Maggie McAlary Wins Inaugural George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation
WELLINGTON, FL, Mar. 14–
With the glamor and pressure of riding before judges of Olympians under lights in the International Arena, Maggie McAlary on Friday night won the inaugural George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation at the CN Winter Equestrian Festival presented by Zimmerman Advertising.
Forty-five riders from 12 states and Canada were selected from dozens of entries to compete in what Morris described after the unique three-round class before several hundred spectators, “The standard was tops, tops.”
McAlary, 18, of Amherst, NH rode the first two rounds on began the competition riding Cadeau, a horse she borrowed just for the class from her trainer, Andre Dignelli.
But the third round of the Final Four in which the riders switched horses as decided by the judges, she ended up with Sundance, owned by Kimberly McCormack of Clermont, NJ who placed second.
The event, McAlary said, was “magnificent, especially under the lights.”
The competition was created to honor Morris, a legendary horseman from a teenage star to an Olympian to chef d’equipe of the U.S. Equestrian Team for the past four years, and who wrote the book on the class he presided over Friday night.
The event was glamorous from the start, with 14 of the top 20 riders–including the top three–from the Bates Equitation Rankings list.
And the judges’ panels of George Morris paired with reigning Olympic gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa and Olympian Melanie Smith Taylor and Jimmy Torano making up the other panel with Olympian Anne Kursinski watching over the schooling area was enhanced with the addition of 2008 Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios setting the obstacles.
The 45 riders in identical black riding coats, black helmets and tan britches broke their nervous tension in a group photo session before the class with a good natured salute to George Morris.
But they were separated from their trainers, friends and families and relieved of their cell phones to wait their turn in the schooling area and on the riders’ deck.
After the first round, 12 riders came back for a second and more difficult course that Morris and Palacios created before the judges settled on the Final Four.
In addition to Maggie McAlary and Kimberly McCormack, Hillary McNerny of Lake Forest, IL. and Carolyn Curcio of West Islip, NY were brought back to the ring then swapped horses as determined by the judges. McNerny finished in third place with Curcio fourth.
The 2008 CN Winter Equestrian Festival attracts the best horses and riders from around the world to Wellington and offers more than $5 million in prize money. For more information, visit www.equestriansport.com