Holekamp/Turner Grant Recipient Fleeceworks Royal 14th After Dressage at Le Lion d'Angers

Fleeceworks Royal earns a 51.3 at Le Lion d'Angers. Photo by Libby Law.
After the first day of competition at the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships, the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d’Angers 2016 grant recipient, Fleeceworks Royal (Riverman x Marisol), sits 14th in the 7-year-old CCI2* division.  

Judith McSwain’s “Rory” earned these funds to travel to Le Lion d’Angers after being the highest-placed 2014 Young Event Horse (YEH) graduate who qualified for this Championship as a 7-year-old. The grant, backed by Dr. Tim and Cheryl Holekamp and Christine Turner, aims to encourage U.S.-based breeding and training of young horses.

Ridden by Tamie Smith, the American-bred Holsteiner mare earned a score of 51.3 to sit in the middle of the pack.

Rory and her fan club after dressage. Photo by Libby Law. 

“I was thrilled with her; she was super and I'm so proud of her. She was all business in her test. Her canter work was super and her trot work was where she is in her strength right now,” Smith said. “I was a bit disappointed about scoring a 51, but we are at the 7-year-old Breeding World Championships, so being just six points from the lead is ok. Looking forward to Saturday!”

Also competing in the 7-year-old championship is Betawave (Linaro x Wavelength), another graduate of the YEH program. “Leta” is a Holsteiner mare, owned by her breeder, Carol Singh, and rider, Robyn Fisher. She and Fisher earned 62.5 penalty points.

Currently leading the 7-year-old class is Dr. Susanna Kleindienst’s Vally K, a Hanoverian mare by Valentino and out of Fria. Charlotte Dobretsberger, who rides for Austria, sit on 45.2 points going into to the jumping phases. Second-placed Chillis Gem isn’t far behind with Gemma Tattersall on a score of 45.9. The British Sport Horse is by the legendary eventer Chilli Morning and out of Kings Gem.

After the success of the 2015 grant, young event horse supporters were thrilled to see two horses that are not only American-produced, but also American-bred competing against the best of the world at Le Lion d'Angers. 

Find the scores here.

  • Elizabeth Howell
The Race to Le Lion: 'We're in France!'

The Race to Le Lion: 'We're in France!'

Authored By: Judith McSwain

Rory settled in her stall at Le Lion d'Angers. Photo courtesy of Judith McSwain.

When I was asked to write a blog for the USEA sharing my experience as an owner in Le Lion d’Angers, the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championship, my first thought was: How could I possibly translate into words what it feels like to have your horse go abroad and represent the USA against the best 7-year-olds in the world?  The answer came to me while on the back of a horse, equitrekking in the hills of Spain along the Catalonia Coast, through vineyards, Olive groves, 300-year-old old villages and foothills of the Pyrenees with a view of the Mediterranean. There, I found the courage to share the story of my road to Le Lion because, you see, the reason I was in Spain, was because of Fleeceworks Royal (a.k.a. Rory).  More about that later.  My thoughts here are to share a bit of who I am as well as Rory’s road, since there have been ups and downs along the path much like all of life and as we experienced on the most amazing Spanish riding holiday.

My name is Judith McSwain, a retired Navy Nurse practitioner. I am a former adult amateur eventer, who also rode some in the jumpers. I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, so when I sustained an injury that necessitated a change in riding, my passion channeled to ownership. Luckily I have a business that subsidizes some of the horse expenses. I was fortunate enough to know Tamie Smith, who was game to take on young horses, since that was the depth of my budget. 

Tamie came to me one evening and told me she felt the horse that I currently owned may be better suited on a different career path.  So, I ended up purchasing Rory. I guess that is really where the road to Le Lion began.

Rory participated in the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Series as a 4-year-old and ended up West Coast Reserve Champion. The thought was planted. Maybe France was actually a possibility? I secretly began saving my frequent flyer miles.  Rory continued to develop under Tamie’s careful and skillful guidance. Rory's 5-year-old year had a bit of a scare. A green moment at AEC caused her to fall in the water, resulting in a significant injury. Time healed the wound and she came back to win the West Coast YEH Championship that year, and thoughts of the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d’Angers Grant surfaced. My stash of frequent flyer miles was growing. I talked to my dearest friend and said, "if Rory goes to France will you go?” Lynette agreed.  We felt incorporating a horse trek through the French wine country should be included in the adventure. We had the beginnings of a plan.

Rory's next year was a whirlwind.  She competed and won in the 6-year-old West Coast Young Jumper Championships. She was successful at the Preliminary and CCI1* level, finished as USEA Preliminary Horse of the Year and the American Holsteiner CIC Champion.  I was invited to privately tour the lovely Hilltop farm, home of her sire, Riverman, while in D.C. for the USEA Convention that December. My frequent flyer miles kept growing.

Rory winning the 6-year-old Jumpers. Amy McCool photo. 

The story now brings us to 2016, Rory's 7-year-old year. Tamie's training schedule maximized her development. The Jersey Fresh International CCI2* was included in the plan to provide terrain, variety and a test of her fitness.  My family lived close, so it was a perfect venue for me to fly out to support. I was excited to watch and of course, add to my frequent flyer miles. Sunday night of that weekend we were told Rory was the leading candidate for the Holekamp/Turner Grant for Le Lion. I sent out an email that night lightly asking, "how do you say bubble wrap in French?"  The weekend proved to be a challenge. Rory developed a corneal scratch and Dr. Kevin Keane suggested she stop by the New Bolton Center to get it checked out before heading back to California.

To say the next day rocked my world is an understatement. I met Rory at New Bolton, and the eye specialist concluded that Rory had a deep corneal abscess. They presented a few options, with surgery being one of them. I drove to my sister's place consumed with concern about Rory's recovery and acknowledged to myself that France may be at risk. After a few initial treatments, we elected to go forward with a corneal transplant. Two weeks later I flew out when they opened her eye. The results were amazing. The surgeon was pleased. Rory was released from rehab early and home within 10 days. Hoorah, France was back on the table and once again, I had added to my frequent flyer miles!

Once Rory returned to California, we started making plans for the trip to France. We settled on a riding vacation in Spain, before meeting up with Tamie and Rory in France. I cashed in my frequent flyer miles and realized that Le Lion was now a reality.

Rory spent her summer rehabbing and conditioning with Tamie and all the wonderful folks at Next Level Eventing. She emerged fighting fit in her first event, running around Preliminary with Heather Morris and two weeks later winning the Area VI Intermediate Championship with Tamie. She took an early flight to Europe to meet with Tamie and acclimate.

So, today, as I sit here in a darling French farmhouse in the charming small town of Le Lion d'Angers, I am overwhelmed with emotions.  The next part of my adventure is about to begin. I will always remember the wonderful trip visiting Barcelona, trekking along the Catalonia Coast in Spain and galloping up mountain trails, but now my focus is the competition.

Home for the weekend! Photo courtesy of Judith McSwain. 

My next few days will be a whirlwind as Tamie, super groom Shannon McCormick, Rory, as well as Team Fleeceworks get ready to rock. So, as I head to go over to the watch the jog, I wanted to share another accomplishment, that I am a single owner. Being a single owner is not without its challenges and sacrifices, yet it has given me fantastic opportunities that I could only have dared to dream. It has pushed me beyond my comfort zone. It has introduced me to amazing people and brought me to Europe. I am so very grateful to Dr. Tim and Cheryl Holekamp and Christine Turner for the vision and commitment to U.S. Eventing and U.S. breeding. They have provided Rory, Tamie, Shannon and I with the journey of a lifetime.

I hope you will come back to read the blog as I will continue to share and include you in our wonderful experience in Le Lion d'Angers.

Go Holekamp/Turner Grant, Go Fleeceworks Royal, Go U.S. bred and MOST of ALL GO USA! 

  • Elizabeth Howell
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.”

The Race to Le Lion: Holekamp/Turner Grant Puts USEA Young Event Horse Graduates on A World Stage at Le Lion d’Angers

The Race to Le Lion: Holekamp/Turner Grant Puts USEA Young Event Horse Graduates on A World Stage at Le Lion d’Angers

Authored By: Shelby Allen - USEA Staff


Fleecework's Royal, the current top contender for the 2016 Holekamp/Turner YEH Le Lion d'Angers Grant, owned by Judith McSwain, bred by Charlotte Wrather, and ridden by Tamra Smith. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

It may seem as if Europe has cornered the market on producing high-caliber horses for eventing, but the United States is nipping at their heels. In its second year, the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d’Angers Grant aims to send the top American produced, and even more ideally American bred, 7-year-old to the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships this fall. The grant, backed by Dr. Tim and Cheryl Holekamp and Christine Turner, is awarded to the highest-placing Young Event Horse Program (YEH) graduate who is qualified and willing to compete.

A Pathway

The purpose of the grant supports the ideology of its parent program: to encourage the domestic breeding and training of top quality horses. “It’s part of a pathway,” explained Dr. Holekamp, who also co-chairs the YEH Program. “We’re interested in stimulating the production of top quality eventing horses here in North America – especially the United States.”

The FEI World Breeding Eventing Championship is the pinnacle of a young horse’s training, reached after funneling through national and breed-based young horse competitions. This training pathway is very established in European countries, and this grant is aimed at producing something similar in the United States.

The current top contender for the grant, Fleecework's Royal, as a 6-year-old. Amy McCool Photo. 

The beginnings of this pathway were born with the creation of the YEH program in 2005 and eventually the Future Event Horse (FEH) program in 2007. The aim is for breeders to have their young stock evaluated in hand as 1-, 2- and 3-year-olds in the FEH program before being again assessed as 4- and 5-year-olds in the YEH program.

Holekamp argues that the only way to test the merit of U.S. breeding and training is to compete in an entirely age-based competition. “The only way we can really put 7-year-olds to the test is to put them in an environment where they are competing against other top horses, and there’s only one place to do that – Le Lion – it’s the who’s who of the top.” he explained. “Perhaps even more importantly, our studies show that horses that do reasonably well as 7-year-olds at Lion have about a 50% chance at making it at the four-star level. That’s truly a pageant of the top 7-year-olds in the world.”

“If we’re successful at Le Lion with YEH horses then we’ll be proving that our system is accurately measuring and attracting young horses into this pathway of development from breeding and foaling up to three- and four-star competition.”

Looking Back

In its first year, the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d’Angers Grant couldn’t be described any less than a complete success. The funds were awarded to D.A. Duras (Numero Uno x Medoc), a then-7-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Debbie Adams and bred by Paul Hendrix. “Duras” pushed through a true championship track to finish in ninth with Kelly Prather in the irons against arguably the best young horses in the world.

D.A. Duras at Le Lion d'Angers. Photo by Libby Law Photography. 

Even for a horse who competed in a CCI2* stateside in preparation, the competition was daunting. Big, bold questions on cross-country were coupled with increased galloping. “It’s a CCI2* competition, but the course is very difficult. They gallop more than ten minutes on a two-star course – that’s very uncommon,” explained Dr. Holekamp. “It’s the cross-country that really sorts them out. The course itself is both technically and athletically difficult. That’s probably the reason it’s so successful at identifying those horses that are bound for four-star futures.” Despite this, Duras pushed forward with ease and slowly climbed the leaderboard until he found a top-ten spot and proved that American-produced horses are a force to be reckoned with.

Since then, Duras has continued to climb, now with Lauren Kieffer in the tack. He has gone on to secure a top ten finish at his first CIC3*, and then win the Advanced division at the Horse Park of New Jersey a month later.

Forward Thinking

Each year that the YEH program grows, so do the expectations for its graduates as we see the field get stronger. “Since the Holekamp/Turner Grant, all our entries have skyrocketed, and it’s not just that they’re higher, but the quality of horses is much better,” said Marilyn Payne, young horse expert and co-chair of the YEH Program.  

The goal for this grant, is to give these talented young horses their first of many international appearances. “We’d like to see in the long term that these horses be trained and developed to then compete internationally for the U.S.,” Payne said. “There are horses getting up there. There are quite a few [YEH graduates] that have gone through the three- and four-star level. We want to keep developing that.”

“It showcases our horses to the rest of the world. People think you need to go to Europe to get a good horse, and we’re trying to develop our breeding program to produce top quality horses so that our riders don’t need to go to Europe to buy. This is a great way to show that we do breed top quality horses that can stand up to the rest of the world in competition.”

Horses eligible for the 7-year-old CCI2* at the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships this year were the highest placed 5-year-old at the YEH Championships in 2014. But a top finish in 2014 doesn’t guarantee a trip to France as the qualifications are very selective. Only 70 7-year-olds are eligible, and they must have completed a CCI* and CIC2* each with zero jump penalties on cross-country and a maximum of four penalties – one rail – in the show jumping. To additionally promote domestic breeding, the grant offers a larger cash prize of $17,500 for horses bred in North America, but those not domestically bred will still receive an $8,000 award.  

The current top contender for the Holekamp/Turner grant is Judith McSwain’s Fleecework’s Royal (Riverman x Marisol). “Rory,” as she’s called in the barn, is a 7-year-old Holsteiner mare bred in the United States by Charlotte Wrather. Rory and her rider, Tamra Smith, have their eyes set on France, so stay tuned for their Race to Le Lion! 

  • Elizabeth Howell
Young Event Horse Champion Fleeceworks Royal Also Wins Big in the Jumper Ring

Young Event Horse Champion Fleeceworks Royal Also Wins Big in the Jumper Ring

Authored By: Cheryll Frank, USEA

Veteran show jumper Susan Hutchison’s winning mount in the 6-year-old YJC Qualifier at Blenheim Spring Classic 3 is the product of a development program that is very different than most young jumpers.

Fleeceworks Royal With Susie Hutchinson and Owner Judith McSwain. Photo: Amy McCool.Fleeceworks Royal (Riverman – Marisol, by Corofino) is a purpose-bred event horse and winner of the 2014 West Coast Young Event Horse Championship as a 5-year-old. The grey Holsteiner mare is a full sibling to well-known 4* eventer R-Star, winner of the 2014 Galway Downs International 3* with Kristi Nunnink.   Owner Judith McSwain is the owner and founder of Fleeceworks. A retired Naval critical care nurse, McSwain is combining tradition and technology to create nature-based products that enhance the performance and comfort of our equine partners.

Fleeceworks Royal was bred in the U.S. by Charlotte Wrather, and is a daughter of Hilltop Farms’ Riverman, winner of the USEF South Pacific Award (presented to the leading US-based sire of show jumpers) in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and USEF Eventing Sire of the Year in 2009 and 2010.

Fleeceworks Royal’s regular rider, Tamra Smith, is currently vying for a spot on the team for the Pan American Games, so Hutchison stepped up to help out. Smith had initially talked to Lane Clarke about riding, but Lane is a new Dad, so that plan fell through. Smith ended up texting Susie the morning before the first class, and in what she calls “a disorganized group effort,” it all fell into place.

The request wasn’t completely out of the blue, as Smith has ridden with Susie Hutchison over the years to help her improve her show jumping.

“It was so much fun to have Susie ride her,” Smith explained. “And such an honor to have someone with her expertise give me insight into the kind of ride she needs. It really was a blessing in disguise that I’m tied up on the east coast right now.”

Judith McSwain remembers when they first went to check out the Riverman filly.

“One thing that is really important to me is to buy US-bred horses,” she said. “So, when we heard about this filly I said, ‘Why not check her out?’”

“Tamra really liked her. She told me, ‘I think she’s the real deal’,” McSwain recalled. “And when she trotted over a 4 foot oxer, Allen Clarke (father of show jumper Lane Clarke) said if we didn’t take her, he would!”

“What’s really cool is Judy has always been a big supporter of the show jumping phase,” explains Smith. “It is great to have an owner who understands how to produce these horses for the long haul.”

It is also important to McSwain to compete Fleeceworks Royal in the Young Jumpers, to create a foundation for the future. “So often, the outcome [at the big events] comes down to the show jumping round on the last day. We want her to make her mistakes now, so she can learn from them, and engage that muscle-memory when she needs it in the future.”

“We are looking to the long term.”

  • Elizabeth Howell