Big names filled the field at HITS Therma’, including Olympic Gold Medalist and five-time World Cup finalist, Will Simpson of Westlake Village and Olympian and World Cup Finals champion Rich Fellers and Flexible, owned by Harry and Mollie Champion. It would be Los Angeles equestrian Chris Pratt, who had won over $150,000 in Week III of the HITS Desert Circuit alone, and owner Eddy Sepul’s stunning Dutch Warmblood gelding, Edesa’s Basantos, who would take home the well-deserved victory in the $350,000 HITS Thermal Grand Prix Feb. 7.
As the crowd gathered to watch the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping in Thermal on Feb. 13, the international line-up of horses and riders for the final West Coast qualifying opportunity — and a $100,000 prize purse – was impressive.
Egypt native Nayel Nassar, a winner of the 2013 HITS Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix, and his own Lordan showed they were ready to compete in 2016, qualifying for the jump-off in the last go, then flying through the final round in their deceptively fast yet careful style for victory. Two weeks later, Rich Fellers and Flexible topped a strong field that included Will Simpson, Susie Hutchison and 43 others in the $25,000 Smartpak Grand Prix at HITS Thermal.
Hutchison, who had just won the $5,000 Brook Ledge Welcome two days earlier on Ziedento, tipped her hat to her victorious colleague.
“They are just on an unstoppable tear” said Hutchison, who had made the jump-off on Ziedento. “Flexible seems like he’s still 10 years old. It’s an amazing duo to watch.”
While she was winning springtime grand prixes In Southern California, Susie Hutchison was selected as a 2016 inductee into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. The election committee, comprised of some of the nation’s top riders, trainers and officials, selected the Temecula-based star along with Katie Monahan Prudent and Elizabeth Busch Burke for induction.
The honor recognized “Susie’s” body of work that has been consistently world class for decades. She has represented the U.S. at six FEI World Cup Finals, the FEI World Equestrian Games and Spruce Meadows in Canada. She finished fourth in the 1993 World Cup Final in Gothenburg and topped the World Cup’s USA West Coast League standings three times. In 1992, she was named the American Grandprix Association (AGA) Rider of the Year.
The Hall of Fame announcement on March 29 –- a Tuesday — didn’t mean there was no work to be done four days later on a Saturday, when she rode Ziedento to victory in the $25,000 Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix in the Blenheim EquiSports Spring Classic.
As the distinctive opening bass line of “Under Pressure” rang out in the covered arena at the Del Mar Horse Park with the voiceover “Hi, I’m Legolas, let’s go!”, there was no doubt that Legolas 92 was back in top form as he and Steffen Peters posted the second-highest Grand Prix Freestyle score of their career at California Dreaming Productions’ Dressage Affaire CDI3*/Y/J/U-25.
The veteran U.S. Dressage Team pair’s winning score of 82.000% was also the best of any other American team contender in the Olympic selection year to that point, second only to their own career best score of 84.050% earned at the L.A. Winter Dressage CDI in Burbank in January.
“He feels great, and hopefully we can keep him this relaxed for the rest of the season so he can continue to show at his best,” said Peters.
A rider’s first grand prix victory is an indelible memory, and Vani Khosla will always remember April 16, the day she rode her Billy Mexico to victory in the $50,000 Blenheim Spring Classic IV Grand Prix – the conclusion of four weeks of grand prix events.
“This win means everything to me,” Khosla said after the win on the 11-year-old chestnut gelding. “I just started doing the grand prix classes this year, and to have a big moment like that with the great riders in the jump-off with me was amazing. I can’t even put it in words.”
Also in San Juan Capistrano, anticipation was high as a crowd gathered for the CDI Grand Prix Freestyle at California Dreaming Productions Festival of the Horse CDI 3*/Y/J/U-25. All eyes were on U.S. Team veteran Steffen Peters and fan-favorite Rosamunde (Rheinlander mare Rock Forever x First Lady by Fidermark, owned by Four Winds Farm) as they unveiled a new freestyle, and the pair did not disappoint judges or spectators for a winning score of 76.243%.
Former USEF Young Rider National Champion and NAYRC Team Gold Medalist Anna Buffini and her KWPN gelding Wilton 11 (Jazz x Olympia-W by Contango) kept their winning streak alive in the U-25 Division, but only by the barest of margins. The five horse/rider combinations in the Under-25 division thoroughly impressed expert commentator Axel Steiner (FEI 5* ret. USA).
“There are some really, really good up-and-coming riders in this group,” said Steiner. “It’s nice to see, because this is our sport’s future.”
Nayal Nassar and Lordan continued their solid year. Setting an early pace in the jump-off proved to be unbeatable the duo stepped up for the win May 14 in the $60,000 Grand Prix of California. It was clearly a week for the young and talented show jumpers, as Lauren Crooks took the win in the Interactive Mortgage Horses 10&U Futurity.
The Paso Robles Horse Park came to life recently, as two weeks of the 2016 Spring Central California Horse Show Series were filled with trainer and exhibitor parties, complimentary wine tastings — and great competition. John French topped the field of competition in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Presented byCross Creek Farm, and Guy Thomas overcame a tricky course to be the only clear round and take home the blue in the CWD Grand Prix of Paso Robles Presented by Travel Paso.
The heightened atmosphere of the Horse Park at Woodside’s Grand Prix arena, with crowds packed all around, gave the competitors in the Preliminary Challenge divisions at the Spring Event at Woodside the feeling of the “Preliminary Olympics”.
Only a one-tenth of a point separated the top two in the Preliminary Challenge Horse division heading into show jumping. Busy California-based British rider James Alliston held second, third, ninth and eleventh places after cross country. A clear round by Alliston on Sophie Hulme’s Thomascourt Cooley sealed the win on 28.7 penalties after overnight leader En Vogue, owned by Ruth Bley, and ridden by Kimmy Steinbuch, had two rails down.
Clear rounds proved worthy as Erin Kellerhouse piloted Bill’s Midnight Magic owned by John Herich up two places to second, finishing on their dressage score of 30.2.
Father’s Day routinely falls during the Blenheim June Classic Series, like it did June 19 in the final day of Week II. For Josephina Nor Lantaman and Fabio Nor, there was even more reason to celebrate this year.
Phina entered the $30,000 June Classic II Grand Prix hoping to echo her win in 2014, a win she declared was a gift to her father. Aboard her veteran partner Chello Z, whom she and her dad imported and trained together, she once again declared victory.
After the win, she said he played a huge role in her riding.
“We work together — he is my coach and my dad,” she says. “It brought tears to my eyes — this win was extra special.”
She and her father Fabio share a unique bond, and a lifetime of horse show memories, but the two Father’s Day wins are among Phina’s favorites.
The Blenheim Equisports June Classic III added a new feature to its roster of unique and exciting events this summer. The $10,000 Six-Bar High-Jump Challenge, presented by Park Place Foundation, was enthusiastically received by spectators and competitors alike.
In a Six Bar, billed as a test of power and skill, six jumps of identical construction and type are placed in a line with a approximately 11m (36’), or two strides, between each element. The starting heights were: A: 1.15m, B and C: 1.20m, D and E: 1.30m, F: 1.35m. After the first round, all six fences increased in height. For the subsequent rounds, the first two verticals were removed, leaving four fences that continued to grow taller.
Teen-agers Serenity and Summer Phillips, 16 and 17, respectively, have been on the show jumping scene for several years, and are currently working with Hillary Ridland of EquiSports International. At this time in June, Serenity was between horses, and Summer recovering from an injury, so Summer gave her sister the ride on her horse, Samson, a few weeks before the June Classic III commenced. It was a winning decision.
After conferring with Hillary, Serenity decided to give this new class a try, “just for fun.” Relaxed, and with no expectations, Serenity and Samson joined a field of 10 to see if they could master the Six Bar Challenge. Holding its breath with each increase, the crowd watched as the final element rose to 1.80m (5’9”) after five rounds. (Just for reference, 1.8 meters translated into a horse’s height, would be nearly 18 hands – tall even for a horse!) And Serenity and Samson were the only pair to clear the final obstacle without a fault.
Lucy Davis, a 22-year-old jumping rider from Los Angeles, joined fellow Californians and dressage riders Steffen Peters and Kasey Perry-Glass when the respective U.S. Olympic Show Jumping and Dressage teams were announced for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janiero, Brazil in August.
Davis would ride Old Oak Farm’s Barron, a 2004 Belgian Warmblood gelding, joined on the U.S. Show Jumping squad with Kent Farrington of Wellington, Fla., riding Voyeur; Beezie Madden of Cazenovia, N.Y., on Cortes ‘C’; and McLain Ward of Brewester, N.Y., on HH Azur.
Two California riders announced to the four horse-and-rider pairs named by the USEF to the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team for Rio included San Diego-based Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, and Kasey Perry-Glass of Orangevale with Diane Perry’s Dublet.
The U.S. Dressage Team had solid performances throughout the Lambertz Nations Cup July 14-16 at CHIO Aachen. Led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover, the team of Katherine Bateson-Chandler, Shelly Francis, Arlene “Tuny” Page, and Steffen Peters garnered the Silver medal with a total score of 437.139. The final placing also clinched the inaugural FEI Nations Cup™ series title for the U.S. Germany had a dominant performance in the eight-nation field, taking the top three places in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special and earning the Gold medal with a total of 492.598.
During the week, they’re hard-working accountants, managers, students, and medical professionals, juggling careers, family, and a love of horses. But on the weekends, legions of adult amateurs can be found at the barn or in the arena, pursuing their goals both in the saddle and in the show ring. And, thanks to the Equine Insurance/CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition program (RAAC), California Dressage Society members have the unique chance to earn special accolades among their peers.
Jae Chaney of Rancho Santa Margarita (Los Angeles Chapter) is exactly the type of rider the RAAC program was designed for.
“This was my first time competing in RAAC, but I had always heard such great things from my dressage friends,” said Chaney, a show-jumper for 20 years who now pursues winning rounds in the dressage arena when not working as a senior finance director. Her mount, Bugatti, is also a recent convert to dressage. Originally trained as an eventer, the 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding came into Chaney’s life in 2015 and has blossomed in his newly-adopted sport, progressing from First to fourth level in under a year. At the Southern Region RAAC on Aug. 13-14 in Del Mar, the pair claimed the Third Level Novice title.
The U.S. Dressage Team won the Bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Aug. 12 following the conclusion of the second half of team competition, the Grand Prix Special.
Led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover, the team took the Bronze medal on a final score of 76.667%. Germany won the Team Gold on 81.936%, while Great Britain claimed the Team Silver with a score of 78.595%.
It took a personal best score of 80.644% from anchor rider Laura Graves of Florida and her own Verdades, a 14-year-old KWPN gelding, to claim the Team Bronze medal as The Netherlands moved slightly ahead of the U.S. before her ride.
Fresh off the plane from Rio de Janeiro, where the U.S. Show Jumping Team won a Team Silver Medal, U.S. Coach Robert Ridland returned from the 2016 Summer Olympic Games Aug. 21 to a warm greeting from his family, friends and the community with a special congratulatory ceremony on the pristine Oaks International Field at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park.
Ridland, surrounded by his peers and a group of city dignitaries, spoke of the Brazilian experience with pride and true respect for the ups and downs of the sport of show jumping.
Noting that Beezie Madden’s horse Cortes C had sustained a minor tendon injury, he further explained: “On the final day, we were left with just three riders — all three scores had to count, meaning no discard score which is a fundamental disadvantage in our sport. No one can find in the records anywhere in this century or any century a team who won a medal with just three riders.”
He spoke highly of each effort, but particularly Californian Lucy Davis riding Old Oak Farm’s 12-year-old Belgian gelding, Barron.
Ridland commended Davis for her efforts in the Games, how she held it together when her horse spooked and went left as she was galloping up to the triple combination during Wednesday’s Team competition. Through her skill under pressure, she managed to have only four faults when, as Ridland explained, the situation could have easily been a refusal and knocked the U.S. out of contention for a medal.
Horse sport royalty descended on the Hudson Valley Sept. 12 for the nation’s highest-ranked class of the year, the Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix FEI-CSI 5*. Jessica Springsteen, riding Stone Hill Farm’s Cynar Va, captured first in the Florida-based equestrian’s first CSI-5* victory.
Six conquered the first round to advance to the jump-off, the greatest number of horses in the jump-off in the class’s history. Among them was California-based rider Nayal Nassar riding his Lordan in the event they won in 2013. They finished in 52.97 with four faults, good for a fourth-place finish and $60,000 share of the winnings.
The historic Flintridge Riding Club held its Flintridge Autumn Classic Sept. 29-Oct. 2. A gorgeous, sunny week of competition was managed by the West Palm Events. Gracie Marlowe was crowned champion in the SFHJA Equine Insurance Challenge Medal Finals, and Michael Leon wins the blue in the USHJA National Hunter Derby on his own Nil Du Buffant Rouge.
Mary Burke and Prince William added another winning chapter to a bio that the 13-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred has compiled over their 10-year partnership, as the Ellensburg, Wash., duo secured the CIC3* win in true copybook fashion at the Woodside International.
Riding in reverse order of standing, overnight CIC3* leader Frankie Thieriot Stutes of Occidental and the Chatwin Group’s Chatwin were last to start. The pair confidently jumped clear in only their second CIC3*, adding 7.6 time penalties to drop them to second place on a final score of 49.4.
Both the CIC3* and Advanced divisions were designated Adequan USEA Gold Cup Qualifiers; Riders who complete a qualifying event earn the opportunity to compete at the 2017 USEA Eventing Championships to be held in Tryon, N.C.
Among the many smiling faces seen during awards ceremonies for 29 championship divisions on the final day of the 49th Annual California Dressage Society (CDS) Annual Championship Show and Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 7 Championships held Sept. 29-Oct. 2 was Ruth Shirkey of San Jose.
With her U.S.-bred Hanoverian mare Wyleigh Princess, Shirkey was capping off a tremendous weekend by taking home the Two-Tone Malone Trophy for the $1,000 CDS Horse of the Year in the Second Level Adult Amateur division with an overall score of 68.256%. But the special partnership she now has with her horse almost never happened at all save for one crucial decision.
“My favorite story is that I purchased Wyleigh Princess in utero, and I was really hoping for a black colt,” Shirkey remembered. “When she was born, her breeder called and said, ‘The good news is that the foal is black. The bad news is that it’s a filly.’ She said that if I didn’t want her, to just let them know because they actually really wanted to keep her. So I thought about it for a day and decided I still wanted her, primarily because I really, really wanted a foal by Weltmeyer. So of course in hindsight it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
West Palms Events continues to grow its slate of quality hunter-jumper competitions, and all the while, its Del Mar International continues to improve annually.
This year’s version lasted from Oct. 12-30 at the venerable Del Mar Fairgrounds, host of the 1992 Volvo World Cup. Fittingly, the Del Mar International hosted the prestigious Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League — one of only seven World Cup™ Qualifiers on the West Coast. Enrique Gonzalez and Chacna won the event.
There were many other significant events during the Del Mar International, including the GGT Grand Prix Series Final, presented by California Horsetrader and Horsetrader.com, the USHJA National Hunter Derby, Onondarka Medal Finals, and the PCHA/Equine Insurance Jumper Championship.
The GGT Grabnd Prix Series, tied to mid-level Grand Prix classes with $286,000 in prize money, is designed to give riders a chance to compete head-to-head for year-end credit to be used the next year at West Palms Events’ shows. Riders may ride as many horses as they wish but only receive credit on their top placing horse.
Winning the 2016 GGT Series was Kristen Hardin. In the GGT Series Final, Vani Khosla and Billy Mexico capped a remarkable week of competition with the win.
Galway Downs International is a popular year-end destination for West Coast eventers, offering not only international CCI divisions, but also a chance to tackle a traditional long format event with their USEA Classic Series divisions. These proved increasingly popular at Galway Nov. 4-6, with entries warranting two training three-day divisions.
Megan Noelle Wilson and her own Classic’s Mojah (Chambertin x Sevillano) led the Training Three-Day A division from start to finish. The 7-year-old Oldenburg was originally slated for a career in dressage, and carried theses skills into the first phase of competition, scoring a 26 on the flat.
“He was in training with Steffan Peters, but didn’t quite cut it as a dressage horse,” said Wilson, who works and rides with Tamie Smith in Temecula. Fortunately, the bay gelding was rerouted to eventing, a career switch that has worked out nicely.
“Steffen reached out to Tamie to see if he could be sold as an event horse, and they thought we would be a good pair, said Wilson. “It was pretty much love at first ride.”