Lafitte De Muze Carries Amanda Steege to Success in $50K National Horse Show Hunter Classic

Now in its second year, the $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic made its triumphant return to the National Horse Show on Friday for its 2019 installment. A fitting class for the 136th National Horse Show, which is steeped in history and tradition, the event celebrated the elegance and grace of some of the nation’s top hunter horses and riders over two rounds of competition.

Exemplifying the ideals of hunter competitors, Amanda Steege and Lafitte De Muze, owned by Cheryl Olsten, laid down two stellar performances to earn the majority of the prize money, a one-year lease of an Audi from Audi of Lexington, presented by Samuel A. B. Boone, as well as the lion’s share of the $10,000 Meralex Farm Leading Professional Hunter Rider Bonus.

Amanda Steege and Lafitte De Muze. Photo by Phelps Media Group

To qualify, horse-and-rider combinations awarded championships, reserve championships or second reserve championships in their respective hunter divisions earlier in the week were eligible to compete in Friday’s $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic. Participants competed at the respective height – 3’6”, 3’9” or 4’ – of the section from which they qualified, which meant 21 pairs competed at the 3’6” height, six partnerships jumped the 3’9” fences and only three exhibitors navigated the course at 4’ in height. The class, which counted towards Horse of the Year points, consisted of two rounds, with the top 12 returning for a second round from low to high score within their respective heights.

Following the first round of riding, which saw 30 exhibitors try their hands around designer Bobby Murphy’s natural track, reigning champion Stewart and Private Life led the scorecard with an initial score of 89 points. To determine each duo’s tally, the individual marks from two judges panels, consisting of Ralph Caristo, Linda Hough, Jimmy Torano and Tammy Provost, were averaged to result in a final score for that round. Tied in terms of points with a score of 89 but competing over lower fences, Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou sat in the reserve spot following the first round and Steege and Lafitte De Muze rounded out the top three contenders with a score of 87.50. After a competitive first phase of competition, the cut-off score for the top 12 pairs earning callbacks was a respectable 81.25 points.

Returning for the second portion of riding, the top 12 combinations were tested once more in the handy phase of competition. The 4’ horses took to the ring first, followed by the 3’6” contenders and finally the 3’9” exhibitors. Murphy’s pattern included a long approach across the entire arena to fence one, a two-stride in-and-out and multiple rollback turns to display handiness, plus entries were challenged to choose two fences to hand gallop out of the provided obstacles.

Riding midway through the pack, Maria Rasmussen jumped to the early lead aboard Sunset View Farm LLC’s Worthy thanks to second round marks of 87, which pushed the horse-and-rider combination to a cumulative score of 172.50 to set the standard. Second-to-last to take to the ring, Steege and Lafitte De Muze entered the ring boasting 87.50 points and managed to match their previous efforts with a second equivalent score over the 3’9” fences, propelling them to the top of the standings with a composite score of 175 with only one rider, 2018 champion Stewart, left to go. Though Stewart and Private Life, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker, turned in a superb final trip around the handy track, their score of 87.50 left them just shy of the title with a final tally of 173.50 points, solidifying Steege and Lafitte De Muze as the 2019 victors.

Amanda Steege and Lafitte De Muze. Photo by Phelps Media Group

“I think all of us riders talked a lot and went back and forth over what jumps we wanted to hand gallop,” Steege said of her plan for the day. “That was interesting. I have never had a course like that in a class where they gave us the option of hand galloping two jumps, let alone the jumps that were of our choosing. I ended up picking fences five and eight. I decided that since I was galloping jump eight that I would go around fence one in order to get a good gallop there. My plan was to do the best that I could and show off as much as possible and see where everything fell in the end. I was happy with my hand gallop jumps. My boyfriend of 15-years, Tim Delovich, was joking with me after the round that he has never seen me go that fast on any horse ever!”

In addition to leading the lap of honor as the 2019 victor in the $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic, Steege was also awarded a one-year lease of an Audi from Audi of Lexington, presented by Samuel A. B. Boone, as well as half of the $10,000 Meralex Farm Leading Professional Hunter Rider Bonus, with the remainder going to the second- and third-place finishers in the cumulative standings.

“This class is such a highlight of our year,” shared Steege. “I really encouraged my owner to send my horse to this horse show, not only because it is the National Horse Show, but also because I think it is really important to support hunter events and hunter classes that give out this level of prize money and have this level of atmosphere. I showed two horses in this class last year, Zara and Lafitte. Last year was Lafitte’s first year in America and first year as a hunter and he got a little nervous and green in this class last year, so it was nice to see how much he has matured this year and how much more relaxed he was about the whole thing. I am really proud to have been in the top three for two years in a row.”

Stewart was awarded $3,000 as the reserve finisher overall, while Jeff Gogul earned a $2,000 bonus for third place in the rankings. Athletes earned points throughout the week in the High Performance Hunter, High Performance Conformation Hunter, Green Conformation Hunter and Green Hunter divisions.