The 2023 Capital Challenge Horse Show, held at Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, got everyone’s adrenaline pumping on Thursday, October 6, as riders raced over the course for wins in the North American League (NAL) Jumper Finals, and two champions were crowned.
In the $10,000 NAL Children’s Jumper Final, presented by EquiFit, Collin Sweetnam of Wellington, FL, turned and burned with Just Noble to claim the top prize in 34.580 seconds. Kendall Casaccio of Marmora, NJ, and Indigo ES ran away with the win in the $10,000 NAL Adult Amateur Jumper Final, presented by SmartPak, in 36.048 seconds.
The Best Children’s Jumper Rider Award, sponsored by Memorial Park Hunters, went to Sweetnam, and Casaccio earned the Best Adult Amateur Jumper Rider Award, sponsored by MeadowGrove Inc. For her award, Casaccio received the Belfield Trophy, donated by Julie Karpan.
Thirteen horse-and-rider combinations found the clear path over the challenging track designed by Joe Carnicom (USA) and Megan Rawlins (CAN) to advance to the jump-off.
“In the first round, it was pretty tricky for us in a small indoor under the lights,” noted Sweetnam, 13. “There was a lot of pressure. I think she handled it well, and I handled it well. When I went clear, I just got some water and I chilled out for second, then went over my jump-off to be prepared.”
One of the first to return to tackle the short course, Sweetnam put the pedal to the metal, setting a time to beat that could not be caught.
“The jump-off was quite straightforward,” noted Sweetnam. “There were no really sneaky turns; I just went really fast and tried my best, and my horse was amazing. In the first round I was nervous, but in the second round I was like, ‘I got this. I’m prepared.’ It was very fun zipping around that ring.”
Sweetnam has been partnered with the 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare by Character 1243 since November 2022, having inherited the ride from his sister, accomplished junior rider Olivia. While they were completely in sync for this victory, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“She’s pretty small, but she’s very, very quick,” said Sweetnam of the mare known as Noelle in the barn. “During the winter, the whole time she was very hard to learn on. It looks so easy because she’s so smooth and so fast, but once you get on her, she’s actually difficult. She’s very quick, but you win a lot when you get to know her. Once I got to learn her, she was amazing.”
For Sweetnam, horses are running through his veins. His father is Irish Olympian Shane Sweetnam, currently ranked twelfth in the world, and his mother is top trainer Ali Sweetnam at their family’s Sweet Oak Farm in Wellington, FL. When asked about his family, Collin did not hesitate in expressing his appreciation for their support.
“My dad inspires me a lot, and he’s amazing,” he said. “My mom is incredible, and she helps me a lot with my nervousness.”
Vivian Golden, 14, of Wyomissing, PA, raced into second place in 35.167 seconds with her own Chester, a 16-year-old Warmblood gelding by Camero M. Completing the top three was Grace Lowe, 15, of Arlington, VA, aboard her own Kilbrackan Blue Jay, a nine-year-old irish Sport Horse gelding by Plot Blue. They crossed the timers in 37.961 seconds.
The $12,500 NAL Adult Amateur Jumper Final, presented by SmartPak welcomed 31 entries into the Show Place Arena, but only one would come out the winner. Kendall Casaccio of Marmora, NJ, and Indigo ES were fastest out of a jump-off field of nine for a wire-to-wire victory.
Casaccio and Indigo ES set the time to beat at 36.048 seconds as the first ones to return for the jump-off over a course designed by Joe Carnicom (USA) and Meghan Rawlins (CAN).
“In the last line I did do a winger,” she laughed. “I did seven strides down the last line, which was a little bit of a stretch for me. I did really commit, and she had my back, so that’s all I can ask for.”
She then had to wait in the schooling ring to see if her time would hold.
“As I was walking around the schooling area, my heart was racing, because the in-gate kept announcing my time as the one to beat, the one to beat, the one to beat,” she remembered. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, did all these horses go and I held on to it this long?’ Because typically the first is the worst spot in the jump-off, but I was so happy that I was able to hold onto it the whole time. It was definitely a pressure cooker for sure.”
Casaccio has ridden Indigo ES since the spring of 2022 after she purchased the horse from Emil Spadone, who has helped train her at shows since she was 14 years old. “She’s a little quirky, but I just love her to death,” said Casaccio of the 10-year-old KWPN mare by Dantos. “She’s such a sweet horse in the barn. She’s a little weird; she’s a little spooky at certain things, but I totally get her. She gets me, and I get her, and I really do love her.”
Casaccio and her main trainer Chrissy Covarrubias, whom Casaccio has trained with for 20 years, make a good team at horse shows taking care of the horses themselves and braiding.
Having shown at Capital Challenge Horse Show since she first competed in the equitation age division at 14, Casaccio was excited to take home a big win. “It means so much,” she expressed. “I have been so hungry for a win like this with this mare, because she’s amazing and I just love her.”
The Best Adult Amateur Jumper Rider Award sponsored by MeadowGrove, Inc. was awarded to Casaccio. For their win, they were presented with The Belfield Trophy donated by Julie Karpan.
Second place went to Charlotte Powers of Leesburg, VA, with Escot 6, her own 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Escudo I. They finished the jump-off clear in 36.625 seconds. Madison Smyth of Dayton, MD, and Encore, a Selle Francais gelding, placed third in a time of 37.197 seconds.
The North American League Finals are the culmination of the NAL’s year-long Series that includes classes at hundreds of horse shows across the United States and Canada. The NAL offers year-long series in five divisions: Children’s Hunter, presented by Charles Ancona; Adult Hunter, presented by LAURACEA; Children’s Jumper, presented by EquiFit; Adult Jumper, presented by SmartPak; Low Junior/Amateur Jumper, presented by R & R Hunter Horses; and Medium Junior/Amateur Jumper, presented by Parlanti. The NAL series conclude with year-end finals for those who accumulated the most points in their divisions over the course of the season.
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