JN Exclusive: Geoffrey Hesslink Takes International Hunter Derbies by Storm

Like many riders, Geoffrey Hesslink was captivated by the hunter derbies due to their creativity, finesse, and the challenges they offer. With many international hunter derby wins under his belt from previous years, Geoffrey is starting 2018 with his best foot forward with back to back wins in the Palm Beach Series $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. JN met up with Geoffrey to discuss his passion for the Derbies and what we can expect out of this young professional in the future.

Molded by the Best

A Shelburne, Vermont native, Geoffrey Hesslink got hooked on barn life at the age of nine. His family bought him his first pony from Don Stewart and Bibby Farmer and naturally fell into training with them. After six years, he grew from ponies to hunters to jumpers, and then decided to tackle the formidable equitation division. At sixteen, Geoffrey made the switch to train with legendary Andre Dignelli of Heritage Farm. 

Geoffrey and his mount, Cadoretto. Photo by Shelby Phillips Photography


Eventually, however, Geoffrey found himself captivated by the hunter derby ring. “For the hunters, it is the top level of our sport: the biggest jumps on the toughest tracks against the best riders and horses, explains Geoffrey. “To be competitive in derbies it takes the combination of being able to navigate big, spooky, technical tracks with finesse and style. I find that my equitation background has set me up to be a very competitive derby rider, so enjoy the challenges that derbies present.”

Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography


It was in the hunter derby ring that Geoffrey would shine. In 2016 he was the Hallway Feeds National Derby Rider of the Year, the WCHR National Developing Professional Champion and USEF and USHJA National Hunter Derby Rider Reserve Champion. 2017 would also lead to a year off successes as he took home the Champion Title in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, Section B and the Reserve in Section A. Geoffrey was also the HITS Saugerties $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby winner.

See Goeffrey and Cadoretto’s win at HITS:

A Trusty Derby Mount

Of course, it takes the right horse to challenge the derby ring with style and Geoffrey found that in Cadoretto. The handsome 17 hand chestnut warmblood gelding is by Cador and out of Caletta (Caletto I). With almost a year together under their belts, the pair has tackled the biggest competitions the derbies have to offer with grace and poise. “I never really have to worry about the courses with my horse, he’s pretty perfect and straightforward,” Geoffrey said of “Cadbury.” “He has a very laid-back personality, and nothing fazes him. He is cute, loves to cuddle, and is pretty much a huge teddy bear.”

Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Originally purchased as a project horse, Geoffrey had hoped to produce the gelding and turn a profit on him. “I never imagined a year ago that we would help each other advance as much as we have — both him as a horse and myself as a rider. It is a privilege to have a horse like him and be a part of his career.”

Tackling 2018, One Class at a Time

After winning the Palm Beach Series $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on January 5th, at The Ridge Farm in Wellington, Florida, Geoffrey was on the right track to making 2018 a memorable one. He contested the class for the second time on the 25th with hopes of bringing home the blue yet a second time.

“I was a little back and forth with my plan for the handy as far as what the judges would be looking for, but coming back on top gave me the opportunity to watch a few different options to see what they were rewarding most. The beginning of the course had a few options, with the toughest causing a lot of problems for the most seasoned hunters. It was my original plan, so I stuck with it since I knew my horse would rise to the occasion.” And sticking to the plan proved to be the right decision for the duo, who came home with back to back wins at The Ridge.

Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography

“Nona [Garson] and George [D’Ambrosio] have done an amazing job at producing these shows and making them easy, planning wise, for us as competitors. The facilities, management, courses, jumps and prize money are all top notch, so it is great to have the opportunity to show under the lights in a class like this,” he shared of the Palm Beach Series at The Ridge.

As the old adage goes, Geoffrey is quick to acknowledge that it takes a village to reach this point in his career. “My parents are my biggest supporters and inspiration. They have always done everything they can to help further my career. They are my number one fans and I could never do it without them. Andre Dignelli has always been there, from training me as a junior to helping me become the professional I am today.”

Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography

With wide opens for the remainder of 2018, Geoffrey hopes to continue his successes in the professional hunter divisions, as well as the national and international derbies, but his goals don’t stop there. “In addition, I’d like to gain more experience in the jumpers, compete in the U25 Grand Prix, and continue to build a strong client base.”