Bound for Excellence: Meet the Heritage Farm Riders in the 2021 WEF Equitation Championship
Seven Heritage Farm riders have qualified for the 2021 WEF Equitation Championship. The group includes Natalie Jayne, who received WEF's prestigious Christy Conard Perpetual Trophy for Equestrian Excellence in 2020. Photo by KIND Media, LLC.
After a one-year hiatus, the WEF Equitation Championship returns to the International Arena Friday, March 26, 2021 as the most prestigious equitation event of Wellington, FL's 13-week circuit.
The uniquely formatted class, a three-round event in which riders compete without the guidance of a trainer, is open only to riders that have won a 3'6" equitation class during the Winter Equestrian Festival, Holiday and Horses and Holiday Finale competitions between November 2020 and March 2021. With many of the country's major operations in Wellington for the winter season, the WEF Equitation Championship frequently provides an early foreshadowing of results to come later in the year, in the division's major indoor equitation finals.
Heritage Farm has played a significant role in the class since its inception, when in 2008, Maggie McAlary won the inaugural event. From 2012-2014, Heritage riders claimed three straight victories. Victoria Colvin remains the only rider to win the class twice, doing so in 2012 and 2014 (previous winners are no longer eligible to compete); in between her titles, Lillie Keenan rode to top honors in 2013.
Heritage returns to the WEF Equitation Championship in 2021 with seven qualified riders, all of varying ages and levels of experience, whose wins span the ASPCA Maclay, USEF Medal, USEF Talent Search and WIHS Equitation events in what has been a highly successful circuit for the operation. For head trainer Andre Dignelli, the journey has been as rewarding as the destination.
"We’ve had an incredible circuit," Dignelli said. "What happens Friday is icing on the cake for us. This is a great opportunity for our kids to show us what they know and, in some instances, show us what they might not yet know, but what these kids have done in these weeks has already been tremendous."
Get to know Heritage Farm's seven riders bound for the 2021 WEF Equitation Championship, as they share their thoughts on the competition's meaning, its challenges and how they're preparing:
Natalie Jayne and Heritage Farm's Charisma. Photo by KIND Media, LLC.
Hometown: Elgin, IL
Natalie Jayne received the Christy Conard Trophy for Equestrian Excellence in 2020, awarded to the junior rider who earns the most points in the USEF Medal, USEF Talent Search, ASPCA Maclay and WIHS Overall equitation classes throughout the circuit. The 17-year-old leads those standings again as the 2021 winter season nears its conclusion.
"This class has always been a class I look forward to, and I’m especially excited to compete in it this year after last year's cancellation," Jayne said. "It would mean a lot to win, especially since I’m currently leading the circuit in equitation points. I think I, along with a lot of other people, have high expectations, so I hope that I can meet or exceed them."
Jayne, undisputedly considered to be one of the nation's top junior equitation riders, will ride Heritage Farm's accomplished equitation horse Charisma in the WEF Equitation Championship. The pair finished third in the inaugural WEC Premier Cup Equitation Final in Ocala, FL in February.
"Heritage does everything they can to prepare us for this class, from setting up difficult courses for lessons to going over the rules and how to school properly with us," Jayne said. "I think what sets them apart is that they really pay attention to each individual student."
Brooke Brombach and Heritage Farm's Insilvio del Maset. Photo by Catie Staszak Media, Inc.
Hometown: Wimberley, TX
Primarily based in Texas at her mother Colleen's Silver Fox Farms, Brooke Brombach first rode with Heritage Farm at the 2020 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final in Tryon, NC, before reconnecting with the operation this winter.
"I’m excited about it. [As a 17-year-old], this will be my first and last year [in the class]," Brombach said. "I won a class at a Texas show earlier this year where I didn't have any [trainer] eyes on me, and I won. Now I just need to do it with the pressure of riding at WEF."
When in need of a mount for the division, Brombach was given the opportunity to ride Heritage Farm's talented Insilvio del Maset. The pair connected, and results quickly followed. Brombach qualified for the WEF Equitation Championship with a win in the USEF Medal during WEF 8.
"Insilvio is a very, very good boy, and I'm lucky I'm getting to ride him," Brombach said. "I'm constantly learning about him with every day and every lesson. Andre always thinks there's something to be improved upon, and that's how I love to learn. However many rounds I ride [in the class], I just want to put in consistent rounds that are respectable."
Amira Kettaneh and Gossip SA. Photo by Anne Gittins Photography
Hometown: Hollis, NH
Amira Kettaneh began her partnership with her 9-year-old mare Gossip SA at last year's Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Finals—East, and the two have become a formidable team, securing an early qualification for the WEF Equitation Championship by taking the WIHS Overall title at the Holiday Finale. In February, the pair finished 7th in the inaugural WEC Premier Cup Equitation Final in Ocala, FL.
"At Heritage, we learn how to determine what questions the course is asking us and how to best answer them," Kettaneh explained. "The kids who are able to independently prepare their horses and themselves in the schooling area for the questions the course is asking and then be able to execute the course with a plan that has both your and your horse's strengths and weaknesses in mind are the ones who are going to stand out and do well. "I think this class is special, because it gives us riders the opportunity to independently practice what our trainers have been teaching us, about working on parts of the course in the schooling area, making a plan for your course and then executing it to the best of your ability."
Austin Krawitt and Heritage Farm's Lindos van't Oudbos. Photo by Catie Staszak Media, Inc.
Hometown: Okotoks, Alberta, CAN
A new rider to Heritage, Austin Krawitt had already secured his qualification for the WEF Equitation Championship upon joining the team midway through the winter season. Pairing up with Heritage Farm's Lindos van't Oudbus, Krawitt is eager to return to the International Arena for the class after its cancellation a year ago; he made his debut in the event in 2019.
"I’m really excited," he said. "Two years ago, I rode in the class for the first time and ended up in the top 10. Now that I’ve got two more years of experience under my belt, I'm pretty pumped. It's also nice to have a good team behind you. "Lindos is still new to the equitation, but I think he's going to be a top eq horse when he figures it all out," he added. "I really like the horse. He's got a good personality, he lands both leads, he's big-strided, and he's got the scope. I'm quite excited to see where it goes."
Baylee McKeever and Salvatore. Photo by KIND Media, LLC.
Hometown: Brewster, NY
Baylee McKeever won her first WEF Big Eq event when topping the USEF Medal at WEF 7 with her longtime partner, Salvatore. McKeever, who has trained with Heritage since her pony days, credits her career-best season to consistency.
"I think this year, I’ve been more consistent," she said. "Last year, I only came down for three weeks, and then the season got cut short. This year, I've been able to spend all season down here. "All the top riders are all down here—who you see in the finals," she added. "With no trainers at the ingate, the format really separates riders. It would be amazing to have a good result." Grateful to have an additional year of experience ahead of her as a 16-year-old, McKeever draws confidence for her WEF Equitation Championship debut from a strong support team, one that includes her mount. "Sal was my first equitation horse. He’s always been there for me and has taken me through all the finals," she said. "I know he's always going to give me 100 percent, and I have a lot of trust in him."
Alida Treuting and Bristol des Tuileries. Photo by Catie Staszak Media, Inc.
Hometown: Long Island, NY
Ali Treuting secured qualification for her first WEF Equitation Championship by topping the USEF Talent Search 2* during WEF's fifth week of competition. The talented 14-year-old, as a working student, has ridden a myriad of mounts for Heritage this winter, which she credits for much of her success in her first WEF season of consistent Big Eq competition.
"I'm very excited," she said. "This is the first year I've competed in the Big Eq all winter long here. I've come a long way from where I'm started, even from the start of the season. Riding different horses almost every week and showing different horses in the equitation this winter has helped me to better understand the horses, and when a horse steps into the ring and maybe doesn’t feel the same as in the schooling area, I'm able to adjust."
Treuting will ride a new mount, Bristol des Tuileries, in the WEF Equitation Championship. The pair made their debut during Week 9 and are training for all the potential tests the class will present.
"We work a lot at home on different courses and answering different questions that could be presented to us," she said. "We just set new course, which we walked on our own and figured out almost as if it were the Championship. Heritage always takes all the extra steps to make sure we are prepared. It really sets them apart."
Skylar Wireman and Heritage Farm's Guardian. Photo Courtesy Skylar Wireman.
Hometown: Bonsall, CA
Skylar Wireman made her WEF debut a winning one, flying in from California for a week and topping the USEF Talent Search 2* during Week 6. Her winning mount was Heritage Farm's Guardian; the pair will reunite for the WEF Equitation Championship.
"Riding with Heritage and Andre has been so amazing. I have only had one week riding with them so far, but I really like Andre’s style of teaching and focusing on the rider's effectiveness," Wireman said. "It was so much fun to lesson with other top junior equitation riders and watch and learn from them." The week before returning to Wellington, Wireman rode to runner-up honors in the R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship at the Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, CA—a class that is held in a similar format to the WEF Equitation Championship.
"I am looking forward to doing this class in Florida, because it is such a fun class in California. I am also looking forward to getting to know [Guardian] more," she said. "To win this class would mean so much to me, because the horse is new to me, and it would mean being competitive against the best equitation riders in the country."