The Race to Le Lion: Fleeceworks Royal Flies to France for the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships

The Race to Le Lion: Fleeceworks Royal Flies to France for the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships
Fleeceworks Royal and Tamra Smith. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.

Each fall the most talented young horses in the world head to Le Lion d’Angers to compete in the FEI World Eventing Breeding Championships where there is a CCI1* championship for 6-year-olds and a CCI2* competition for 7-year-olds. The competition is fierce, and is typically an accurate predictor of which horses have what it takes to make it to the top levels of the sport, such as back-to-back Rolex Kentucky winner fischerRocana FST, who won the 6-year-old championship in 2011.

In an effort to encourage domestic breeding and training, with this championship being the major focus, the USEA Young Event Horse Program (YEH) introduced the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d’Angers Grant in 2012. Now in its second year, the grant provides funds for the top placed 5-year-old at the 2014 YEH Championships to travel to France and compete in their 7-year-old year.

For grant consideration this fall, a horse would have competed in the 2014 YEH Championship as a 5-year-old. The funds are awarded to the horse who was highest-placed in 2014 and is qualified (zero cross-country jump penalties and only 4 show jumping penalties at a CCI* and CIC2*) and willing to compete at the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships. The recipient for this 2016 grant is currently Judith McSwain’s Fleeceworks Royal.

Meet Fleeceworks Royal  



“Rory” as she’s affectionately called around the barn is a 7-year-old Holsteiner mare. Her path towards this elusive goal of competing at Le Lion began with her carefully considered breeding. She was bred by Charlotte Wrather owner of Cottonwood Ranch in Los Alamos, Calif. Wrather, who historically bred race horses, was looking to improve her sport horse breeding program, so she imported Marisol (Corifino I x Charette B), a Holsteiner mare from Germany, to do just that. 

Wrather chose Riverman, a striking Holsteiner, to sire her first foal from Marisol, and the result was even better than anyone could’ve hoped: R-Star, Kristi Nunnink’s four-star horse. Once R-Star’s natural ability really began to show, Wrather bred Marisol again to Riverman and Rory was born in 2009. With many ties to Ladykiller and Cor de la Breyer, as well as the proven success of her full sister, R-Star, Wrather seemed to have unlocked a perfect formula for an event horse.

The young mare was started by Wendy Wergeles, before Judy McSwain purchased her in her 3-year-old year, with plans for Tamie Smith to have the ride. Once she was ready to compete, her involvement in the YEH program was very important to McSwain. Rory’s namesake, Fleeceworks, of which McSwain is the owner, has been a sponsor of the program since its inception. “There’s so much behind the young horse. Fleeceworks was one of the first companies that signed on with YEH. I believe in it, and I believe in the young horse,” McSwain said.

“[YEH Competitions] are really good for the riders and horses to be judged by experts in the sport. They can give direction and say, ‘this is a weak area. This is what you need to work on.’ They can give feedback to the riders, so the individuals producing these horses can walk away and try new things.” 

As a 4-year-old, Rory placed second in the YEH West Coast Championship, and won on the West Coast as a 5-year-old the following year, this ranked her third nationally. After aging out, Rory’s continued to step up to every challenge, moving up to the Preliminary and eventually Intermediate levels with ease. She even won the Preliminary Horse division at the American Eventing Championships in 2015.

Fleeceworks Royal winning the Intermediate at Twin Rivers last month. Photo by Sherry Stewart. 

This year, Rory competed her first CIC2* at Galway Downs International Horse Trials, finishing 3rd, and her first CCI2* at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, where she finished 14th. She had her last preparatory event at Twin Rivers in September, where she won the Open Intermediate.

“I'm very excited to represent the U.S. and especially with a horse I have produced from a 3-year-old who is American bred with an owner who believes in developing the American breeding program in eventing and show jumping,” Tamie Smith said, “Judy McSwain has been a long time sponsor of the YEH program because she truly believes in the program. She is passionate about the U.S. having a top breeding program with quality breeding stock. She is meticulous about bloodlines and you can tell she stays up at night studying who we are going to bred our mare to next.”

Representing the United States at a championship event is significant enough, but having that horse be American-bred makes this trip even more special for the Young Event Horse Program, for the YEH Le Lion d’Angers Grant, for U.S. breeders and for McSwain.

“How lucky are we. It’s difficult to put into words. How special is it that you’ve been awarded that privilege, that Tamie and Rory get to go represent their country,” McSwain said. “In a way, I feel like we’re going over to represent all the U.S. breeders. When you look at [Rory’s] career, it’s about Charlotte, it’s about Wendy, it’s about all the people who do the YEH program. Rory is going, but there’s a whole village behind her. We’re going for all those who support the YEH program, for all the horses that participated in the program and all those people who are breeding young horses. We’re representing everything going on with the Young Event Horse Program. It’s so amazing.”

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  • Elizabeth Howell