A member of the USHJA High Performance Committee, occasional derby judge and regular competitor, Louise Serio knows plenty about hunter derbies. Since their inception she’d made a point to campaign in the classes, and she's regularly taken respectable ribbons back to Kennett Square, Pa. But before today, April 4, she’d never won one.
She picked a good time to reverse that trend.
Serio piloted Castle Rock to raw scores of 95 and 99, with perfect bonus points of 10, to the top of the $50,000 Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby in Wellington, Fla., picking up one of the biggest checks in hunter competition.
“I really wanted to win this,” admitted Serio. “I’m competitive, and I really wanted this class. Coming back on top it’s a hard position to be in—at least for me it is. It’s a lot of pressure. I’m getting old, and I needed some wins under my belt.”
Serio and Castle Rock edged out Scott Stewart and Fashion Farm’s Summer Place, and Peridot and Tammy Provost shot up to third place from 16th after a stellar handy round tonight.
“I was so excited!" said Provost, who scored identical enviable scores of 94 with 10 bonus points apiece and 5 extra points for selecting the highest options from both sets of judges. "I chose to be really conservative yesterday, because I was nervous about how he’d be with the crowd. But Lynn [Jayne] had him prepped perfectly, and he was great.”
Yesterday’s classic round was originally slated to jump on grass in the Stadium, but when competitors turned out to be sluggish to hand in entry forms for a class on unfamiliar footing, The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival management opted to move the round to the grand hunter arena. The decision proved a popular one, and 78 horses took a turn. Castle Rock won the round, earning bonus points of 9 and 8 for his classic hunter style. Kelley Farmer’s newest first year green star, Taken, stole the judges’ hearts to finish second, with Sumer Place taking third.
The top 25 horses earned invitations to tonight’s handy round, held in the Internationale Arena under the lights. The course, set by Skip Bailey and Bobby Murphy, featured plenty of big, open galloping fences, and made use of the arena’s bank complex. But the course’s defining feature came in the form of a circle of straw bales, which riders had to jump in and out of two separate times with a single stride between.
The straw caused the most problems, with some seasoned and greener mounts electing not to participate. Winner of the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular Brunello (Liza Boyd) and experienced junior hunter Felicci (Alexandra Vespico) stopped out thanks to the circle of doom. The winner of the Washington International Equitation Classic Final, Travino (Patricia Griffith), dug in his heels there on the second approach, marring an otherwise lovely trip, and Katie Dinan and Allejandro fell out of contention after that junior hunter took an extra try to get over.
Serio joked that though she’d never seen anything quite like the straw circle at the start, she was sure every derby barn would have one on their property soon enough.
There were a few other dramatic moments as well. Kelsey Thatcher and Sublime suffered a nasty-looking fall after a distance didn’t come up to a relatively straight-forward oxer. Both walked away after catching their breath, and Thacher, 17, returned to ride boldly and beautifully aboard Early Applause and Sander, finishing 10th on Sander.
And Avalon and Lyman Whitehead looked on their way to make a huge move up the leaderboard from 19th when Avalon couldn’t muster the courage to jump down the bank. It took plenty of prodding from Whitehead, and a solid minute at least, to get him down, finishing the course in splendid style.
Despite the challenging track, as always, the best combinations made the course look simple.
“For me the course rode great,” said Serio. “I thought it all came up pretty well. My last jump was long! But once you commit to something like that you just have to keep going. I had a great time, and I thought my horse really rose to the occasion.”
Scott Stewart’s first year ride Summer Place marched around the Internationale Arena like a much more seasoned horse—a nice change since his last time in that ring. During the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular Summer Place spooked in the ring and sent Stewart into the dirt. Despite the horse’s obvious natural ability for the derbies, Stewart still isn’t focused on campaigning him, or any of his other mounts, in the classes.
“I really enjoy doing them, but I’m not sure about [USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals],” he said.
Check out photos from yesterday's classic round in this Chronicle photo gallery.
Top 12 Results:
Round 1: Score Panel 1/Bonus Panel 1/Height Bonus Panel 1 Score Panel 2/Bonus Panel 2/Height Bonus Panel 2
Round 2: Score Panel 1/ Bonus Panel 1/Height Bonus Panel 1 Score Panel 2/Bonus Panel 2/Height Bonus Panel 2
*Note: Each panel of judges awarded one “height bonus point” for each high option attempted to each competitor.
For full results visit www.shownet.biz
1. Castle Rock/Bryan Baldwin/Louise Serio
R!: 91/9/4 89/8/4
R2: 95/10/5 99/10/5
2. Summer Place/Fashion Farm/Scott Stewart
R1: 90/9/4 88.5/8/4
R2: 93/8/5 96/9/5