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THERMAL — Melissa Doddridge delivered a one-two punch in the all-new $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Derby when she captured both the blue and red ribbons in the two-round classic that highlighted the competition during Desert Circuit II at the HITS Desert Horse Park, in Thermal.

The Tustin teen-ager and her horse, Bentley, got the best of 41 starters on course designer John Manning’s first-round course, then she beat the 12 that came back to compete in the handy phase.
She catapulted to the top of the class after receiving five bonus points for brilliance and handiness, and posted a total score of 91 in the second round.

“The handy course was so much fun,” said Doddridge. “The most challenging part was finishing with eight strides away from the in-gate. My horses thought they were done, but the hardest part was yet to come!”

Doddridge, who is just 18, wasn’t done yet. She then piloted Pamela Doddridge’s Best Man to second place, knocking out some of the West Coast’s best hunter riders.
“Both horses were troopers,” she said.

Melissa Doddridge, who trains with Tracy Baer at Windsong Farm in Huntington Beach, rode Bentley and Best Man, respectively, to first and second places at the HITS $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Derby on Feb. 8 in Thermal.

Flying Horse photos

Melissa Doddridge, who trains with Tracy Baer at Windsong Farm in Huntington Beach, rode Bentley and Best Man, respectively, to first and second places at the HITS $10,000 Devoucoux Hunter Derby on Feb. 8 in Thermal.

Doddridge has trained with Tracy Baer at Windsong Farm in Huntington Beach since 2001.
“She was just on a schooling horse when she arrived,” said Baer. “She started out as a timid rider, but it didn’t take long. We got her a little jumper named Shades Of Grey, and that got her going. All of a sudden she was real gung-ho.”

Three years ago, Baer went to Germany and acquired Bentley, a 7-year-old Warmblood whom she rode herself while bringing the horse along — with Doddridge always asking for a chance to ride him.
“Melissa’s always been a good rider. She finally showed him a little in the junior hunters, and now this year as an amateur owner rider. He’s still a little green, yet the horse went in there and won the hunter derby.”

Doddridge, the 2009 HITS Desert Circuit Reserve Champion Small Junior Hunter 16-17 rider, works four horses at Windsong including Bentley, Best Man and Delux as well as her equitation horse, Punkt. Baer says her student enjoys the hunters, but the jumpers are on the horizon, too.
“She really wants to try to qualify for the Young Riders this year, as well as continue on with the amateur hunters,” said Baer.

If any rider has demonstrated the ability to “multi-task” in different arenas, it’s been Doddridge. At the August 2008 Ford AQHYA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, Okla., she won a pair of titles in back-to-back classes (equitation over fences, working hunter) before immediately heading to Lexington, Ky., to ride Best Man in the 2008 USEF National Junior Hunter Championships-West Coast class — which she won.

“She’s an ubelieveable rider,” said Baer. “And horses love her. She’s just so soft and just has such confidence in the horses. She’s just so different than a lot of the kids to teach because she’s always so quick to blame herself. That’s partly why the horses are so good for her. She never takes it out on the horse.”

Baer is a fan of the HITS low hunter series, as well.

“The USHJA Derbies are fantastic, but it takes a certain level to do that,” she said. “There really isn’t a step up to that, so it’s really nice to have a 3-3 level Derby. They still have some of the more difficult jumps and the same sort of format, but without the big heights.”

This year, the all-new Devoucoux Hunter Derby is a featured event at both HITS Desert Circuit and the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit in Ocala, Fla. It represents the 13th division to count for points in the Marshall & Sterling League. In addition to the $10,000 classes at HITS winter shows in Thermal and Ocala, qualifying classes for the Devoucoux Hunter Derby will also be offered at the HITS Culpeper and HITS Saugerties shows this spring and summer. HITS has also invited a select number of additional horse shows in the Northeast to add the Devoucoux Hunter Derby to their show schedules which will help facilitate the growth of the class and provide further qualifying opportunities for the Marshall & Sterling League National Finals. The Devoucoux Derby Finals will be offered at the 2010 Marshall & Sterling League National Finals on Sept. 16-19 in Saugerties, N.Y.

Hunter riders will have three more opportunities to compete in a hunter derby class when show jumping returns to the HITS Desert Horse Park for Desert Circuit IV, V and VI. The $10,000 Devoucoux Derby will be offered on Sunday, Feb. 28, March 7 and March 14.

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