0 comments / Posted by Ann Wilt

It’s Finals Season!



No, not the academic kind, the exciting kind!

EQUITATION finals season is upon us, and we’re offering a somewhat brief "explainer" of  the competitions coming up.


In the broadest terms, an equitation final is an event at the end of the season in which riders who have shown in a qualifying class throughout the season meet up at a designated show to compete in a final round pitting the best against the best. Winning a final is the goal of many equitation riders, and reaching that goal means you’re among the best in the history of the sport.



Here at Knollwood, we start the finals process early at the in-barn show level with our very own Knollwood Challenge.  Riders who have progressed to learning patterns compete against each other in qualifying classes at each of our barn shows.

Riders compete at both the walk/trot and walk/trot/and canter levels. Their classes consist of rail work followed by all of the riders performing a pre-determined pattern of trotting either a ‘regular’ figure 8 for the walk and trotters, or an inverted figure 8 for our competitors who show at the canter.


The first two places of each qualifying class will meet up in November for the Finals of the Knollwood Challenge. Our top six riders in each division will compete against each other in both railwork and a more difficult pattern to determine who wins a custom made show shirt and who gets to display the bronze traveling trophy with all winners’ names engraved on it.


For our riders who continue their riding education and love of horses to the next level, there are a number of equitation finals each fall.  Here’s a little information about each one!


The All American Horse Classic, where Scott is currently located, hosts two Pleasure Equitation finals each fall. Laney and Aaron will be competing at both finals hosted in Indy and you can watch them live here!


The Illinois American Saddlebred Pleasure Horse Association (IASPHA) runs the Pleasure Equitation Olympic competition. Riders reach the finals of this competition by earning a specified number of points showing in the pleasure equitation division. The field is divided into two age divisions, 13 and under and 14-17. Riders compete on the rail and in patterns to try make the top 10 in each age split, and ultimately, to earn gold, silver, and bronze medals in the final.


The UPHA Pleasure Challenge Cup Final is also held at Indy.  Started in 1992 to showcase pleasure equitation riders, this popular final was split into age divisions in 1999.

Riders reach this final by competing in a qualifying class, and all riders all over the country perform the same classic pattern.  The mandatory workout in all qualifying classes is: "Trot a serpentine consisting of four half circles to the opposite end of the ring. Return down either rail at a show trot." Judges are not permitted to alter the mandatory workout in any manner.


Sponsored by the United Professional Horsemen's Association, this final is judged 60% on railwork, and 40% on the pattern. Showmanship is stressed in this final.

Here, too, riders strive to earn a Top 10 honor, but even better to be named National or Reserve National Champion!



The St Louis National Horse Show is also home to two Pleasure Equitation Finals.

The American Saddlebred Horse Association’s National Championship of Pleasure Equitation takes place first. Open to ALL pleasure eq riders aged 17 and under, riders compete on the rail and in a pattern, and it’s tough. This is the first final of the year without an age split, and some of those 13 and under riders are very good.

Imagine telling Knollwood Kid Payton D that she couldn’t compete with the older riders. You get the picture of the intensity.


The Saddle and Bridle Pleasure Equitation Medallion Final is held in St. Louis as well. This one is split into a junior and senior division, and the competition is deeeeeep. Oh, and the show has the BEST ribbons. Ever.






The Mane Event in Springfield, Illinois is home to the first of the ‘Big Three’ finals.

The Good Hands is the oldest of them all, having started in 1929 as the ASPCA Good Hands Final held at Madison Square Garden. In those days, riders of all seats (hunt seat, stock seat, and saddleseat all competed together, and riders could win multiple times.


In 1941, the shenanigans ended, and the event was split into 3 separate divisions and was renamed the NHS Good Hands Final. It was held at the National Horse Show in NYC for many years before it took a meandering route to Mane Event where it has been held since 2009. Great thanks to the Mid-America Horse Show Association for supporting this historic and prestigious event.

Riders must participate in a class and perform a preset pattern of: Trot from the line-up (or into the ring, if it is during the finals themselves) on the correct diagonal to the center of a figure-eight. Canter a figure-eight. Trot to the judges stand, stop, and back up three steps. Then they continue trotting to the line-up (or out of the ring).

The Good Hands is the first jewel in the triple crown of saddle seat equitation.

What’s that? If a rider wins all three of the big finals in one year, they’re a member of a very select club. Only thirteen riders in history have joined this club, and we’re thrilled to say that three of them are Knollwood riders.

So, if you win the Good Hands, you ‘just’ have to win the UPHA Challenge Cup and the USEF Medal Final to join this exclusive club. Knollwood's Sarah Agrawal won the triple crown in 2001, Nick Maupin won it in 2010, and Haley Berget won in 2018.






On to the Royal, the Grand Finale of the season.

The Royal hosts the last two finals, and arguably the most prestigious ones. 


The UPHA Challenge Cup final, which began in 1972, starts it off, and the event is split into two age divisions. It’s an open final, meaning that it’s open to pleasure equitation horses as well as trimmed equitation horses.



What does that even mean?

Well, back in the day, there weren’t many events for pleasure equitation competitors, and they formed their own finals. Basically, pleasure eq classes and finals are for riders on horses with manes and riders with informal attire. Saddle seat eq classes are traditionally for trimmed horses with riders who show in tuxes in the evening.

Open classes are open to riders riding horses wearing either style of mane, and all riders can wear formal attire in the evening.

Luckily, this line is blurring as people are realizing that whether a horse sports a mane or not has no bearing on the ability of the horse or rider. It’s just hair.


Anyway, back to the UPHA Challenge Cup Final…

Riders qualify in the same way as in the Pleasure Challenge Cup, and this final stresses showmanship as well, with judging weighted on showmanship.


The Royal offers finals for riders 13 and under as well as the senior division for riders aged 14-17.

The senior final has been won four times by Knollwood Kids Sarah in 2001, Kelsey in 2004, Nick in 2010, and Haley in 2018.   Our junior winners are Ainsley in 2014 and Courtney, (leadline star Madelyn’s mom) in 1998. There’s even a walk and trot final for riders 10 and under added in 1988, won in 2012 by Knollwood’s own Ainsley.

Manage to win the UPHA Challenge Cup? Then you just have to conquer the biggie, the USEF Medal Final to win the triple crown!

Another oldie, the Medal Final started in 1937 with all seats competing against each other. The seats were split in 1948, and this is considered by many to be the most prestigious of the triple crown events.

Competition is crazy deep and it’s the last final, so pressure is unbelievably high and Knollwood Kids have won it four times as well. Sarah won in 2001, Kelsey won in 2004, Nick won in 2010, and Haley won in 2018.



Best of luck to everyone this finals season, especially our Knollwood Kids!





What’s Coming Up?


Wisconsin Futurity Horse Festival

Academy Classes Saturday, September 19

Starting around 12:30 PM 




Photo Shoots with Emma Utoft

Saturday, September 26




Knollwood Outdoor Show #2


Saturday October 3 and Sunday, October 4

Start time is 11:00 AM both days


We are thrilled that both days of the show will be judged by Knollwood Kid Ainsley Budzinski. She literally grew up at Knollwood, first watching older sister Sydney ride, and then making her own way through the equitation and performance divisions aboard CH-EQ Oh What a Feeling and Ashlyn's Only Charm. She may be a college student, but she's won 5 equitation finals, ridden on a gold medal winning USEF World Cup Team, and can ride the hair off of any horse brought to her.

And, she's joining in the games on Saturday afternoon! Here's your chance to ride with one of the greats. 



A reminder to bid on the Knollwood suites, where you can enjoy seats, beverages, and raffle tickets!

And don't forget to preorder your show day lunches!

Orders are due September 28 at 1:00 PM.

And, raffle basket sign up is ready. You'll want to win these, and your donations benefit the Knockouts!



See you at the barn, or at the in-gate!



Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing