Oct. 7—Upper Marlboro, Md.
In an incredibly tight race to the finish, John French scored a World Champion Hunter Rider Professional Finals win at Capital Challenge. He edged ahead of Hunt Tosh by just .08 points in the final handy round to claim the title.
“I almost don’t think it was fair that I won by that much,” said French, San Jose, Calif. “This is a really great group of riders this year.”
Tosh held the lead from the get go after a great first round on Serendipity, the mount he borrowed from Karen Healey student Kaile Rudy. He held onto it until French’s final handy round. French rode VIP Z in that round, the horse Scott Stewart brought to the competition. That horse earned the Far West Farms Perpetual Trophy as the highest-scored horse of the day. Stewart selected that horse for the class to squeeze in an extra school for junior Tori Colvin before the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals.
“I thought it would be great to get him into the ring with these great riders,” Stewart said. “And it worked out great for John.”
Tosh took a turn on Ostentacious, brought by third-placed Kelley Farmer, for the handy. That horse’s owner, Sheila Motley, missed the class as she just had a baby boy two days ago.
“I’d seen Kelley ride him a few times, so I just turned as hard as I could and just held on after that," said Tosh, Milton, Ga. “I questioned whether to go inside after the in-and-out to the oxer, so maybe I should have gone inside there [to win]."
Farmer felt lucky to have drawn Tosh’s mount for the final round.
“I had the benefit of riding a Karen Healey trained horse for it,” Farmer said. “In the handy, you really didn’t know what your horse was capable of until you got into the ring.”
Five-time class winner Stewart finished up fourth, ahead of Liza Boyd and Jenny Karazissis. The six riders who competed each brought a horse to the competition—with Healey’s clients donating horses for Tosh and Boyd, as well as the reserve horse for the competition. Each rider performed one round on his or her own horse, then swapped mounts three times. Judges Jim Clapperton, Scott Hoffstetter, Mark Jungherr, Brian Lenehan, Mike Rosser and Shane George officiated over the class.
While all the riders had to take a turn on mostly unfamiliar horses, Boyd and Tosh didn’t have the benefit of even one regular ride. Boyd met her horse the morning of the competition, which meant she didn’t have the advantage of knowing any of the horses in the competition well.
Ironically, with three regular equitation mounts in the final, Karazissis’ partner Mamba, a first year green mount owned by Havens Farm, won the handy trip with Boyd up.
“I’m so proud of my horse,” said Karazissis. “What more could you ask for from a green horse, to come in and be ridden by all these great riders.”
Boyd watched that horse settle in as the class went on.
“I didn’t know which options to take, because he was a first year horse,” said Boyd. “He really stepped up to the plate. He was amazing. He did all the angles really well.”
Michael Rheinheimer built the evening’s courses, and the riders had extra praise for him by leaving a trot fence out of the handy round.
“You could do some crazy things in the handy if you wanted to,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J. “I wasn’t really aware of where I stood going in, and I kept getting lost. I turned and there was nowhere to go, so I had to go through a gap [between jumps], and I didn’t plan on doing that.”
The sense of camaraderie between all the top hunter riders was clear before and after rounds. Each wanted to see their horses and fellow competitors do well.
“We’re all competitive and we want to win, but we’re all down there having fun as well,” Tosh said.
Several riders had enthusiastic cheering sections in the crowd, and French had a special section. He grew up in Maryland, and so plenty of his old equestrian buddies came to watch him win his third title.
“My parents get to come and watch me here because they live [here],” French said. “All the people I grew up with come out and support me. It’s great.”
Siam Scores A Win
For Kristi Siam, just coming to Capital Challenge for the Ariat National Adult Medal Finals was a huge thrill. Winning was the icing on the cake.
“This is just so surreal,” she said. “I just can’t believe it.”
After two rounds of competition, Siam trailed Mahala Rummell by less than 2 points. When the judges called for additional testing, Siam laid down a perfect round to edge ahead and take the title back to Chatsworth, Calif.
Siam rode her 8-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Krosus, to the win.
“I knew we were prepared,” said Siam. “At home, we do so much that prepares me for this kind of situation. But I was still concerned I would let my head get in the way.”
Siam kept her cool in the testing, which started by immediately counter-cantering a vertical. Siam and Rummell also had to trot a fence, and they finished over a long hand gallop to the final fence, a skinny oxer.
Part of the reason Siam hadn’t expected to win is that she’d been out of the tack for two weeks.
“I was in Tunisia for my daughter’s wedding,” Siam said. “It’s a big deal for me not to have ridden before this, because I can forget real fast.”
The retired schoolteacher credited Karen Healey and the staff at Karen Healey Stables for keeping “Cody” prepped and ready for her. Siam grew up riding and took a 20-year hiatus, finding her way back to the show ring thanks to her daughter’s growing interest in the sport.
“I got on her big warmblood and I said, 'Oh this is heaven,' ” said Siam. “Never in a million years did I think I would be riding like this again.”
Riding the big warmbloods was a different experience for Siam, who grew up riding Thoroughbred hunters and jumpers, and later helping with her family’s flat racing farm.
“This is all about the journey for me,” Siam said. “Each step for me is so much fun. Whether it’s good or painful, it doesn’t really matter.”
Royal Oak Returns To The Ring To Win The WCHR Adult Amateur Challenge
Royal Oak may not have had a lot of miles in the show ring this season, but he wasted no time getting back into form. He and Dawn Fogel topped the WCHR Adult Amateur Challenge today, after only five shows back in action this year.
Fogel edged out Chiara Parlagreco, who rode Paris North in the final show of his career here at Capital Challenge. Music Street and Lindsey Evans-Thomas claimed third.
Fogel’s chestnut Westphalian won back-to-back rounds, scoring 90s across the board in Round 2 to take the title.
“I was really happy when [the second round] was over,” said Fogel, Louisville, Ky. “He gave me every chance, and he helped calm my nerves.”
Fogel bought Royal Oak, or "Roy," three years ago.
“He’s my favorite kind of horse to ride,” Fogel said. “You can ride him with a really light feel, and he knows his job and is happy to do it.”
Roy and Fogel used to compete in the amateur-owner, 18-35, division, earning the reserve title here two years ago. But he suffered an injury in early 2010 and spent the next 18 months out of commission.
“We were lucky that everything the vet told us to do worked. I’ve been in other situations with horses where it doesn’t,” Fogel said.
Capital Challenge is only Roy’s sixth show back. Fogel dropped him down to the low amateur-owner division to help make the transition back into showing easier for him. She qualified for the WCHR Adult Amateur Challenge through his strong performance in the division earlier in the week.
“I was thrilled with how he went yesterday, but he went better in this class than he did yesterday,” Fogel said. “We’re just so happy to have him back and healthy again, no matter what division he’s doing.”