Thermal, Calif.—March 15
“We have good horses and good riders out here. Last year they sort of beat us, so I think we were just trying to redeem ourselves,” joked John French after this year’s version of the $50,000 East Meets West Hunter Challenge, held simultaneously in Thermal, Calif., and Ocala, Fla.
French was the individual winner aboard Lee Kellogg Sadrian’s Comex Gold, picking up scores of 90 and 94 from the sets of judges, but the California contingency also claimed the second, third, fourth and fifth-placed spots. Hope Glynn piloted Emma Waldfogel’s King’s Peak to second on scores of 90 and 89, while Jenny Karazissis slotted into third aboard Kelly Straeter’s Undeniable with an 87.5 and an 88.
This is the second year in a row for the unique class, which takes place at HITS Ocala and HITS Desert Circuit at the same time. Today started with a rider on the East Coast before going to one on the West Coast, and then back and forth for the whole set of 24. All qualified through a class held yesterday, but the scores didn’t carryover to today. One set of judges is at each location, and spectators and judges watch the other location’s rides—conducted over courses built exactly the same—live on screens by the ring.
Last year Ocala riders earned first and second, so the West Coast was determined to prove they were up to the challenge today. They West Coasters also benefited from a ring swap; the 2014 version of the class was held in Hunter 1.
“I like this class. It showcases the hunters,” said French. “It’s nice it goes on two days. I love that it’s in this ring now. Last year we had to go in the grand prix ring, but the horses in Ocala went in the ring they go in all the time. This year we got to go in our ring. It was a nice hunter classic; there wasn’t anything trappy or spooky. It was just meant to make the horses go smoothly around the course.”
The hunter rings at HITS Thermal all took a break for an hour while the East Meets West Challenge was going.
“I thought it was really nice they shut down the other hunter rings,” said Glynn. “We had a much bigger crowd than last year. People were able to come and watch and enjoy the hunters. As we all know, at a horse show, you ride and then you have to leave to go to another ring to put a student in or get on another horse. Today was really nice so the professionals and exhibitors and owners could come and watch.
“The West Coast sometimes in the scale of things gets not as good a rap on the hunters as they should,” she added. “We may not have as many hunters in our divisions, but I think our top group could give them all a run for their money. I think we have good professionals and good horses here.”
French added that he enjoyed watching the East Coast hunters go during the class, though he could only view snippets as he went from horse to horse. (French had four mounts in the class.)
“I think people in Ocala could see our horses, too, and that’s really nice,” he said.
Comex Gold, an 8-year-old Hanoverian (Liberty Gold—Rennes) gelding, competed in a division of second year green with French earlier in the season, and then Sadrian’s ridden him in the amateur-owner hunter division as well this circuit.
“Lee got hurt playing tennis, so she’s been out for a little while,” he said. “I was lucky enough she offered him to me to ride this week. He’s very quiet; he’s a really good mover. The funny thing is when I watch Lee ride him, I thought he goes better for her. This week I decided I was just going to try and ride like Lee. I guess that’s how he likes to go.”
“I tried to ride like John French,” Glynn added with a laugh.
Full class results available on the HITS website.