The second edition of the Alltech National Horse Show in Lexington, KY, is set for October 30 through November 4, 2012. The show will once again be held at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.
In addition to world-class show jumping and the country's best and most competitive hunter divisions, the show will also feature one of the nation's longest running and most coveted national championships, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) Maclay National Championship.
Over the years the ASPCA Maclay Finals have been termed the "proving ground of champions" and the ultimate test for America's young riders. And in the case of this classic test of horsemanship skills, that's certainly more fact than hype.
During last year's ASPCA Maclay Finals, it was 17-year-old Sarah Milliren of Sapulpa, Okla., who took top honors. "It's so exciting, I'm so happy," beamed Milliren after leading the victory gallop. "For the second round I had moved down, so I knew I had to give it my all. I feel so honored to win this prestigious national championship."
"It's the culmination of a long year of competition, it's the final national championship, and with all of the history behind it, it's just a great event to be a part of," said top trainer Missy Clark, who, during the course of her stellar career as one of the nation's very best teachers, has sent nine different ASPCA Maclay National Champions to the ring. "If you look back at the names on the Maclay trophy, you see so many names of riders that have gone on to do great things in their careers. If you can get through the Maclay Finals, you can go on and do anything. If you win that class, you've got the goods; you've got the ingredients to do great things."
"Since its beginning in 1933, the ASPCA Maclay has been the most prestigious and coveted award for junior riders, and the ultimate test of horsemanship and partnership between horse and rider," said Valerie Angeli, senior director of equine and special projects for the ASPCA. "To ride in the Maclay is a huge accomplishment on its own, but-to win a Maclay class is truly exceptional, and to win or place in the championship finals elevates a young rider to celebrity rider status."
The ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship Trophy contains the names of some of America's great riders. Previous winners include United States Equestrian Team superstar William Steinkraus in 1941 and his teammate and long time Chef D'Equipe of the U.S. team, Frank Chapot in 1948. World Cup Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Conrad Homfeld won the championship in 1967 and fellow Olympians Leslie Burr Howard (1972), Peter Wylde (1982) and Katharine Burdsall (1975) all got their start with a victory in the ASPCA Maclay Finals. The ASPCA's own Equine Welfare Ambassador, Brianne Goutal took home the coveted title during the 2005 show season, and Hayley Barnhill, also an ASPCA Equine Welfare Ambassador, won the championship in 2010.
Probably, the most impressive name of all on the trophy is that of the legendary George Morris who led the victory gallop at Madison Square Garden in 1952. And this year, for the ASPCA Maclay National Championship, George Morris, along with California's legendary Hap Hansen will be the judges for this prestigious event. "It's an American heritage, a real tradition in our sport," Morris noted last year. "The purpose of this wonderful discipline of equitation is to encourage good horsemanship. Horsemanship is caring for your horse, whether you have a pony or an Olympic jumper."
"It is important to remember that in this competition, just like in any other, true champions are not only the best at what they do, their hearts are in the right place and they truly care," said Angeli. "The ASPCA Maclay is, and always has been about, not just mastering the finest skills in hunt seat equitation; it is about compassion, consideration and responsibility to the horses. Now more than ever we ask our ASPCA Maclay riders to put the welfare of their horses first and think about the many thousands of horses in this country who are not lucky enough to be properly loved and cared for," she noted. "After all, the ASPCA's history is about more than 145 years of protecting the horses who have served man so well throughout time."
And as Clark points out, the ASPCA Maclay Finals have always been an important stepping stone to future equestrian endeavors and success.
"It's a great developmental area for so many of our riders. If you use it as a tool as you move forward in your career, to perfect your riding, to learn about proper position, proper function, that enables you to go on and do so many other things," Clark went on to say. "I think it's an important event in our American system, and if you look back in history at some of the winners, and even the great riders that maybe didn't win, but competed well, you see that verified time and time again."
"The Alltech National Horse Show made an all-out effort to make sure that Maclay Sunday was an extraordinary day," said Mason Phelps, the President of the National Horse Show Association of America. "We were very happy with last year's event, but we're even more excited for 2012 as we make the small, but necessary changes to make Sunday even more exciting. Once again, we will be pulling out all of the stops to make sure this event is superb at every level."
Phelps also noted, "On Sunday at the Alltech National Horse Show, there is no charge at all for General Admission. So, with that in mind, we encourage everyone to come out the show. We hope, that in lieu of the free admission, that anyone visiting us on Sunday will take some time to stop by the ASPCA booth and find out about this great organization and make a contribution to their worthwhile efforts."
"Maclay Day" at the National has always been a pressure packed day of equestrian excellence.
"Maclay day is simply intense," Clark affirmed. "You've prepared harder, and in a more concentrated manner than you have for any other championship. Just like when you're preparing for the Super Bowl, you train harder, right?" she asked. "You're pretty much up all night in preparation, and then competition day is a full day of just intense concentration, with plenty of highs and some lows too. With the Maclay, there's really nothing like it. It's a year's worth of work all boiled down to one intense day of competition."
This year's highly competitive event, pitting America's top juniors in a head to head battle for horsemanship supremacy, takes place on the final Sunday of the Alltech National Horse Show on November 4th.
No matter the winner, that Sunday in November promises to be a very special day, as it has been every year since the inception in 1933.
"I have a friend who is in her 80's and has lived an amazingly adventurous and rich life, having traveled all around the world and done just about everything," Angeli said. "But when asked, she will tell you that one of her proudest accomplishments was riding in the Maclay at Madison Square Garden and competing against Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy) in the 1940's. The Maclay program is framed on her piano as you walk in the door and it states that "the purpose of the ASPCA Maclay competition is to reward young riders, through a serious of tests, for excellence in horsemanship and thoughtfulness to their mounts."
For information on the ASPCA Maclay and the Alltech National Horse Show, please visit the website at: http://www.alltechnationalhorseshow.com/
In addition to hosting the ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Finals, the show will feature a complete schedule of 'AA'-rated hunter divisions, a big money Open Jumper division with a major Grand Prix, and as always, the signature event of the National Horse Show, the ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Finals.
Founded in 1883 at the original Madison Square Garden, the National Horse Show is America's oldest indoor horse show, firmly established as a major fixture on the national and international sports and social event calendars. The National Horse Show Association's primary activity is the annual production of the National Horse Show and all ancillary events. Over the years, the National Horse Show has provided financial aid to many worthwhile charities.
For more information on the National Horse Show Association of America, Limited, please visit www.nhs.org.
Photos (top) Sarah Milliren, winner of the 2011 ASPCA Maclay Championship by Shawn McMillen, and (bottom) Mason Phelps, by Kenneth Kraus.