Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 1.
Chris Payne left the Alltech National Horse Show with a pair of tricolors. They might have been the red, yellow and white of reserve championships rather than the blue, red and yellow of champions, but he didn’t mind one bit.
“This show is iconic. It’s the horse show, in my mind as a hunter rider, and the true pinnacle of the year. When you have a horse that has the talent and quality to compete at the National Horse Show and be in the ribbons, it’s the kind of thing that drives you the whole year long,” Payne said.
Payne’s nemesis was Scott Stewart, who was champion in the first year green and green conformation divisions. Payne rode Revealed to the first year green reserve title behind Stewart and Enjoy, while the green conformation reserve title went to Payne and Lugano, behind Stewart and Beholden. Payne also earned second in the handy and third in the stake in the second year green division on Holden.
“My horses jumped great, and I’m thrilled with them. The horses in those divisions are extremely nice horses, and I’m thrilled with how well my horses did,” Payne said.
Payne and his partner, David Belford, run their New Hope Farm out of Cincinnatti. While Payne is the one in the ring, Belford is his support structure. “He organizes things and makes sure the horses not only look the part, but are ready to do their best. He teaches and really puts the polish on it so I can have every chance to win,” Payne said. The pair established New Hope Farm 11 years ago.
Payne grew up riding in the Cincinnati area but didn’t show at the biggest shows in his junior years. After he aged out, he picked up a riding job for trainer Don Stewart and then rode for the Jacobs family at their Deeridge Farm. “I had nice opportunities, and people started asking me to [ride and train professionally]. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about doing professionally, but it really just fell into place and had a wonderful progression to where I am now,” he said.
Payne met Belford while working for Deeridge, and 11 years ago they decided to set up shop in Cincinnati. “It was nice to come back around friends and family. It’s close to the Kentucky Horse Park, and we spend the winter in [Wellington, Fla.],” Payne said.
Going head-to-head with the likes of Stewart, Hunt Tosh and Jen Alfano didn’t intimidate him in the slightest; instead, he reveled in it. “They’re fascinating to watch, and to be competing against them is very exciting. I think it adds a sense of anticipation and thrill to it to partake with all those people and be competitive with them,” he said.
“I believe that the way the hunter industry is going these days, people are really trying to give everybody a fair shot,” Payne continued. “I really think that the judges look to reward the good trips and the good riders with the quality horses. The riders who have the big names, their horses look the part going in the ring, they ride the part to win, and I think that if somebody with not as big a name does the same thing, the judges recognize it now. I think it’s going in the right direction.”
Lugano’s green conformation reserve was his third during the indoor season. The elegant gray was reserve at the Capital Challenge (Md.) and the Pennsylvania National, as well as earning good ribbons at the Washington International (D.C.), before shipping to Lexington, Ky., for the Alltech National. Payne and Belford imported Lugano, 6, last year for owner Susan Moriconi, and the Dutch Warmblood gelding of unknown breeding started showing in January.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to move him right into the 3’6”, but from the minute we started, he was right on track and embraced it. He’s a very straightforward, direct and great-minded horse. He really tries hard to do the right thing and has an amazing jump,” Payne said.
Revealed, a 6-year-old Holsteiner, not only excels with Payne in the first year green division, but also does quite well in the adult amateur hunter classes with his owner, Julie Holzberger. Holzberger won the NAL Adult Amateur Hunter Final at the Pennsylvania National. “He’s had to do double duty throughout the year, but he’s a consummate professional. He’s really a pleaser and wants to do the right thing. And he has all the talent,” Payne said.
In addition to Payne’s success at the Alltech National, his and Belford’s student, Sarah Sturges, claimed the low amateur-owner hunter championship on her One Shot. It was her second tricolor title in a row, as she earned the low amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, top honors at the Pennsylvania National.
“I was a little nervous coming here because the olders and youngers are combined, and there were some great horses and riders,” Sturges said. In fact, the race for the tricolor was a heated one, and in the end, Sturges prevailed by just ½ a point over Deborah Perkins on Whispering. It was a second place in the stake class that edged Sturges and One Shot ahead. “I was chasing Debbie the whole time! She was amazing, and she’s the nicest lady, so I would have been happy for her to win. She’s stabled right across from me, and we had fun this week,” Sturges said.
Sturges, of Cincinnati, has been riding One Shot since last summer. She bought the chestnut gelding from Canada and wasn't sure about his experience level. “He wasn’t green; he was just a little nervous when he came. But it didn’t take long,” she said. “He’s the most simple horse I’ve ever had. Every day he comes out of the stall and is straightforward.”
Sturges is a finance major at the University of Cincinnati.
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