The Markel/USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships for Zones 1, 2, 5, and 6 kicked off Wednesday of Traverse City Spring III, the final week of the Traverse City Spring Series, presented by Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel. There were two big winners of the day, with Lisa Goldman-Smolen capturing the win riding Sovereign in the 1.40-1.45m section, and Rylynn Conway taking the top prize on Escada in the 1.30-1.35m division.
Each fence height section, made up of juniors, amateurs and professionals, was challenged to an opening speed class to set the pace for a thrilling weekend of jumping. While the clock was important to take the win, riders also recognized the importance of a clear round, as all faults incurred will count towards both team and individual scores.
Goldman-Smolen was last to go with Barbara Disko’s 17-year-old Selle Français stallion. “I’ve had him for seven years,” Goldman-Smolen said of Sovereign. “He’s been one of the most wonderful horses I’ve ever had the opportunity to ride. He loves his job and he wants to win every time he walks out there. This is his third year in a row doing this championship. He’s just wonderful. He’s been such a solid horse for me.”
It goes without saying that Sovereign is the ultimate championship horse, with two gold medals under his belt already in the Platinum Jumper Championships and chasing a third.
“He can go out there the first day and really lay down the speed trip and then come back in the ring the next time without being too frazzled,” she explained. “He’s also a naturally quick horse so I don’t have to rush him. He’s so consistent for me and loves the atmosphere, loves the pressure, loves the job. The last two years I think I was the only one who was clear all the way through.”
As for whether they’ll keep their winning record, Goldman-Smolen replied, “We’re off to a good start but any jump any day can be a little different. We’re going to give it our all and hope for the best.”
Goldman-Smolen is assuming a different role this year in the USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships as solely a competitor. The past two years she has also served as chef d’equipe, now fully immersing herself in the competitor experience, training clients and spending time with her 2-year-old son.
“It’s really fun to be on a team,” she said of the championship experience. “This year I have one of my barn mates on my team. It’s a different kind of pressure and a different kind of atmosphere. Unless you’re at the top level you don’t really get to compete on a team, so it’s fun to have that different pressure and the camaraderie you get with your teammates.”
Conway, just 15 years old, was the one to catch in the 1.30-1.35m section with her own Escada, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare.
“I’ve had her for a little over six months and she’s been perfect,” Conway said of Escada. “She was doing the high juniors before I got her and I tried her and loved her. We started in the low juniors and now we’re hoping to keep moving up.”
Conway set a quick pace of 65.736 seconds, and as riders tried to chase her time, rails fell as a result, keeping the total clear rounds to just seven pairs heading into day two of competition.
The plan was clear, and Conway’s confidence in her horse helped her get to the finish line clear and efficiently, taking the lead. “I was hoping to have a solid round and a good pace throughout it because this counts for the individual and team day. I was just hoping to have a good round,” she explained.
“I like it,” Conway said of the USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships. “I did [NAYC] last year so it’s similar to that. It’s a fun championship to do.”\
While she’s all game in the show ring, Escada has a bit of a different personality back home. “She has a big attitude,” Conway joked. “When I flat her she’s very lazy but when she gets in the ring she puts her ears up and gets more excited and goes more.”
Conway hopes to add a top result to her resume at this championship to help her prepare for another appearance at the upcoming FEI North American Youth Championships taking place at Traverse City Horse Shows in August.
The USHJA Platinum Jumper Championship continues with the team final on Thursday, followed by a day off for horses and athletes Friday. The championship will conclude Saturday with the individual final.