Michael Britt-Leon of Alpharetta, GA, capped off his first trip to the Capital Challenge Horse Show with the victory in the $10,000 World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Finals on Friday, October 2.
Six of the country’s top professional hunter riders went head to head at the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, OH, with Britt-Leon claiming the title for the first time with an overall score of 186.16 aboard Private I.
Michael Britt-Leon on Private I. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography.
“It is a dream come true to win the WCHR Professional Finals,” Britt-Leon said of his win. “I have watched this class for a while. Being here in 2020 when it’s been so crazy, just being at a horse show of this caliber, is incredible. It’s been a memorable and wonderful experience. This just put it over the top.”
This was Britt-Leon’s very first appearance in the class, and he joined Evan Coluccio, Greg Crolick, Kelley Farmer, Courtney Lenkart, and Geoffrey Hesslink in the line-up to ride for the title.
Britt-Leon came into the WCHR Professional Finals as the leader of the WCHR National Professional year-end standings by virtue of points earned at WCHR-designated shows throughout the year. The top six riders in the national WCHR professional standings qualified for Friday’s class.
The 2020 Pro Finals featured a new format, beginning with the riders taking on a classic hunter round on the horse of their choosing. They then all advanced to the second round, over an extremely technical handy round with the choice of riding a different horse. Each returned on the same horse in reverse order of first round scores, with Britt-Leon riding last on a first-round score of 92.00.
“The change in the WCHR Pro Finals format this year was due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Caroline Weeden, the USHJA WCHR Task Force Chair. “We’re trying to minimize exposure between the different riders, switching horses, grooms holding horses, tack and equipment. Horse welfare also played a role in our decision to allow the riders to use a horse of the rider’s choosing for the Classic or Handy rounds.”
Britt-Leon chose to ride Kelly Sims’s Private I in both rounds. “Private I rose to the occasion,” he said of his mount, an eight-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Corrado. “He jumped out of his skin at every jump and gave me everything I wanted. Of course, you’re riding with the best of the best, so it was anyone’s game tonight. He really rose to the challenge and pushed himself and pushed me to be better and brighter. I couldn’t be happier.
“Yes, there were nerves for sure,” he noted of returning to the second-round at the top of the leaderboard. “I put pressure on myself and that’s how I keep pushing forward. I think there were a lot of tricks to the course, but it was a lot of fun. I loved the short turn to a bounce. That got to show a horse’s brilliance, to come off that short turn and be bright, land, and leave right away. I chose to finish after the walk-through with a big gallop to the last jump.”
The judges rewarded Britt-Leon and Private I with scores of 95.50, 94.00, and 93.00 for an average of 94.16 and a two-round total of 186.16 for victory.
Reserve honors went to Geoffrey Hesslink aboard Bond, owned by Shadowfax Equestrian, LLC, on a total score of 185.99 after they received average scores of 91.66 and 94.33.
Also as part of Friday night’s presentations, third-place finisher Coluccio’s mount High Society, owned by The Lignelli Family, and his groom, Rodrigo Hernandez, were awarded the Sdhapley’s Best Presented Award. High Society was also honored with The Far West Farms Perpetual Trophy as the horse with the highest average score (95.33) from either the classic or handy round.
Now in its 27th year, the Capital Challenge Horse Show, presented by the World Equestrian Center, sets itself apart with a distinct and unique focus on preeminent hunter and equitation competition. Held each autumn, the 2020 edition of the Capital Challenge Horse Show continues through October 4 at the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, OH. The 10 days of competition will include prestigious equitation events, jumper divisions, the World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Finals, the $25,000 3’ and 3’3” Green Hunter North American Championships, and more, with many of the country’s best horses and riders competing in junior, amateur, and professional divisions.