Ava and Ruby, the main event in Texas
When Ava Severs left her horse, Ruby, with her grandfather briefly last week to grab a rake, Ruby became anxious, twisting and fidgeting so she could see where her girl had gone.
The 15-year-old thoroughbred mare and the 13-year-old Grand Junction girl have only been partners since last March, but it’s clear they have developed a bond in that time.
And that bond, that ability to work together in a variety of disciplines, took the two of them to a second place nationally Sept. 25-27 in the junior beginner novice division, ages 14 and under, of the American Eventing Championships in Tyler, Texas.
Eventing is a three-part equestrian sport that is seen in Olympic and other international competitions. Horse and rider must compete in dressage — a series of precise movements in the arena — as well as over jumps in the arena and in the adrenaline-filled cross-country jumping.
More than 300 horse-and-rider teams competed in 18 different classes at the American Eventing Championships in Tyler last month. In Severs’ class there were 25 competitors from 11 different states, from California to New York.
“I was really nervous, but really excited,” Ava said. “There were some very good horses and riders there.”
Ava and Ruby were sitting in third place going into the final event, the stadium jumping. But the horse and rider in first place at that point knocked a rail down jumping the final fence in the stadium jumping, dropping them down to fifth place. That allowed Ava and the rider who ultimately took first place, a girl from Missouri, to move up a spot because they completed the stadium jumping with no faults.
To reach the championships, horses and riders in Severs’ class had to win fifth place or better in at least two United States Eventing Association-sanctioned events this year. Because Ava and Ruby won first place in the first two events they entered this year, they qualified early.
Ava began riding with Pony Club when she was 7, following in the boot steps of her older sister, Cora, who is 15. Cora would likely have made it to the nationals this year as well, but her horse came up lame in mid-summer.
Pony Club is similar to 4-H in that it instructs youngsters on riding, training and care of horses. But Pony Club involves only horses, not other livestock, and it focuses primarily on dressage, jumping and cross country, the disciplines in eventing.
Ava and Cora are the daughters of John and Stacey Severs of Grand Junction. He is an internal medicine physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Grand Junction, she is a nurse at a local clinic. And they both spend a lot of time driving their daughters and horses to shows, clinics or training sessions.
“It’s difficult,” Stacey said, “because the closest events are in Ogden (Utah) or Parker (south of Denver).” There are no eventing competitions on the Western Slope these days.
Ava began riding in horse trials and other eventing competitions three years ago, riding a pony named Twizzle.
“I really started seriously last year when we went to more shows,” she said.
She and her pony competed at the Pony Club championships in Kentucky last year and won a second place in their class.
But it was apparent that the tall, lean, Ava was outgrowing the pony, both in size and riding ability. So early this year, she and her parents began looking for a new horse. With the help of the girls’ trainer, Laura Baucus of Larkspur, they found Ruby. The mare’s full name is Rubies to Diamonds, and she was raced briefly as a youngster. But most of her life has been spent as an eventing horse with adult riders.
“It was definitely a little intimidating, going from a 14.1-hand pony to a 15.3-hand horse,” Ava said.
The difference means that Ruby is six inches taller at the withers than Twizzle was. She can also jump much higher, is faster and more athletic.
But Ruby is also a more experienced eventing horse, with more of the boldness over jumps that eventers desire.
“She definitely likes to go forward a lot more than Twizzle did,” Ava said. “He would stop in front of a jump if I didn’t make him go.”
Ruby is very consistent in all three phases of eventing, she added.
“All I have to do is ride her well,” she said.
Now that they’re back from their successful campaign in Texas, Ruby will get some well-deserved rest. There’ll be no more competitions this year, just some trail rides and fitness work to get her ready for next year’s competition.
While Ruby rests, Ava will return to classes at East Middle School, after having missed more than a week for the AEC competition.
“My teachers have been really good about getting me homework to do while I was gone,” she said.
Unlike recent years, she doesn’t plan to participate in ski racing at Powderhorn Mountain Resort this winter, so she can concentrate early next year on training with Ruby for the 2016 eventing season.
And, looking further into the future, Ava hopes to compete in Young Riders eventing, a competition that pits riders under age 21 from all over Canada, the United States and Mexico in team and individual matches.