Upper Marlboro, Md.—Oct. 5
Scott Stewart jumped into the lead of Round 1 of the World Champion Hunter Rider Pro Hunter Rider Finals, and he never let go. Over four rounds of competition, Stewart laid down one stellar round after another to earn his fifth career title at Capital Challenge.
Stewart last topped the class in 2010. “It’s always an honor to be in a group of top riders like this. This is the most relaxed I’ve been, and I was able to enjoy it a little more. I had a good week, and the horses have been great. This was a good, fun class to do,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J.
Peter Pletcher, who won this year's WCHR Professional Hunter Challenge, pulled ahead of John French to take second after earning the highest scores of the competition in the handy—a 94.33 average—aboard Stewart’s VIP Z. Liza Boyd, Hunt Tosh and Kelley Farmer rounded out the leaderboard.
The class pits the top six riders in the WCHR standings against one another. Each rider brings a horse, and riders swap off over four rounds of competition, with the last round run as a handy.
The Proper Procedure
Riders crowded around the in-gate to watch the other horses go, gabbing amongst themselves about each horse’s strengths and special needs before hopping on their mounts at the last minute. After warming up their first horse, there's no further schooling allowed.
The most ado came with Farmer’s mount Red Sky. That horse stopped early on course. He cleared on re-approach, had a lead issue through one corner, then pulled a rail coming into an in-and-out. Before he was out of the ring, members of the class’s appeals committee were already discussing removing the horse from the class.
There’s precedent for swapping out a horse, and there's always an alternate horse standing by ready to go. Show manager Oliver Kennedy recalled that this had happened at least twice in the class’s 19-year history. But it had never happened that a rider had an issue with the horse he or she brought.
Geoff Teall, head of the World Champion Hunter Rider Committee, who organizes the class, was commentating at the time for the live feed on USEF Network when the texts from his fellow committee members started coming in.
“The hardest thing was we want the class to go on as well as we can, and we want to make it even for everyone when the bottom falls out," he said. "We have to make fast decisions, and it’s not an easy choice. Ultimately we made the right call.”
They decided that while an alternate horse would be subbed in—trainer Karen Healey sent over Capilan 2, a Georgie Maskray Segesman-owned veteran of last year’s competition who was standing braided and warmed up—Farmer would keep her score from Red Sky since she supplied the horse. Farmer rode Capilan 2 over the course so that the horse would be on equal footing with the other mounts, but that score didn’t count.
An Off Night
Farmer was clearly distraught. She apologized to her competitors and the organizers.
“I wouldn’t have walked in that ring if he didn’t feel great,” she said. “He showed here this week. He can be a little quirky, but that had nothing to do with it. He hurt himself; he did something. He warmed up perfectly. [In the ring] I landed from that first jump, and he was not right. I didn’t know if he was going to level out, and he obviously didn’t. The more I jumped the more it showed up in the course. By the time I jumped down the six he couldn’t canter through the end of the ring. I haven’t been to the barn, but the vet’s back there. I hope he’s OK. I don’t know what that is. Had he felt like that in the schooling area I wouldn’t have let him go in the ring. I appreciate the Garbers letting me use him.”
Red Sky had shown earlier in the week, competing with Holly Orlando in the 3’6” performance hunter division. He’s been a star in the derby ring this year, winning editions at Memphis In May II (Tenn.), Keswick (Va.) and Summer In The Rockies VI (Colo.). But, as Farmer alluded, he's had quirky days too. He stopped in major classes like this August’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals (Ky.), as well as classes at the Chicago Hunter Derby this September, and the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) this April.
All the riders raved over their mounts, familiar or new. Stewart tacked up VIP Z, who serves as his student, Tori Colvin’s, No. 1 equitation mount. He brought that horse last year as well.
French borrowed Sander from Lily Blavin, who has just started riding him in the children’s hunter division. That horse earned the Far West Perpetual Trophy as the top-scoring horse of the competition. “I knew he’d be a great horse for the class, and I told her he’s going to be the leading horse. When we walked out of the ring [Blavin] said ‘You called that one!' ” he recalled.
Pletcher rode his new derby mount Savvy, owned by Ashley Cross. Tosh borrowed CR Carolato II from Jordan Seigel. And trainer Gary Duffy arranged for Boyd to borrow Winnetoe from Ponies and Palms LLC.