USHJA Announces 2023 Golden Backstage Pass Winners

Lexington, Ky.—Sept. 18, 2023—The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association is pleased to announce the 11 riders that earned the Outreach Golden Backstage Pass to compete in the USHJA Affiliate National Championships during the Marshall & Sterling Insurance/USHJA National Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, over November 13-19.

The Golden Backstage Pass is awarded to the highest cumulative pointed Gold level Outreach rider in each Zone. The honor awards each recipient a unique experience during the Marshall & Sterling Insurance/USHJA National Championships including the opportunity to compete in the Affiliate sections, present awards with USHJA Executive Director Kevin Price and President Mary Knowlton, walk a course with top riders, and attend educational sessions. 

Congratulations to the following athletes on being awarded the Golden Backstage Pass this year:

  • Zone 1: Jillian Thibaudeau, of Rochester, N.H.
  • Zone 2: Piper Wiest, of Richland, Pa.
  • Zone 3: Aubrey Jones, of Frederick, Md.
  • Zone 4: Mackenzie Poelking, of Greenbrier, Tenn.
  • Zone 5: Ellie McEnery, of Roselle, Ill.
  • Zone 6: Madeline Johnson, of Mequon, Wisc. 
  • Zone 7: Grace Holt, of Terrell, Texas
  • Zone 8: Kaylee McKinster, of Peoria, Ariz.
  • Zone 9: Luella Barton, of Boring, Ore.
  • Zone 10: Sofia Agapitova, of Valley Village, Calif.
  • Zone 12: Brooklyn Thurman, of Wasilla, Alaska

"I am honored [to receive a Golden Backstage Pass]," said Jones of Fredrick, Maryland. "I think it is a good program to recognize all the hard work that riders put in. It took dedication, love of the sport, and the support of my trainer, parents and my pony, Bunny, to earn it."

"It feels amazing to be named the high-point rider for Zone 8," exclaimed McKinster, of Peoria, Arizona. "I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to show in Las Vegas! I am looking forward to watching the Derbies, Grand Prix and participating in the educational clinics. I can't thank my trainers enough for everything they have done to support my dreams both in and out of the show ring."

"I am so proud of my myself and my horses this year, when I started riding, I never would have thought I could get this far," said McEnery, of Roselle, Illinois. " I achieved this goal through the help of my amazing trainer Carmine D'Aversa, my supportive parents and of my talented horses who have helped me get here!"

"It feels really good to be the Golden Backstage Pass winner. When I found out, I was so excited I did a little jump," exclaimed Barton of Boring, Oregon. "I am most excited to ride in the big show arenas and the opportunity to participate in the educational programs."   

"I feel so honored to be representing Zone 12 with the Golden Backstage Pass," said Thurman of Wasilla, Alaska. "I am excited about the entire experience, it took a lot of hard work, dedication and the ability to ride different horses at different levels to achieve my success."

"I was so surprised and very excited to find out that I was the recipient of Golden Backstage Pass," exclaimed Agapitova, of Valley Village, California. "This will be my first indoor show experience and I am honored to be able to compete there in November, and I wish the best of luck to all the other competitors!"

"It took a little bit of luck, a lot of lessons and a wonderful horse to become a Gold Level rider," said Poelking, of Greenbrier, Tennessee. "I am very excited to show in Las Vegas. I have worked very hard and it is a great feeling to have it pay off." 

To be eligible for Golden Backstage Pass, riders must be a free Outreach member or higher on or before the first day of competition to accrue rider points. Points will be given by USHJA Zone in each Outreach Hunter, Jumper or Equitation section. To be a Gold Level rider, competitors must have earned a minimum of 100 points in Outreach Classes. 

Learn more about the USHJA Outreach program, including the Golden Backstage Pass, at

Photo: Terisé Cole/USHJA