
A abbreviate time afterwards accepting home, O’Connell got the letter in the mail that arrive her to attempt at the ASPCA Maclay Final. Despite her excitement, she knew the cruise east would amount bags of dollars. O’Connell activated for and accustomed the Leo Conroy Maclay Grant, awarded to able riders demonstrating banking need.
The grant, which covers her access fees and arrest as able-bodied as a $1,000 allowance against added show-related expenses, has gone a continued way appear allowance awning the costs of accommodating at the finals. In addition, O’Connell says that the greater equestrian association has all pitched in to help; some, like the horse hauler, are alone charging her cost. Friends in Colorado are hosting James in the weeks amid the finals.
O’Connell and James competed in the Dover Saddlery/U.S. Badge finals in Harrisburg, Pa., on Oct. 15, and she abstruse a lot from the experience. “I had never been to a aback east finals, never apperception the Pennsylvania National,” said O’Connell. “James isn’t spooky, but he is the laziest horse I’ve anytime ridden. Our d plan for him is usually to do basal classes, few jumps, and accumulate him affective with ablaze hacking.”
In Harrisburg, O’Connell said that the countdown for her badge annular was one of her best ever, and it seemed like her alertness was working. “I was so agitative sitting at the in-gate,” said O’Connell. “He was so bland off my leg.” But her annular didn’t go as planned. “I got in there, and I anticipate he got so nervous,” she recalled. “His stride shrunk, and he didn’t appetite to do anything. I accord him a lot of acclaim though, because he still jumped about for me.”
O’Connell thinks that the atmosphere at the Kentucky Horse Park will be bigger for James, and she has a new strategy. “I am activity to get him out on the cross-country acreage and appearance him in some altered rings,” said O’Connell. “I aloof appetite to accomplish abiding that mentally, he is in a altered place. I appetite to accomplish abiding he is happy. If he is in a acceptable place, again I will apperceive that we will do our best.”
In the future, O’Connell hopes to accouterment accession of her “crazy dreams”—to be a able trainer. She has taken abundant afflatus from the women about her, abnormally Johnson, with whom she sits to beam her teaching and accept what she is cerebration for anniversary rider. O’Connell is additionally beholden for the abutment of her mother. “I don’t apperceive of accession ancestor who has put themselves a like she has so their adolescent can chase their dreams,” said O’Connell.
And aback these finals are over, O’Connell will accompany that ability and acquaintance aback to her home barn, to her IEA team, and will be accommodating to share. “Equitation is the foundation for everything,” she said. “Look at McLain Ward and Hunter Holloway over the top of a jump. Form follows function. What I accept abstruse over the accomplished four years is that I don’t apperceive anything. I appetite to apprentice more.”
Wondering how O’Connell does on Nov. 4-5? Accomplish abiding to chase forth with the Chronicle. We’ll accept a round-by-round blog of the ASPCA Maclay Final Annular 1 starting at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, complete with a description of the course, and added round-by-round activity for the collapsed appearance and Annular 2 on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 5, followed by absolute coverage. Don’t absence a moment on www.coth.com!
IMPORTANT LINKS: All the COTH CP Civic Horse Appearance coverage | What You Charge To Know | live results/order of go | live streaming | show website
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