Harrisburg, Pa., Oct. 22
One stride, one second. That’s the math that rules in a jump-off, and it’s a calculation that worked in Margie Engle’s favor in the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National.
Engle did one stride less to the last oxer in the jump-off, opting for eight strides instead of nine, and it made all the difference. She stopped the timers clean in 36.74 seconds—almost a second faster than Mario Deslauriers on Cella. “I could have easily done eight to the last, and my horse is definitely quick enough,” Deslauriers said. “I do kind of regret my decision to add the stride, but at the same time, my horse has jumped beautifully all week and I’m very happy with her.”
Engle had chosen not to contest the Big Jump on Indigo, leaving him fresh as could be for the grand prix. “He has so much energy that he’s easy to ride indoors,” Engle said. “His natural impulsion helps him through the turns.”
Course designer Steve Stephens set a track that weeded the 29 starters down to just three for the jump-off. Beezie Madden led the jump-off efforts on her new ride Cortes C. An early rail hampered them, but they turned in a time (36.87 seconds) that set the pace for Deslauriers and Engle. Madden and Cortes did the eight strides to the last fence, showing it could be done. Deslauriers was next in on Cella, a 9-year-old mare, and he didn’t waste any time in the turns. But he took a bit of a pull in that last line, which cost him some time. He finished clean with 37.64 seconds on the scoreboard.
Engle was right on Deslauriers’ pace all around the jump-off track on Indigo, and as she turned for the last, she heard lots of cheers of encouragement from the crowd and kicked on. “I knew what I had to do going in,” she said. “It’s always a huge advantage to go at the end of the class.”
Indigo’s huge stride ate up the distance, and Engle stopped the timers in 36.74 seconds with all the rails in the cups. With that performance, Engle secured a win in one of the few prestigious U.S. grand prix classes that had been missing from her résumé. “I’ve been second here a bunch of times, but I’ve never gotten it done before,” she said.
Danish rider Emilie Martinsen claimed fourth in the class with just 1 time fault in the first round aboard Carisma, a mare who awed the crowd with her effortlessly huge jumping efforts.
What’s yellow and… fast? A banana!
But only if it’s Banana d’Ive Z, the feisty chestnut mare Meagan Nusz rode to the top of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic.
As Nusz came in the ring, it looked like Alex Parrish had the class won with a speedy jump-off round on Valentina 156. But Nusz took it to a whole new level with “Banana,” shaving almost 3 seconds off Parrish’s time. “On the way to the last vertical, I was thinking 'Please don’t mess this up,' because I swear I have the last one down in every class. I see the finish line, and I get excited and boom. I was happy to see the finish line without hearing a rail fall. My horse jumped fantastic. I couldn't ask her to be any better,” Nusz said.
Nusz, 24, bought Banana last summer after seeing her show in Europe under Danish rider Charlotte Lund. “I like this type of horse, small and fast. She's quiet just hacking around, but when she goes into the ring, she's ready to win. I sat on her, jumped about seven jumps, and said 'I'll take her,’” Nusz said.
Nusz is originally from The Woodlands, Texas, but she now splits her time between Connecticut and Wellington, Fla., since she’s training with Kent Farrington. She started attending college at Texas Christian University but decided to concentrate on riding full time instead. “I'm going to go back, but right now I just want to focus on this,” she said.
Like A Cat
Kelsey Thatcher knows all about juggling college and horses. Because she’s enrolled in the University of Georgia and riding on their NCAA riding team, she doesn’t have much time to ride and show her own horses. So, she dropped Klotaire du Moulin down from the high amateur-owners to the low division and ended the year winning the NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Final at the Pennsylvania National.
Thatcher was more than 4 seconds faster than second-placed Melissa Jacobs thanks to her amazingly tight turns. “He's like a cat. The moment you look somewhere, he turns. He's a very quick horse,” Thatcher said of Klotaire du Moulin. She bought the 13-year-old Selle Francais stallion two years ago. Klotaire was competing in the speed derbies with French rider Penelope Leprevost.
Thatcher was pleasantly surprised by Klotaire’s composure at the Pennsylvania National, where they showed in just the one class. “Usually he's at his best the third or fourth day of showing, so we were a little nervous about coming and doing one class. Our first class is usually our roughest, but he went so well,” she said.
Thatcher, 19, took a fall off her other ride in the class, Sorina, so she was determined to ride Klotaire well. “Before I got him I was definitely not the fastest in the jumpers, and he's definitely taught me to go fast and look for the forward distances,” she said.
She’s pursuing a degree in early childhood education at UGA, and Thatcher thinks she eventually wants to teach third grade. She spends her afternoons at school volunteering as a tutor for low-income Hispanic children. “I love it; I really look forward to it,” she said.
Little Tom, Big Talent
Patricia Hennessy doesn’t get to show much, so when she does, she makes it count. Hennessy showed just seven times before the Pennsylvania National and then capped her year by winning the NAL Adult Jumper Final on her Little Tom.
Hennessy, of Kintersville, Pa., works as a driver and accountant for her father-in-law’s horse trucking business, George Hennessy Horse Transportation.
“I didn't do Florida, and I don't even have an indoor, so I couldn't ride much over the winter,” she said. Little Tom lives at a boarding barn, and Hennessy rides him and cares for him every day. She works off some of her board, and she also works for trainer Chris Kappler in exchange for lessons. “He's been fabulous about it, because I'm not on the same financial scale as most people at shows,” she said. Hennessy's husband, Kevin, is her groom at shows.
Hennessy and Little Tom were 2 seconds faster than second-placed Kaley Pratt on Shane in an extremely competitive 13-horse jump-off. “Everything just came up out of stride and worked really well,” she said. “With him, I can't leave strides out, because he gets too long and flat, but he's got very fast foot-speed. Any of the ones in the jump-off could have won. I just happened to get lucky.”
She’s been showing in the NAL final for many years, so Hennessy was glad to pull off a win, finally. She’s choosy about where she shows Little Tom, who’s now 16. She’s had the diminutive bay for six years. “I've come a long way with him. When I first got him, he's always been a fast horse, but he wasn't very careful. I really had to slow down and work on that. I had to learn to be patient to help him be patient,” she said.
Little Tom stands out in a sea of warmbloods—he’s the result of an accidental breeding between an Irish Sport Horse Stallion and a Connemara pony mare. Hennessy bought him very cheaply as a resale prospect, but he’s turned into a true star. “He's very pony-like and smart, but we've built a great rapport,” she said.