PC: Phelps Media
Amanda Steege has been riding as long as she can remember, but her heart was instantly captured by the Hunter Derbies upon their conception in 2008. Despite a less than favorable first performance which left her in tears and questioning whether she would do another Derby again, she fought through and has found her calling under the bright lights of the stadium.
2017 was Amanda’s year as she finally ticked off one of her lifelong goals- a top placing at Derby Finals- with Wendy Salomon’s Maitre’ D, earning third place overall at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. JN caught up with Amanda to chat about her weekend and the horse that made her dream come true.
PC: Morgan Workman
Welcome to the Derby
The daughter of Mitch and Kathy Steege, Amanda was destined to be a horsewoman. Her parents own and operate Red Acre Farm in Stow, Massachusetts. Her father travels up and down the east coast with his clients attending some of the industry’s finest shows, while her mother runs a riding school and teaches around seventy children and adults a week.
While in Ocala, Florida in the winter of 2008 Amanda entered her first Derby with three of her operation’s best, most careful Hunters. “It was a disaster!” she said, “they were all way too spooky at night under the lights with the derby jumps.” Her first mount, a successful Junior Hunter, walked into the ring and picked up the trot. All was well until the pair trotted by the log jump and the horse spooked, spun around, and he and Amanda parted ways. Determined, Amanda mounted her second horse for the night, an even more successful Amateur Owner Hunter. The pair were able to make it to the canter, but the horse stopped twelve strides away from the first jump and never made it over.
Amanda Steege on Lucky with Wendy Salomon (owner), Jennifer Januzis (trainer), and Maddie Webb (groom). Photo provided by Amanda Steege
As she prepared for her third attempt that night, her boyfriend and barn manager Tim Delovich came to the ring with sticky spray and a beer and said to her, “Please just jump all the jumps!” Thankfully, horse number three got Amanda around, but just barely on a score of sixty-three. “I ended the night with a lot of tears and vowed to never do another Derby,” she shared. “To be honest it took me a while to recover but I finally gave it another shot in 2012 and I won the Garden State Horse Show Derby on Tony Arena’s Majestic.”
A Fresh Start and A Lucky Horse
With her confidence rising, Amanda picked up the ride on Susan Darragh’s Zidane in 2012, who she then took to her first Derby Finals in 2013. She was hooked. “The Derbies are a rider’s class,” she said when asked why she felt drawn to the Derbies after a rocky start. “Don’t get me wrong, you need to be sitting on the right horse. But they allow the riders and your riding ability to shine. I have never done anything more exciting than Derby Finals. I love the crowd, the venue, the height of the jumps, the beauty of the arena, and the huge ring.”
Four years ago, Amanda hooked up with Wendy Salomon and her bay gelding Maitre’ D. ‘Lucky’ resides at Jennifer Januzis’ Double J Farm, but Amanda has had the opportunity to show the gelding since 2013. “Lucky is a character,” said Steege. “He is sweet and snuggly in the barn and so smart. He has the desire to win. He is so scopey and has an amazing, picture perfect jumping style. What separates him from the rest is his heart and desire. I trust him 100% and he has a star quality about him. He rises to the occasion.”
Lucky showing off his star jump at Finals. Photo by Morgan Workman
Rising to the occasion is just how Lucky got his barn name. “Geoff Teall found Lucky in Holland as a five-year-old, and all I knew about him was what I had seen on the video and what Geoff had told me – that he was a little bay horse with a good jump and a good brain,” Salomon shared. “How could I come up with an appropriate name for my new horse without meeting him first? “Almost immediately, a childhood memory came to her that made the choice perfectly obvious.
As a child, Salomon and her parents would vacation at Sprucedale Ranch in the White Mountains where the kids played gymkhana games every afternoon. When it came to the pole bending and keyhole parts of the game, everyone wanted the red roan mare named Lucky. Over the summers, Salomon outgrew Lucky but was approached by an adorable then eight-year-old Timmy Medlock. “Timmy came over to us with a serious expression. Whatever was coming, was important to Timmy. He looked up at us, and announced, ‘Y’know, if you wanna win a wibbon, you wide Lucky.'”
That quote stuck around with Salomon’s family for years and years, therefore it only felt right to pass on those good vibes to her new mount. “When I called my sister to tell her that I’d gotten a new horse and his name was Lucky, she answered immediately, “Because you wanna win a wibbon!”
The Catch Ride of a Lifetime and Prepping for the Future
Lucky lived up to his namesake this year at Finals as he worked his way to the Section A Finals, the callback for the top twenty five horses, and finally put his best foot forward to take third overall amongst hundreds of contestants. “It’s still sinking in. Myself, Wendy, Jennifer, Maddie Webb (Lucky’s groom), and Tim are all just so excited,” said Steege of their top three finish. “For me this is the most exciting week of the year. We plan the whole year around this event and try to arrive here in peak form.”
Lucky returned home to Double J Stables a superstar! Photo by Wendy Salomon
While Lucky returned home to Double J Farm a superstar to enjoy some earned time off and Amanda is still soaking up the moment, they are still looking forward towards the next step in his progress. He’ll start back into work in time to be a force for the Deer Ridge Derby in Wellington in March, and return to the International Hunter Derby Championship in 2018.
“We are gaining more and more confidence and I am excited to see what the future holds!”