Every year, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) solicits input from equestrian fans across the country to name the winners of three of its highest honors: International Horse of the Year; National Horse of the Year; and Equestrian of the Year. Get to know the finalists for Horse of the Year below and Equestrian of the Year here, and then head over to usef.org before the January 4, 2017 deadline to cast your vote.
International Horse of the Year
Owned and ridden by Laura Graves
2002 Dutch Warmblood gelding
Verdades (barn name “Diddy”) was a breakout star at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and he only got better at this year’s Olympics. The leggy, flashy bay is known for being, shall we say, opinionated. But the partnership he shares with his longtime rider and trainer, Laura Graves, has channeled that attitude into something spectacular. Graves and Verdades were the highest finishing American pair in dressage at Rio, finishing in fourth place behind some incredible competition. They took home bronze as part of the U.S. team. Verdades’s Olympic debut was the capstone on a year that included several grand prix wins in the U.S. and successful outings in Europe.
Owned by HnD Group, ridden by Phillip Dutton
2004 Irish Sport Horse gelding
The Olympics were a bit rough for the American eventers, with two competitors being eliminated on course on cross-country day. But Mighty Nice (aka “Happy”) and his rider, Phillip Dutton, gave U.S. eventing fans a bright spot by securing an individual bronze medal. Mighty Nice also had a good finish at the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, finishing in fourth place.
Owned by Double H Farm & Francois Mathy, ridden by McLain Ward
2006 Belgian Warmblood Mare
HH Azur (“Annie”) didn’t have quite as good of a result as her teammates, Kent Farrington and Voyeur in the show jumping at Rio, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. If you watched the Olympics, you’ll remember Annie’s rocket-powered jumping style: When she cleared the fences, she cleared them by a mile, making her a spectator favorite. HH Azur’s team silver from the Olympics was a highlight in a year that included big wins in grands prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
National Horse of the Year
Horses in the National category may not have the name recognition of their Olympic counterparts, but they’re superstars in their own right, representing the breeds and disciplines governed by the USEF.
Top of the Mark
2010 American Saddlebred stallion
Owned by Mary Gaylord McClean, ridden by Tré Lee
American Saddlebred – Five Gaited
While versatility is an increasingly popular trait in the American Saddlebred breed, aficionados will still frequently point to the historic Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship at the Kentucky State Fair as the pinnacle of the Saddlebred show world. Top of the Mark (“Grover”) exudes that classic style, which was on display when he took the World’s Grand Champion title this year. Grover also took home the tricolor in the Five Gaited Open Stake at the Indianapolis Charity and Lexington Junior League Horse shows this year.
2005 Friesian mare
Owned by Gail Aumiller, also driven by Suzy Stafford and Gail Aumiller
Friesian – carriage driving
The lovely Sjaantje was born in the Netherlands—birthplace of the Friesian breed—but found her calling on the American show circuit. She was imported to the U.S. as a foal and started making a splash in the International Friesian Show Horse Association at a young age. In 2016, Sjaantje scored three regional champion titles in the IFSHA as well as a decisive nine World Champion titles at the association’s World and Grand National show. Sjaanje was also a force to be reckoned with at American Driving Society events, and dominated in the driven dressage classes.
2007 Holsteiner gelding
Owned by David and Becky Gochman, ridden by Scott Stewart
The pretty gray gelding known as “Snoopy” earned plenty of victories on the highly competitive East Coast hunter circuit, and his blue ribbons were especially sweet given his recent history. Just last year, Catch Me suffered a severe case of botulism, which could have been fatal. But he recovered, and came back for wins at big shows including Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National, the Washington International Horse Show, and the CP National Horse Show.
The Horse of the Year and Equestrian of the Year winners will be revealed at the USEF Annual Meeting at the Pegasus Awards Gala on January 13.
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com