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Stars of Autumn

By Pam Maley and Jackie McFarland / for the Horsetrader - October 6th, 2016 - Cover Story

1610A CoverSupporting young riders and young horses and giving them the stepping stones to excel in the sport of show jumping is essential in developing the next big stars. The stage has been set for that in 2016 by Blenheim EquiSports, with the support of sponsors such as Fairbanks Valley Farm, Interactive Mortgage and Markel Insurance.

To give up-and-coming grand prix horses a chance to gain solid miles, Gregg and Evette Delong have worked with Blenheim Equisports to develop the Interactive Mortgage 10-and-Under Futurity Series that just wrapped up its fourth year. Comprised of qualifiers throughout the season, it culminated in the final at the Showpark All Seasons Summer Tournament.

The 2016 $20,000 Interactive Mortgage Horses 10-and-under Futurity Final winner was Supernatural, a powerful bay, with Bjorn Ikast in the irons. Hailing from Denmark and based in Mexico City, Ikast’s home is in the saddle. A three-time winner of the Danish national championship, Ikast met his wife Clara vacationed in Mexico and never returned to Denmark. They ran a private stable in an idyllic setting in the mountains outside of Mexico City, and are now based in the mountains further north in Parker, Colo. But they spend at least six months a year traveling with their young daughter, Isabel, on the show circuits in the U.S.

Ikast is well known for his careful approach, always putting his horses first, unafraid to pull out of a competition if the footing looks iffy, or if the course is not the right fit for that particular horse. Though very single-minded in the ring, his sense of humor shines through every now and then, as it did once at Estes Park, Colo., when he participated in a jumping class on foot and delighted the crowd by having a refusal.
Professional and meticulous, Ikast has earned a reputation for being masterful with young horses, so the 10-and-under Futurity Series was a good place to showcase his talents.

“I think that it is very important that the up-and-coming horses get the chance to prove they are nearly ready to move up,” he said. “And, for them to win some money, too.”

Looking to offer West Coast U25 riders the opportunities already available for East Coast riders, in 2015, the DeLongs, with Blenheim EquiSports, introduced the Interactive Mortgage U25 Series and Final. Now in its second year, participation has doubled this season.

The series of qualifiers began early in the year, and following the two qualifiers at the Blenheim Fall Show, this year there will be two more at the two-week HITS Sunshine Series. After those, 25 qualifiers will travel in November to the Las Vegas National for the championship.

Three winners shone at the end of the season: Mavis Spencer at Showpark All Season, Zazou Hoffman at the Blenheim Fall Tournament and Tina Yates at the International Jumping Festival. All passionate and talented young equestrians, they will meet again at The $25,000 Interactive Mortgage U25 Developing Rider Finals at the South Point Hotel, Casino, & Spa in Las Vegas.

A California girl, Spencer rode with Meadow Grove Farm in her final junior years. Knowing her path early on, she moved East to work with Kent Farrington in 2009, also worked with Darragh Kenny, and after years on the ground, now rides for Neil Jones Equestrian. Aside from a few days vacation, Spencer had not spent much time nor competed in California in eight years. She not only won the U25 qualifying class at Showpark All Seasons, she was second in the Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix.

“I went first in the jump off,” she said of her first grand prix of 2016. “I think that there were 15 horses that qualified with me, and it wasn’t until Will Simpson and The Dude walked in that he put me into second.

“My first show back in California — to be put in second to an Olympic Gold Medalist — isn’t too bad!” she added with a smile.
She has enjoyed being back here amid familiar faces.

“It’s really great being back, seeing a lot of old faces again and a lot of new young faces,” she said. “I love having my family so close. My parents have been able to come and watch me show, and if I feel like coming home for an evening, I can run back and have a home-cooked meal and sleep in my own bed.”

Similar to Spencer, Hoffman has logged hours of hard work into the sport, committing her junior years to achieving equitation excellence, which took her to the top of the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Finals. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Cum Laude from UCLA with a degree in Geography and Urban Planning, Hoffman is happiest in the horse world, and that’s where she plans to stay.

Her long-term plan is to continue toward the top of the sport with a dream of one day representing the U.S. in international competition. Currently working at the Meadow Grove Farm as a trainer, she is passing on her years of experience to aspiring riders while she continues her ascent in show jumping.

“I see myself primarily as a rider in my equestrian career,” says Hoffman, “But I also really enjoy teaching, and I find it gratifying to work with students.”

After a stellar junior career, Yates rode as an amateur, and in 2011 she turned professional. She had met former Yorkshireman Craig Yates, the trainer and head of international imports for Hyperion Stud, and they developed a professional relationship that evolved into a personal one. The couple married in December 2015 and live in Wellington, Fla. Through working with her husband, Yates has taken her riding to a new level.

At the Blenheim Fall Tournament, she turned in a class for the history books. Forty-five horse and rider combinations took the field in the $30,000 Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix, and eight qualified for the jump-off.

First and fifth to return, Yates was not only double-clean on both of her horses, Highpoint Farm, LLC’s Bowmore VDL and HKC Collection, LLC’s Cicomein VDL, she tied her own jump-off time to the thousandth of a second! This amazing feat silenced the crowd for a second so they could absorb what had just happened, before they burst into cheers. Tina finished double-first, tied with herself on her two talented Dutch bays, and taking a combination of first and second place prize money for a fabulous finish to a thrilling class.

During the Blenheim International Jumping Festival, Yates posted another double win. In this leg of the $30,000 Markel Insurance 1.40m Grand Prix, presented by ACE Equestrian, 35 horse and rider combinations took the field, along with 15 in the concurrently running U25 class, and six qualified for the jump-off. This time in the enviable last-to-go position, Yates was double-clean on Bowmore VDL, edging out the leader by a half-second. At the
same time, as a U25 rider, she won the Interactive Mortgage U25 Series Qualifier — two double wins in a week.

Tina grew up in Scottsdale and competed a lot in California growing up. “It’s good to be back in California,” she said. “You can’t beat the weather. I love the lifestyle, the restaurants, and seeing my friends and family.”

She and Craig are spending the fall season in California with 12 horses. “These shows on the grass here at Blenheim are great,” Yates said. “Next, we go indoors at the L.A. Masters, then Del Mar for three weeks, one week of Thermal, and the last show is Las Vegas. After that, we’ll go back home to Florida.”

At press time, Spencer, Hoffman and Yates each had a successful class or two at the L.A. Masters, and each plans to wrap up their respective 2016 show seasons at the Las Vegas National, adding to the list of star riders coming to the South Point Hotel & Casino Nov. 15-20.

Offering several evenings of top notch competition starting on Wednesday, Nov.-19, the buzz is building for the Las Vegas National. From the rising stars previously mentioned to Olympians Will Simpson and Eduardo Menezes, Las Vegas will be the place to be to watch some fabulous show jumping.

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