The USHJA National Hunter Derby bookended a competitive week of hunter competition Sunday at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Hot off a win earlier in the week in the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship, Griffith continued to prove her prowess in the hunter ring by adding another accolade to her growing collection. Lexi Maounis’ Sonder carried Griffith to two high scores inside the Alltech Arena to lead the final victory gallop ahead of an original field of 37 entries.
A familiar face in Kentucky, course designer Jasen Shelley presented horse-and-athlete pairs with a handful of opportunities to showcase their abilities in the classic round, with four high-option fences offering a chance at bonus points. As the very first pair to ride, Bob Brawley and DDM Equestrian, LLC’s Argento set a high bar for subsequent contenders, garnering a first-round score of 88 from the judges panel.
Libbie Gordon and Finally Farm’s Shamrock improved upon their peers’ performance only a few trips later to secure the slot atop the scorecard with 88 points, which would hold the top spot for a short time until Catherine Cowie’s Traveller, piloted by Laena Romond, took to the ring. Headed into the handy phase of competition, Romond and Traveller had the advantage as the class leaders with 94 points, trailed closely by Griffith and Sonder in the runner-up position with marks of 91.
Returning as the second-to-last pair, Griffith and Sonder pulled out all the stops, taking all the high options and exemplifying a high level of fluidity and handiness to earn a score of 87 to finish on a cumulative tally of 178 points. Though Romond and Traveller laid down a strong performance, the final pair was not able to match the efforts of their counterparts.
In the final standings, Alyssa Mansfield claimed the reserve spot with 174.5 points aboard Ashland Farms’ Candor, with Gordon and Shamrock clinching third place just fractions of a point behind with a final score of 174. Brawley and Argento finished fourth in the rankings, while Jeff Gogul and Snowbird, owned by Roberts Stables, LLC, rounded out the top five.
“I thought the course today for a young horse was a little bit tricky because it was all bending lines and the horses were a little bit lost in general,” Griffith shared. “He is a very brave horse for his age so I’m never worried about the atmosphere affecting him. I can take him in any ring at any time and he is there for you even though he is a little green.”
At only 5 years old, Sonder is already showing his natural ability as a hunter horse during his first year in the show ring. Griffith brought him to Kentucky with the hopes of competing in the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship earlier in the week, but an unfortunate injury to his eye kept them out of contention. Opting to save the horse for another day, Griffith decided to enter Sonder in Sunday’s derby so that his travels were not wasted, and the decision panned out.
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Classic Score / Handy Score / Final
USHJA National Hunter Derby
1. Sonder / Patricia Griffith / Lexi Maounis / 91 / 87 / 178
2. Candor / Alyssa Mansfield / Ashland Farms / 83.5 / 91 / 174.5
3. Shamrock / Libbie Gordon / Finally Farm, Inc / 85 / 89 / 174
4. Argento / Bob Brawley / Ddm Equestrian LLC / 88 / 85 / 173
5. Snowbird / Jeff Gogul / Roberts Stables, LLC / 89 / 82 / 171
6. Traveller / Laena Romond / Catherine Cowie / 94 / 76 / 170
7. Say So / Julie Curtin / Rebekah Warren / 81 / 86 / 167
8. Kahlua / Isabelle Aldridge / Aldridge Equestrian, LLC / 83 / 81 / 164
9. *Cash* / Alexander Alston / North Run / 79.25 / 84 / 163.25
10. Pure Imagination / Lisa Butzer / Ponies & Palms Show Stables LLC / 80 / 83 / 163
11. Last Call Z / Geoffrey Hesslink / McAlary LLC / 86 / 74 / 160
12. Bocas Anarchy / Meghan Kaupp / Ponies & Palms Show Stables LLC / 79.5 / 79 / 158.5