Dominguez, Sweetnam and Torano Sweep ASPCA Maclay at Devon

The 2024 ASPCA Maclay winners talk about their winning performances and experiences in the limelight as top young equitation riders.

Almost a century since its inception, the ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship Class still maintains its original purpose. It focuses on showcasing talented young riders with exceptional horsemanship skills. Christian Dominguez, Olivia Sweetnam and JJ Torano demonstrated that high level of expertise after taking top honors on Friday during the 2024 Devon Horse Show.

“This contest has for its purpose the development of skill in jumping, combined with kindness and gentleness in handling the reins,” so states the initial class specifications at the Maclay’s debut during the 1933 National Horse Show held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

While riding vernacular has evolved over time, the guiding principles of the class’s original mission remain true. Alfred Maclay, an avid horseman during the early 20th century and former president of the American Horse Show Association (now known as the United States Equestrian Federation) had a vision. He wanted to inspire young riders to develop exemplary horsemanship skills. 

The Maclay was the first large-scale equitation competition established in the U.S. and is still regarded as the “ultimate test for America’s young riders.” With the goal of creating strong, confident overall equestrians, the class continues to place equal emphasis on both the jumping and flat phases.

Due to the large number of entries in the 2024 ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship Class at Devon, the event was pinned in three sections.

Maclay: Devon Double Victory

Dominguez and his Dutch Warmblood gelding Iwan celebrated their second big win at Devon this year with a first-place finish in Section A of the ASPCA Maclay. The pair also came out on top in the second section of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search on Thursday. After disappointing performances at Devon the previous two years, the young horseman from Barrington, Rhode Island, said it felt surreal to have a second win added to his riding resume at this year’s competition.

“I seriously still can’t believe it. To win two days in a row is just amazing,” he said. “Iwan felt great. Once he sees the ring, he just wants to do his job. And he does it so well every time. I thought our round today was super smooth. I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Christian Dominguez and his Dutch Warmblood gelding Iwan celebrated their second big win at Devon this year with a first-place finish in Section A of the ASPCA Maclay. © Amy K. Dragoo

Dominguez, who trains with Jennifer Hannan, said they went to Aiken, South Carolina, directly before Devon to work out any kinks and polish up the smalls details that contribute to winning equitation performances.

“I’ve learned it’s so important to be diligent even on the smallest things because they all add up in the end. I sometimes have trouble with my right lead because I don’t keep my shoulders straight,” he noted. “I need to work on sinking more into the saddle, rather than gripping with my knees. That’s always an issue for me. But overall, it’s about being disciplined. When you get the equitation right, your rides will improve. Function follows form in our sport.”

Maclay Equals Triumphant First Show for New Partners

By most standards, Sweetnam and her bay Holsteiner gelding Efendi had a pretty solid first horse show together. They clinched first place in Section B of the ASPCA Maclay. After winning the same class last year on a different horse, the young rider wanted to return to Devon and repeat her outstanding performance.

“I was so nervous today because this was our first real horse show together—ever. And the competition here is so tough that this win really means a lot to me. Plus, Devon is such a prestigious event,” Sweetnam said. “Efendi was phenomenal. He is absolutely dreamy to ride. He just sails around the course.”

Sweetnam, who’s based in Wellington, Florida, said the gelding knows his job well after having a number of extremely talented riders who piloted him in the past. It also seems that he can be quite the ham when performing for big crowds.

Olivia Sweetnam and Efendi clinched a first-place finish in Section B of the Maclay. © Amy K. Dragoo

“Whenever he walks into the ring, he has this ‘wow’ factor and holds himself with a lot of pride,” she said. “I’m just obsessed with him.”

As a little girl who’d caught a bad case of the horse bug, Sweetnam always dreamed of showing at Devon. At only 15, she’s now competed in the event at least five times. Down the road, she hopes to ride on a college team—and maybe even go pro like her parents Ali and Shane Sweetnam.

“Hard work definitely pays off. To succeed in this sport, it takes a lot of determination and drive,” she said. “I’ve been coming to Devon for a long time, and it’s always such a special event. I look forward to coming back as I continue to advance in my riding career.”

Match Made in Heaven

Missy Clark, who trains Torano along with her husband John Brennan, knew that Torano and Favorite Edition Z were going to make a perfect match. When she discovered the gelding might be an option for the young horseman, she called his mom and basically said, “You’re going to buy half the horse, and I’m going to keep the other half of the ownership, because this really needs to happen.” So, they did.

“I knew they were going to be a match made in heaven, and it’s definitely proven to be true,” Clark said. “From day one, I just knew they would make great partners.”

Torano was thrilled with his first equitation performance at Devon and said he was extremely grateful to ride such a talented mount.

“To be honest, this win feels really good. I thought we had a pretty perfect round. I don’t think I would have changed a thing,” he said. “He’s the best horse I could have asked for. He’ll do anything for me.”

JJ Torano and Favorite Edition Z also took top honors with a first-place finish in Section C of the ASPCA Maclay. © Amy K. Dragoo

To stay focused and ignore his nerves at big shows like Devon, Torano strives to not overthink his performance. Instead, he relies on his training. He watches others and walks the course to determine which parts might be tricky, but finds it counter-productive to get too in his head.

“I personally can be really hard on myself. When things don’t go right, I usually will break down for the rest of the day,” he said. “But with the help of Missy and John, I’ve learned how to get better about that and have the best day I can. We learn by making mistakes.”

Devon 2024 Coverage

For complete results of the second day Junior Weekend at Devon, click here.

Results of the first day of Junior Weekend at Devon can be found here.

Thanks to Mane ‘n Tail Equine for our coverage of the 2024 Devon Horse Show.

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