Wellington, FL – February 18, 2016 – The arrival of World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week at the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival heralds the traditional beauty of the hunter discipline, which is featured all week long in the main International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC).
The professional hunter divisions were completed today and seven divisions named champions.
Perennial favorite Scott Stewart of Flemington, NJ, captured two championships today; he rode Dr. Betsee Parker’s A Million Reasons to the tricolor in the High Performance Hunter division and David Gochman’s Catch Me to the Equine Tack & Nutritionals Second Year Green Working Hunter championship.
Stewart topped two of the three over fences classes and placed second in the under saddle with the nine-year-old Holsteiner gelding. Havens Schatt settled for the reserve honors with Shaw Johnson Price’s 11-year-old Mecklenburg gelding, Custom Made, topping the under saddle and earning a fifth and two second place ribbons over fences.
Catch Me was recently named the USHJA WCHR Hunter of the Year for 2015 and will receive the WCHR Peter Wetherill Cup on Saturday night. In May of 2015, Catch Me became ill and was diagnosed with botulism, a neurologic disorder that can result in paralysis and may be fatal. Since the disease was caught early and treated, Catch Me was able to make a full recovery and returned to the show ring in August.
“When you saw him at the clinic you would not have thought he was going to make it,” Steward remarked about the ordeal.
He was especially impressed with the gelding’s performance this week. “He’s so careful, and he was awesome,” Stewart detailed. Catch Me’s performance has led him to consider competing him in the Hunter Spectacular.
Stewart looks forward to earning a spot in the coveted class each year. “It’s certainly one of the most special weeks for us here,” he remarked. “It’s still a great thing to try to do.”
Stewart and A Million Reasons won the stake round of the High Performance Hunters with a score of 88 and placed third in another of the three over fences classes. A Million Reasons also earned a blue ribbon in the under saddle class.
The 11-year-old Holsteiner mare walked right into the International Arena on Wednesday, competing for the first time since the National Horse Show in November. “She doesn’t show that much,” Stewart detailed about the mare’s light show schedule. When asked what helps the mare continue to impress year after year, Stewart explained, “I don’t really jump her [four feet high] at home. She has an easy job, so I think she stays pretty interested.”
A Million Reasons, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker, may be a small horse, but she never appears to be when on course. “She’s not that big a horse, but she has a giant stride,” Stewart stated. “You just have to do things her way. She’s a little temperamental, but very scopey for a small horse.”
Kelley Farmer and Like I Said settled for the reserve honors after winning two of the three over fences classes. The pair also placed sixth in the under saddle. Like I Said is an eight-year-old Mecklenburg mare, who was recently purchased by Pony Lane Farm.
Farmer and Like I Said moved up to the top tricolor ribbon in the Equine Tack & Nutritionals First Year Green Working Hunter. Farmer, who splits her time between Lexington, KY, and Wellington, piloted the mare to wins in two of the three over fences classes. The pair also placed fourth over jumps to clinch the tricolor win.
Like I Said received the highest score of the week, earning an impressive 94 in the stake round today. “She was amazing; what a horse,” Farmer stated. “The only reason she wasn’t champion in two divisions this week was because I got in her way.”
Farmer and Like I Said also won both of the over fences classes in the High Performance division on Wednesday. “For a First Year horse to walk in the International ring yesterday and win both classes…she’s a heck of a horse, and I think she speaks for herself,” Farmer laughed. “I couldn’t be happier with her.”
Reserve champion honors in the First Year Green Hunters went to Victoria Colvin and Style. Style, who is a seven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Take the High Road LLC, earned a second place ribbon in the under saddle, and a first and a sixth over fences.
Farmer topped another division in the Shapley’s Grooming Products Green Conformation Hunters with Clever Conversation, a seven-year-old Warmblood gelding by Celestial owned by Kensel, LLC, and Woodland Way, Inc. They placed second in the model, won the under saddle, and were first, second, and second over fences. Trainer Larry Glefke was pleased that the horse continued his winning ways from earlier in the circuit in WCHR week, but the young gelding will not compete on Saturday night.
“All of them that Kelley rides can jump big jumps, but going out there for the first time under the lights is a lot to ask from him as a First Year Horse,” he explained.
Kelley Farmer and Clever Conversation. Photo © Sportfot.
“Clever” is like a ‘baby Huey’,” Glefke explained. “He’s like a big puppy dog. He’s beautiful, and he has a tremendous canter. He just flies across the ground. When you’re cantering around, you feel like his feet don’t even touch the ground.”
Farmer added, “He was ready to come into his own. He’s been winning a lot. He’s brave, he’s quiet, and he has a ton of ability. I knew he would walk out there (in the International Arena) and love it.”
Farmer also rode the reserve champion in the division, It’s Me, owned by Farmer, Pinney, & Hill. The seven-year-old Warmblood stallion by Quality won two over fences classes and was third over fences, and placed third in the model.
Farmer, like Stewart, has been reigning in the professional hunters since the WCHR Hunter Spectacular started 20 years ago. When asked about her success during WCHR week at WEF, she stated, “I’ve won that (Hunter Spectacular) class once. I’d really like to say I’m a multiple winner! To keep having horses that are capable of competing on that field and at this week, [qualifying for] the class, it’s a testament to all of my team and what a great job they all do. Larry, Bucky (Reynolds), Debbie (Buchanan) in the barn, and all my great guys, and the horses. I’m lucky to have a group like I do. It’s nice to keep being back in the mix every time.”
Clever Conversation in his winning presentation with ringmaster Christian Craig, owner Peggy O’Meara, Marla Holt of the USHJA, and Sally Stith-Burdette of Shapley’s Grooming Products. Photo © Sportfot.
For Farmer, it’s a balance of peaking her young and experienced horses at the right time and keeping herself healthy. Last year at WEF 4, a horse she was riding tripped and fell. Farmer tore her rotator cuff and had a hairline fracture in her sternum. Despite her injuries, she was back week 6 and competing.
“Truthfully I wasn’t in good enough shape to ride, and I pushed myself. It probably didn’t benefit my horses, and I didn’t ride the way I should for my horses. This year, I’m back and I feel good,” she said.
Chris Payne and Truman. Photo © Sportfot.
Chris Payne of Cincinnati, OH, brought home another championship for the circuit with Truman, a nine-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Debbie Bass and Maypine Farm, in the Shapley’s Grooming Products Regular Conformation Hunters. They won two over fences classes and were third in the remaining over fences class, and won the model and the under saddle.
“He’s an absolutely amazing horse,” Payne said. “He’s a beautiful horse, he’s very correct. He hasn’t lost an under saddle. He just has a great style and technique. He is what you think of, when you think of a hunter.”
Payne, who imported Truman as an inexperienced five-year-old from Europe, did not have any expectations coming into WCHR week. But, he is excited to showcase Truman’s talent in the horse’s first ever Hunter Spectacular at WEF. “The International Ring is very imposing for some. I went into it hoping that he and I had a good time,” he explained.
“If the cards played out in our favor, I was happy. (On Saturday night) I’ll go out and have a good time. I’m lucky to get to ride him, and Debbie Bass is an amazing owner for letting me do this.”
The reserve champion in the division was Lucador, ridden by Scott Stewart for Dr. Betsee Parker. They were third in the model, second under saddle, and first, second, and third over fences. Stewart plans to compete Lucador in the Hunter Spectacular on Saturday night.
A field of 58 horses vied for the Performance Working Hunter 3’6″ championship, resulting in a California split of the division. Elizabeth Boyd piloted Stella Styslinger’s O’Ryan to one of the two championships following two wins and a fourth place ribbon over fences. The pair also placed fourth in the under saddle. Brady Mitchell rode Cassanto to the second championship title. The pair placed first and second over fences and topped the under saddle. Cassanto is a nine-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Emily Perez.
Jimmy Torano piloted Mia Holstead’s Sutherland to one of the Performance Working Hunter 3’3″ division championships. Torano placed second in the under saddle and earned fifth, second, and first place ribbons over fences on the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding. Victoria Colvin also earned a championship tricolor aboard Havana, who is a 16-year-old Hanoverian mare owned by Take the High Road LLC. The pair topped the under saddle class and earned a second and two third place ribbons over fences.