Merna, Hunter and Ehman Claim Top Honors in Dover Medal at Devon 2024

The Dover winners and WISH Equitation champ Kate Hagerty relive their equitation highlights and share their tips on competing at Devon.

Reese Merna, Quinn Hunter, Isabelle Ehman and Kate Hagerty had an action-packed day of equitation on Thursday at the 2024 Devon Horse Show. After riding in the Washington International Horse Show Equitation Classic (Jumper Phase) earlier in the day, the young horsewomen showed off their hunter equitation prowess in the Dover Saddlery US Equestrian Medal (also called the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Class).

Merna, Hunter and Ehman took top honors in their respective sections of the Dover Medal. While Hagerty claimed a first-place win in the second section of the WIHS Equitation Classic (Jumper Phase) and finished third in Section C of the Dover Medal.

Like the other crowded equitation classes, the Dover Medal was also divided and pinned in three sections. Following their rounds over fences, the top seven riders were called back for a test in which they were judged over fences and on the flat.

Finding Her Path

Merna clinched her second blue ribbon at Devon this year in the Dover Medal aboard bay Oldenburg gelding Castlefield Spartacus. She also came out on top in Section B of the WIHS Equitation earlier on Thursday. This was her fourth time competing at Dover.

“I was thrilled. The competition is so hard that winning feels like a huge accomplishment. I’m incredibly honored. It’s just amazing,” she said. “And my horse was perfect. He’s very forward and has a lot of natural impulsion. He’s also a total sweetheart and loves to cuddle and be around people.”

Reese Merna and bay Oldenburg gelding Castlefield Spartacus claimed their win at Devon in Section A of the Dover Medal. © Amy K. Dragoo

In the training ring, Merna has been working on her timing and practicing forward-to-collecting lines and collecting-to-forward lines to improve adjustability. She admits the show ring can trigger her nerves. In those moments, she takes slow, deep breathes to ensure she’s focused and not transferring any show-day jitters to her horse.

Merna’s positive approach toward her sport provides her with a healthy perspective on planning for both her and her horses’ futures. She said it’s important not to rush your riding goals.

“It’s a long road. Make sure you feel ready and trust your preparation,” she advised. “Showing at this level doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s easy to get discouraged. But everyone has bad days. When it comes to horses, every day is different. And everyone has different paths with their horses.”

After retiring her Junior status, Merna will be riding on the Oklahoma State University’s D1 Equestrian Team.

Believe In Yourself

Hunter and her bay Hanoverian gelding Con Capitano—affectionately known around the barn as “Cappy”—claimed a first-place finish in Section B of the Dover Medal after a stellar hunter equitation round and callback test. This year was her second time competing at Devon.

“It’s just insane! I absolutely was not expecting this. I did equitation last year, and it was a big step up for me,” she said. “This year, I feel more relaxed. I love the atmosphere here at Devon.”

Hunter, who trains with Frank and Jennifer Madden, said she couldn’t have been happier with Cappy’s performance. The pair partnered just last December.

“He’s amazing! I’ve completely fallen in love with him. I spend hours just hanging out with him—he loves having his ears scratched,” Hunter laughed. “We’ve really grown together as partners, and I’m just extremely grateful to ride him.”

Quinn Hunter and bay Hanoverian gelding Con Capitano claimed a first-place finish in Section B of the Dover Medal. © Amy K. Dragoo

Hunter said they practice a range of tricky bending lines to prepare for the challenging equitation courses at Devon and to ensure she and Cappy felt confident going in the show ring.

“I get nervous, but I try to keep a clear head and distract myself by hanging out with my friends,” she said. “I remind myself that I can still go out there and ride well and execute the course. When I was younger I always wanted to compete at Devon. I think if you really believe in yourself, anything is possible. It can happen!”

Hunter plans to compete in the finals this year to continue improving and gaining experience—and after her Junior riding career, she aspires to ride on a D1 college equestrian team.

Preparation is Key

After celebrating a second-place finish in the WIHS Equitation earlier on Thursday, Ehman and her bay Zangersheide gelding Yung Gravy breezed to the top of Section C in the Dover Medal.

“I’ve never won an equitation class before, so it felt great to come out on top,” she said. “I also completely trust my horse and know him like the back of my hand. I felt very prepared for the test—and after I got the counter lead after the trot jump, I knew I was smooth sailing.”

Ehman, who trains with Don Stewart, said they practice landing their leads quite a bit, including landing the counter lead, which is often a test at big shows like Devon.

Isabelle Ehman and Zangersheide gelding Yung Gravy clinched top honors in Section C of the Dover Medal. © Amy K. Dragoo

“I feel that preparation at home really helped me stay confident going in,” she said. “If I do second guess myself or start overthinking things, I go over the course in my head. Then I just stop thinking about it and go ride.”

Yung Gravy had not previously been an equitation horse before Ehman started riding him. But she said from the first time she sat on him, she knew he was special, and he immediately stepped up to the task.

“He will land any lead you ask for and is unbelievably adjustable. He’s just a fast, scopey amazing horse. He’s also a huge goofball,” she laughed. “He’ll stick his tongue out in the crossties to beg for treats. And he has a bright pink stuffed flamingo in his stall that he adores.”

As her Junior riding career comes to an end later this year, the young horsewoman knows her future will involve riding.

Bittersweet Victories

Like Ehman and Merna, Kate Hagerty is also enjoying every last moment of the Devon experience as her Junior riding career sunsets later this year. The high school senior, who will be graduating in just a few weeks, will start her new journey riding on the Auburn University Equestrian Team this fall. This was Hagerty’s third year competing at Devon, but her first year piloting G Balou, who’s known as “Fluffy” around the barn.

“We got him last August and just jumped right into showing him in the Indoors. He’s such a good horse,” she said. “We can count on him every time to do his best. And he’s so much fun to ride. I also love that I can always count on him in stressful situations.”

Kate Hagerty and KWPN gelding G Balou claimed a first-place win in the second section of the WIHS Equitation Classic. They finished third in Section C of the Dover Medal. © Amy K. Dragoo

Going into Devon, Hagerty, who trains with Valerie Renihan, said they practiced opening up his stride on forward lines. They also drilled tighter turns to be prepared for the challenging courses. Reflecting on her Junior career, Hagerty notes that it’s important to trust the process.

“This sport requires a ton of hard work and dedication to get to this point. It took me a long time to get here. I really appreciate Val helping me trust in this process,” she said. “It’s definitely bittersweet to be ending my Junior career. But I am so excited to be riding for Auburn and look forward to what the future holds. It will definitely involve horses.”

Read More

  • For complete results of Thursday at Devon’s Junior Weekend, click here.
  • Read more on our coverage of the WIHS Equitation Classic and Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search here.
  • For more on Friday’s ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship Class, click here.

Thanks to Mane ‘n Tail Equine for our coverage of the 2024 Devon Horse Show. Coverage continues Friday with the ASPCA Maclay Final Championship.

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