When Michelle Parker trotted into the ring for the second round of the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix on March 13, she couldn’t ward off a feeling of déjà vu. Two weeks earlier she’d found herself in the same situation, following Bjorn Ikast and Brave Heart in a two-horse jump-off.
But while last time a rail relegated her to second in the victory gallop, this week Parker managed to find a quicker way around the course and leave all the jumps in the cups, scoring the top check aboard Reina during the final day of the HITS Arizona circuit.
That win in Tucson felt especially meaningful to Parker and owner Tula Pinnella, as the Holsteiner scored her first grand prix victory at the class last year. Parker also logged the fastest four-fault round on Clever to claim third behind Ikast and Brave Heart.
“Reina’s become much more seasoned and very straightforward,” said Parker, San Marcos, Calif.
“She has a good motor, and by now she really gets it. We didn’t get to practice last week because a flu bug went through my barn, but she stepped right in this week and felt great.”
Reina was the outcome of some bad luck. When Pinnella’s mare Lady got hurt 12 years ago, she decided to breed the Belgian Warmblood while she recuperated. And when Pinnella saw the precocious baby jump off a bank in her field, she suspected she might have another talented animal on her hands.
Reina, by Romiro, represented Pinnella’s first foray into the breeding world, and that niche fit nicely with her then-day job as a registered nurse.
“The night before she was born her mother looked antsy,” recalled Pinnella. “I’m looking at her, thinking that she’s ready, but when I called the vet he wouldn’t come out, because he’d just seen her and didn’t think she was ready. Sure enough, she had Reina the next day. The vet was so embarrassed, but I just said, ‘Girls know!’ ”
Pinnella, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., sold Reina to try a career in the hunter ring, but the new owner traded her back for some cash and a truck when it didn’t prove a perfect fit. Before coming to Parker, Reina also produced a foal of her own named Cameo, by Pinnella’s former grand prix jumper Central Park. Parker rode Cameo, now 7, to level 3 ribbons in Tucson for her owner—and Reina’s groom—Salvador Alvarado.
Under Parker’s guidance, Reina’s picked up grand prix ribbons across California, Texas and Colorado, and she topped the $24,900 SWFC Variable Grand Prix at Tucson Fall Preview (Ariz.) in October.
“I was extraordinarily lucky to breed such a great horse and have it end up at the upper levels, and of course there were a couple bumps in the road on the way,” said Pinnella. “But Michelle really made this happen. She’s such a well-educated, cool rider with a nice way around the horses.”
The Cream Of The Crop
Pinella wasn’t the only one continuing the legacy of a former mount in Tucson. Shine On Me, one of the circuit’s biggest hunter winners, has an especially long history with owner Nancy Gray.
Gray had to retire her favorite show horse Sweet Talk prematurely due to recurring soundness issues, so she opted to give her a new job as a broodmare. Her son, Shine On Me, has proven just as adept as his mother at picking up tricolors, winning the amateur-owner, 36 and over, and high performance hunter circuit titles at HITS Arizona. Shine On Me showed three weeks on his way to the titles.
Gray fell in love with Shine On Me’s sire, Shine, when she saw him compete with Christa Endicott on the Califor-nia circuit, and sure enough, his offspring have proved to be as good as she hoped.
“I’ve bred a few other horses, but he’s the cream of the crop,” she said. “As soon as he hit the ground I knew he’d be the special one. He’s athletic, quiet and takes no prep. He’s the kind of horse you can take straight out of his stall to the ring, and he doesn’t do anything wrong. Plus he’s a great mover and jumper.”
But it started out a little tougher. “Fonzie” was born on Gray’s Glendale, Ariz., farm but proved willful as a baby. So Gray sent him to an expert from the reining world to take over when it came time to back him. He came back to Gray for a bit, but her day job as an ultrasound technician for the Arizona Heart Institute relegated most riding to weekends. So these days Fonzie lives with trainer Gretchen Lof in Cave Creek, Ariz., 30 miles away. Lof rode Fonzie to the high performance series title.
Fonzie’s rideability and Lof’s talent make him a consistent performer in handy hunter classes and USHJA National Hunter Classics. The Oldenburg topped the $2,500 Devoucoux Hunter Prix during Week 5.
“Gretchen’s very patient with the young ones, and she’s done a great job with Fonzie,” said Gray. “When I brought him to her he’d never jumped a jump, and she brought him through to the 4' division.”
Gray hopes to continue earning ribbons aboard her homebred in California this summer.
Welcome Is Well Received
Susie Straus had her hands full during the HITS Arizona circuit. As a Tucson native and a young professional with a busy lesson and show barn, she found herself constantly trekking back and forth between the Pima County Show-grounds and her Well Spring Farm to keep her farm running normally during the six-week circuit and her showing customers schooled for competition.
But somewhere in the middle she managed to find time to ride Welcome to the first year green circuit champ-
ionship for Ryann Thomas. Welcome, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Indoctro—Eleine), showed three weeks on his way to the circuit award. According to Straus, the horse stepped up to the rated divisions gracefully this season, thanks to his easygoing temperament.