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May 19, 2012

Red Sky Lights Up The Night At Keswick

It's Red Sky's third title, and his second consecutive USHJA International Hunter Derby blue.

May 18—Keswick, Va.

Red Sky faced plenty of tough competition at the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Keswick Horse Show—in no small part from his barnmates.

His rider, Kelley Farmer, entered seven top mounts in the class, riding home with the top five ribbons and eighth to boot. First to go in the class, AM Free’s Red Sky scored a wire-to-wire win to lead the victory gallop over Praise and Mystery Guest.

Fifteen horses took a turn around Alan Lohman’s inviting classic course, set in the main ring at the Keswick Horse Show Grounds. Riders faced solid, lushly decorated obstacles appropriate for a class set firmly in the heart of hunt country, with options of straw bale fences and plenty of decorative touches, like a topiary fox.

Despite being set in a mid-sized ring, Lohman managed to leave plenty of room to show off options for turns in Round 2 and get a good gallop to the last. The fences stretched high, including a 4’6” oxer that many—including some of Farmer’s mounts—avoided.

“Alan does a really good job in this ring—it’s hard to build in,” pointed out Farmer, Keswick. “There’s a lot going on, with the lights and the crowd. He takes that all into consideration and does a nice job for us.”

Winn Alden went for broke on her first ride in Round 2, showing off Second City’s handiness by finding a very tight turn to that 4’6” oxer in an effort to thwart Farmer’s chokehold on the prize money. The lovely bay picked up twin handy points of 8 to move up to eventual seventh. She took sixth on her second ride, Catalyst.

Farmer laid down a bold trip aboard her first handy ride, rising star Mystery Guest. That horse, who bounded from 10th to third, has been turning heads the last few months, placing in the top four of his last four outings. The former jumper will return to that ring with Farmer at Keswick. She’s decided to contest the show’s $10,000 jumper classic later in the week for, as she put it, “a little entertainment.”

With daylight waning, a major crowd of tailgaters ringing the arena and stellar rounds in short supply, Farmer decided to play it safe. She put in lovely and workmanlike rounds aboard the rest of her field rather than risking a big mistake, which paid off with solid rounds. Last to go, Red Sky earned matching marks of 87 as the sun dropped below the horizon.

“By the time Red Sky went, headed to the first jump, I thought, ‘I’d better jump the low side here. If I jump headed into that crowd we’re in trouble,’ ” said Farmer. “That’s why I chose the low side of the other oxer too—the other oxer was really big, and it was getting dark. But we took the high options everywhere else. He jumps so beautifully—he didn’t need to have a stupid mistake.”

This blue comes on the heels of another from Memphis In May I (Tenn.) earlier this month. The Dutch Warmblood (Amsterdam—Lovelle) shows in the children’s hunter ring with his owner, Madison Free, and Farmer competes him in the conformation division.

“I have five or so really good derby horses, and what I’ve been noticing is that these horses really get on rolls,” said Larry Glefke, who trains Farmer. “It’s really interesting—they’ll take over for two or three weeks, then bottom out a little bit. I used to train race horses, and it’s a lot like that.”

Farmer’s performance was even more impressive considering her state of mind. Her grandmother died earlier that day, but Farmer decided to soldier through and compete that evening.

“My mom [trainer Bibby Farmer Hill] told me ‘Grandma would not approve of you not showing,’ ” said Farmer.

Around The Showgrounds

-Maria Shannon, Charlottesville, Va., qualified both her mounts for Round 2, but her fortunes turned when it came time for the handy round. She was second to return to a freshly groomed ring on Falcon, but he tripped badly on landing from fence 2, a trot jump, and dropped to his knees and face before righting himself. Shannon immediately pulled up, hopped off and checked his front legs, and didn’t appear to find anything amiss. He walked comfortably out of the ring in hand. Her next mount, Castleton (who was coming off a big win in the Lexington, Va., edition two weeks ago) dug in his heels at that trot fence. He cleared on reapproach, and Shannon continued confident as ever, nailing tight turns and neatly executing an untried turn after a big oxer. But the distance to the last hand galloped fence didn’t come up, and Castleton logged a second refusal.

-Junior Nora Jodrey made her first hunter derby count: She picked up a $500 bonus as the highest-placed junior rider. She rode The Golden Compass to ninth.

-Farmer’s impressive evening did have a bobble. Her final ride of the first round, Jessica Stitt’s Clearly, who topped a class at Memphis In May II (Tenn.), ticked a rail off the final oxer of a lovely round, dropping out of contention.

For full results, visit Horse Shows Online.

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