WILLIAMSBURG — Acer K wanted the win as much as his rider, Ava Stearns, did — Stearns was sure of it.
The inaugural Dudley B. Smith Equitation Championship — a new class at the 2019 Great Lakes Equestrian Festival — had a total of $10,000 up for grabs to the trainers of the top four competitors.
The fifth annual GLEF featured six weeks of show-jumping competitions, with shows Wednesday through Saturday and a prestigious Grand Prix — offering the biggest purse — each Sunday. The 2019 festival began July 3 and runs through today at Flintfields Horse Park in Williamsburg.
The equitation championship is named after Dudley Bird Smith III, a local community benefactor from Suttons Bay who passed away unexpected on Aug. 6, 2018. His generosity benefited several area institutions, including Northwestern Michigan College, Munson Medical Center and the Cherryland Humane Society.
At 18, Stearns is in her final year as a junior rider and thus, her final year able to compete in equitation competitions. Equitation, one of three main types of show-jumping, judges a rider’s ability and style, according to the United States Equestrian Federation’s website.
Stearns lives in Chilmark, Mass., and has spent most of her life riding, following in the footsteps of her mother, Sarah Doyle. She trains under Missy Clark and John Brennan at North Run, which has facilities in Warren, Vt. and Wellington, Fla.
But she only began working with Acer K this summer, Stearns said. The limited timeframe, combined with hers and Acer K’s relatively new partnership, is what motivated her, she said.
“It was nice to do a big class on him and get to test it out,” said Stearns, who ultimately took first place in the equitation championship.
The championship, which wasn’t a Grand Prix but was held in the Grand Prix ring, took place July 27. It was presented by Northern Pines Farms, where Smith’s granddaughter trains.
Northern Pines Farms owner, rider and trainer Melissa Hirt said she was good friends with Smith, who she considered a father-figure in addition to a great confidant business-wise.
Smith was a very warm person, Hirt said.
“I never met him (Smith) personally, but he’s had a big impact on a lot of people in my life,” Stearns said.
She’s friends with Paige Matthies, Smith’s granddaughter. The two met while competing together, Stearns said.
Come fall, both women will attend Auburn University in Alabama where they’ll ride on the school’s equestrian team. Matthies, 18, plans to study pre-business; Stearns hasn’t declared a major.
Deciding to take part was an emotional decision and one she didn’t make until the day before, Matthies said.
“I’m glad I did,” said Matthies, who placed third. She’s not upset that she didn’t win, though, Matthies said.
“There’s nobody I would rather have won than her,” Matthies said of Stearns. “(Stearns) is a very good person, a great rider. Competing against her is always good.”