Many top jumper riders were first seen in the New Holland Arena at this year’s Pennsylvania National Horse Show (PNHS) Wednesday night competing for a total of $25,000 in the 1.40m Speed Challenge and the 1.45m Dash for the Cash. A preview of what’s still to come in classes such as Thursday’s $60,000 Pennsylvania Big Jump and Saturday’s $134,000 Grand Prix de Penn National, Marilyn Little and Laura Chapot have proven themselves the ones to beat.
Marilyn Little and Clearwater (c) Al Cook Photography
Piloting Karen O’Connor’s Clearwater, Little bested a field of 33 riders in the $10,000 1.40m Speed Challenge, a single-round class with an 11-fence course designed by Michel Vaillancourt. The duo’s sharp inside turns and steady pace earned them a faultless time of 54.15 seconds, beating the time of 56.58 seconds from early pace-setters Chapot and Calafornia.
“I came thinking I was going to jump four or five jumps out there and find our feet, but as I was watching the class I saw those two inside turns, and I know what he (Clearwater) can do on the landing of the jump and it doesn’t usually affect his next jump,” Little said, noting that the pair have not shown since June. “It was a great opportunity for him, so we just changed our plan and said ‘Okay, we’ll utilize this’ instead of going back in the 1.45m tonight.
“On the one hand, I thought maybe we needed to have a slow round, but sometimes when you’re rusty, the best you can do is practice what you know,” Little continued. “He likes to carry a good lick, and I’m not sure a slow class was really going to prep us for the rest of the week.”
Laura Chapot and Chandon Blue (c) Al Cook Photography
Returning to the ring in the $15,000 1.45m Dash for the Cash, Chapot topped a field of 18 riders with Mary Chapot’s Chandon Blue. With a speedy trip of 51.88 seconds around another Vaillancourt-designed course, the pair beat second-place Sydney Shulman and Azilis Du Mesnil by just three-hundredths of a second.
“(Chandon Blue) is a naturally fast horse,” Chapot said. “He was very excited to be here today. He was prancing and dancing in the schooling area, and I think he was just on fire. Fortunately, he has a really quick way of going and his natural speed is just a bit above what a lot of other horses can do.”
Chapot is familiar with her mount’s natural speed after riding him for more than a year, and her plan for Wednesday’s class was a smooth round. “He’s a great horse for me,” she added. “He suits my style really well. He’s got a lot of energy, and he really wants to go and try hard.”
Chapot plans to have both Calafornia and Chandon Blue compete later in the week in several classes, including the Pennsylvania Big Jump and the Grand Prix de Penn National. She will face off against other riders seen in Wednesday’s opening classes, including Little, fellow Olympian Beezie Madden, and returning champion Beat Mandli.