Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 15
As soon as tonight’s USHJA World Champion Hunter Rider Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular wrapped up, Larry Glefke knew exactly where he’d gone wrong.
“The only mistake I made tonight is that I should have locked Tori in the bathroom,” he joked.
It’s the third year in a row that teen phenom Tori Colvin beat the pros to take the top prize in the crown jewel of the WCHR program. Like last year, she piloted Ovation to the top of the class for Betsee Parker, and she took second on Way Cool—who won this class two years ago—for Parker as well. Glefke’s partner at Lane Change Farm Kelley Farmer rode green-as-grass Certainty to third, ahead of Peter Pletcher and Empire.
The class saw two significant changes this year. First and foremost, the prize money bumped way up to a cool $100,000, making it the second richest USHJA hunter class in the country behind the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships (Ky.). Riders faced a one-round format this year around, where in previous years the top 12 came back for another trip.
As in previous years, riders earned slots in the class based on their performance throughout week 6 of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, with a few byes awarded as well based on other WCHR performances. Pros, juniors and amateurs go head-to-head over their respective heights, and each rider is limited to two mounts.
Colvin had the luxury of a pair of byes, and she elected her spookiest two horses, against Parker’s wishes. She wanted Colvin, 16, to give Dedication a whirl. That horse has been a consistent performer, but the night classes have tripped him up time and again, and Parker wanted to see if it would be different this time around. But Colvin went off their performances in the junior hunter division, and that paid off.
Ovation went first, and Colvin took an extra minute to trot around the ring and settle in before setting the standard on a score of 89.66 over Steve Stephens’ track. The lights and crowds around the International Ring lit up Way Cool, who’s amassed an incredible record in the ring, but occasionally shows his quirky side as well. Colvin scrapped her plan for bravado when she felt his nerves, but he relaxed once he got rolling to finish just behind his barnmate (89.18).
“No, I didn’t think that score would hold up,” said Colvin, Loxahatchee, Fla., of Ovation's mark. “I thought they wouldn’t score the first one too high. 89 is a good score, but it’s also very beatable.”
Even though Farmer couldn't do that tonight, she wasn’t too disappointed to finish third. After all, Certainty’s a first year horse, and he's a rising 6-year-old. Farmer took him to Jacksonville Winter A-To-Z for a $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby a few weeks ago where he finished third in good company in a night class. She and Glefke have high hopes that he’ll be her next big star.
“I was pretty confident with him,” said Farmer of the horse Glefke co-owns with Ken and Selma Garber. “With one as young and green as he is, anything can go wrong. But I knew he wasn’t going to come in here and have a meltdown.”
Pletcher’s mount is on the other end of the spectrum. Owner Becky Gochman normally campaigns Empire in the amateur-owner hunter ring, and Pletcher decided to take him in the conformation division this week.
“There’s nothing better to ride than a good amateur horse,” said Pletcher. “You take away a lot of the pressure when you know that horse is going to go around like he went around. He went super, I couldn’t have been happier. I thought ‘That’s as good as he’s going to be.’ ”
Pletcher deserved an easier ride as he’s still recovering from a hard fall a few weeks ago, when his mount tripped and fell on him in a class. He bruised his ribs badly, and said the pain was the worst he’s had in his life (including a back injury he suffered a few years ago) because it interfered with his breathing. He’s just started showing again, and he’s been riding with the injury taped up. Tonight’s the first night he rode without tape, and said he can tell he’s on the mend.
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In the meantime, check out gorgeous photos of the professional hunters. In jumper land Kent Farrington and Blue Angel won two big classes on Thursday and Friday this week. And don’t miss the unbelievable photos of Beezie Madden showing off some serious stickability.