Upper Marlboro, Md., Oct. 3
After two rounds going against the top hunter riders in the country, Peter Pletcher  won the $25,000 World Champion Hunter Rider Professional Challenge, clinching the WCHR year-end titles as well at Capital Challenge. 
That would be a major coup for any rider, but for Pletcher, the win felt especially meaningful. He attended this show last year , but he sat on the sidelines, barely able to walk in the aftermath of a slipped disc. Alternative therapies like accupuncture helped Pletcher get back in the tack, but it took a while, and the Magnolia, Texas, rider found himself reevaluating his priorities.
“It makes you realize what’s important. Like if you get an eighth-place ribbon, it’s really not the end of the world because eventually it can turn around and be like this,” he said.
This time around, Pletcher was back in full force. He rode Sambalino, a Brandenburg gelding (Samba—Urania) owned by Becky Gochman.
Heading into the final round, Pletcher and Scott Stewart, on grand champion Garfield, were neck and neck in points for the national championship and the challenge title.
“It’s always nice to have a little bit of a lead in case you have a little rub or something,” he said. In the end, Pletcher earned scores that stretched up to 92 to move from his second-placed spot to first ahead of Stewart.
And Stewart is no stranger to Sambalino. He and Ken Berkley of Rivers Edge Farm sold Gochman the chestnut, who normally competes with her in the amateur-owner division. Berkley also competed the horse again when Gochman first moved to New York. Pletcher recently reunited with the gelding.
“I’ve ridden some amazing horses in my life, and it’s amazing that this horse came back,” said Pletcher. “He would probably jump over that brick wall if there was a mint on the other side of it. He’s pretty much about grass and mints. Everybody’s there to give him some kind of treat, and Becky gives him a million. He’s beautiful. When you walk by, you just see people turn and stare at him. He just has that ambiance about him, and it goes right through to his workmanship as a horse."
A Surprise Win For Feller
Melissa Feller, 28, won the WCHR Emerging Professional Rider Challenge after moving up from fifth place after the first round. Feller, of Lincoln Park, N.J., rode Serafino, a 6-year-old Brandenburg (Sir Donnerhall—Helena) owned by Elisabeth McFadden.
Feller wasn’t sure she would qualify for the class, but she knew that Serafino would be a good mount if she did. He currently competes in the pre-green division.
“Sometimes he can overjump if it’s scary, but here he was great,” she said. “He’s never shown indoors. I think he really loves his job. He’s quick to learn, and he’s totally game. He’s been showing all day, and he just gave it his all tonight.”
Going into the final round, Feller, who rides for Robert Beck, knew she had to lay it down if she wanted to move up the leaderboard.
“I knew I had to be really good. I didn’t think I would have had enough points to be on top, but he gave it his all, and so did I,” she said. An average score in the second round of 90 was enough to move her into the lead ahead of Tom Brennan, who rode Purple Heart to second.
“It’s awesome because in the [professional challenge], all those guys are perfect and unbelievable,” she said. “It’s a nice class where no one’s super successful at a national horse show to compete against each other.”
For full results, visit the Capital Challenge website.