Franklin, Tenn.—July 1
Before today, Erin McCabe and Castlewellan hadn’t competed in a USHJA International Hunter Derby together since last August. Qualified for the 2012 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals (Ky.), McCabe and owner Nancy Gordon had a decision to make. Winning the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Brownland Summer horse show helped them make up their minds.
“I think we’ll probably go to the Finals now!” said McCabe with a laugh. “He was amazing today. I’m beyond excited. I like winning on any horse, but he’s such a special horse.”
Castlewellan usually goes in the adult amateur hunters with Gordon.
“I normally just save him for the adults,” said McCabe. “Nancy was nice enough to let me have him today instead of doing him herself this weekend. I feel lucky to have him. He came out and was super for me."
McCabe, 28, and Castlewellan, a 9-year-old Mecklenburg gelding (Granbensee—Juliana), picked up first round scores of 82 and 83 from the two judging teams. The pair returned back for the handy round in third behind Timothy Maddrix on Missy Nolen’s Island Time and Stephanie Hall on Amy Lee Gillard’s Churchill. But Island Time cross-cantered part of the way to an oxer, dropping him to seventh. And while Hall did many of the high options in Round 2, a rub dropped Churchill to third. Castlewellan earned a combined second-round score of 187.5, including handy bonus points, for the win with a total score of 352.5 points.
“He’s almost 18 hands, so I wanted to make sure I kept him contained so I could do all the tight turns,” said McCabe. “He stayed right underneath me the whole time. I could turn back really easily. He’s so big and scopey. He doesn’t even have to see the jump, and he’ll jump up and jump it.”
David Wright stepped up to second on Joan Violin’s State Hill (339.5) after demonstrating several effortless tight turns, picking up bonus points of 8 and 9 from the judging teams.
Gerry Briggs designed the courses for the 26 starters in the hunter derby, and while dry ground conditions forced him to keep the jumps in the sand grand prix ring instead of moving them to the grass field, he still incorporated plenty of natural obstacles. Riders faced a log jump in the first round, and a smaller log trot fence in the handy round. The handy round also included several roll-back turns and options for inside turns. Rails fell often in the first round, though they were spread out along the course, and most riders opted to stick with the lower height options.
“About 99 times out of 100, I think Jerry’s courses always ride really well,” said McCabe. “It was straightforward and gave you an opportunity to show off in some places. You could ride it really well, and I was thrilled with it. I can’t complain at all.”
Temperatures in Franklin reached 106 degrees both Saturday and Sunday, prompting show management to move many classes up in the day, but McCabe said Castlewellan remained unaffected by the weather.
“This horse, he comes out the same whether it’s 20 degrees or 120 degrees,” said McCabe, of Zionsville, Ind. “We always say he has a halo that lives over his head. I love him to death.”
Getting Better And Better
The $25,000 Brownland Summer Grand Prix was only the fourth grand prix class for Whitney Owens and S&L Shoe Guru as a pair. But their newness of their partnership wasn’t a hindrance as Owens and “Guru” turned in two faultless rounds, sweeping the class with a jump-off time of 29.79 seconds. Rebecca Conway settled for second with Blue Hill Farm LLC’s Twister with 31.68 seconds.
“We clicked from Day 1, and it’s been getting better and better,” said Owens, who rides at her family’s Oakwell Farms in San Antonio, Texas.
Eighteen pairs started the course, with just five advancing to the jump-off. Alex Granato jumped clear first rounds on Mad Season and Gangsta. First in the jump-off with Mad Season, Granato laid down a clean round and a time of 32.32 seconds. He also jumped clear in the second round with Gangsta, but with a slower time of 33.09 seconds. Owens' brother, Frankie Owens, went next in the short course on DS Holdings’ Lucio 18. Two downed rails relegated that pair to fifth.
Whitney, 30, had planned on an inside turn when she came back in the ring, but it worked out a little differently than she anticipated.
“My brother rides really well and fast, and Alex rides really well and fast,” said Whitney. “I knew I wanted to do the first fence fast and then do the inside turn to the second. I had asked Alex if he thought that turn was there, and he said, ‘Yeah, but it’s going to put you far inside, so make sure you go around the pile of jumps to the triple bar. We came around and the turn and I went, ‘Oh no, we’re going to the inside of those jumps.’ He had to work hard to get over the triple bar to get down the line, but he’s definitely got the scope for it.”
Conway and Twister were last in for the jump-off, but their clear round and time of 31.68 seconds couldn’t quite catch Whitney and DS Holdings’ Guru. Guru, an 11-year-old Anglo-European stallion (Calvaro Z—Lisabel), was at Mike and Tracy McCormick’s MTM Farm when Whitney found him.
“He’s perfect,” she said. “Other horses I’ve had were super scopey but hotter. He carries himself, but I’m not getting run away with. He’s so much fun. He has so much scope, and he has tons of personality. I’ve ridden him bareback at home, and for a stallion he’s so well behaved.”