Tessa Downey Dominates USHJA Gladstone Cup Equitation Classic, Presented by Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College
Coming back for round two of the USHJA Gladstone Cup Equitation Classic, presented by Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College, 18-year-old Tessa Downey sat in 11th place. While that may discourage some, that didn’t stop her from ultimately taking the win.
Aboard her partner of five years, HH Moonshine, Downey captured a first-round score of 86.35, while the leading score was 92, set by Carlee McCutcheon over Joe Carnicom’s track. With added determination, Downey came back 27th of the returning 38 in round two, laying down a foot-perfect round and taking the high score of 90, which held the lead until the second round came to a close.
“My goal was to win this equitation championship, so I felt like I rode to win,” Downey said of her second round plan. “I was instructed to go as tight as I could, take all the tight turns; for example, there was an outside or inside turn to jump one, and I chose the inside and spookier option. I think that decision really paid off and set the mark for the rest of my round.”
But the class wasn’t over yet. Downey, sitting on top, was one of six invited back to switch horses and test for the top spot in the class. To make matters more difficult, they were only allowed 90 seconds of schooling and two warm-up fences with their new mounts. Switching horses with Eve Westfall, who sat in second after round two, Downey put in another stellar round and was named champion.
“I ride with Peter Pletcher and Ken and Emily Smith at Ashland Farms, and Ashland is famous for their sales business, so I’ve had a lot of opportunities to ride many different animals; green, seasoned, all kinds,” Downey said of her ability to quickly adjust to Kasteel WS in the third round. “[I give] all the credit to Ken, Emily and Peter for putting me on animals and making me comfortable.”
But the horse who initially sealed the deal for her was HH Moonshine, who will hopefully accompany Downey to additional equitation finals later this fall.
“I have had Moonshine since I was 13,” she said of her partnership with the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding. “I have done this class three or four times. Two years ago I made the second round but not the test, so we were really going for it. He’s the sweetest horse in the barn, thanks to my mother. He’s a treat monger. He’s just amazing. There’s no other horse quite like him.”
McCutcheon ended up taking the reserve championship after posting the high score in round one and a move-up on the leaderboard following the third round. Her horse, Chacco Star, took the title of Best Equitation Horse. Westfall ended up third.
“It’s a dream come true,” Downey said of topping a field of 112 entries for the win. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities where I feel like I’ve dropped the ball so I feel like I disappointed [HH Moonshine]. But today, I feel like we both really rose to the occasion.”
As Downey looks into the fall season, she sees two things: first, she wants to succeed at all five indoor equitation finals. She also plans to attend the University of Georgia and ride on its equestrian team.
“My trainers and I haven’t made a plan of which horse I’m doing at what final, but I do plan to do all five,” Downey said of the finals season. “Hopefully Moonshine will do some and Efendi will do another; he’s owned by Ashland Farms. I’m really looking forward to finals.”
Traverse City is a major stop on the Houston, TX-based rider’s show schedule, and she has big plans for both Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships and the FEI North American Youth Championships coming up in August.
“I believe I’ve come here the last five years,” she said of attending Flintfields Horse Park. “It’s my favorite show of the year. We’ll stay for six weeks, all the way through NAYC where I’ll compete for Zone 7. My favorite part about Traverse City, besides the show, is the lake on Mondays. It’s so nice to get on the water and the weather is always beautiful.”
Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships begin Thursday with all eight sections of Junior Hunters completing their classic rounds.