A big heart and husky build combined with long legs and an ample step are just a few of the qualities Ashley Ann McGehee finds appealing—in a horse that is. During the HITS Ocala Winter Festival, Feb. 21-25, Ocala, Fla., McGehee and her 17.3-hand Hanoverian, Jay Z, towered above the competition, winning the large junior, 15 and under, championship.
“He’s gynormous!” said McGehee. “When we measured him, the stick stopped at 17.3, and he was still taller than that!”
Despite his mammoth build, Jay Z rides like a pony and keeps a nice steady rhythm around the course, allowing the 14-year-old McGehee plenty of time to get her eye on the next jump.
“He’s the biggest pony—so easy and fun to ride. He goes in a rubber snaffle and doesn’t change around the course as long as I maintain a rhythm. I have such a ball riding him, I could ride him all day,” she said.
McGehee first rode Jay Z at the Jacksonville National (Fla.), where she took home ribbons in the large juniors, but this was the first time she saw a tricolor ribbon hanging from Jay Z’s bridle.
In addition to showing in the large juniors, McGehee shuffles between rings, riding her sister’s Bold Venture in the small juniors, her equitation mount, San Marcos (on whom she was second in the ASPCA Maclay and third in the USET), and trainer Don Stewart Jr.’s That’s Hot in the children’s jumpers.
“They’re all a blast to ride, but I think Jay is the most fun,” said McGehee. “But, the jumper teaches me the most—like how to control my body.”
Body control is just one thing that McGehee works on during her 6:30 a.m. lessons with Stewart. “He sets up really hard, technical courses. But nothing’s bigger than 3′ so that we can work on our riding and position,” McGehee said.
“Ashley Ann is a very good student with a wonderful disposition and good sense of humor. She always has a smile on her face when she’s around me. We work nicely together, and she doesn’t mind getting up early [for lessons]. She’s just a sponge for knowledge,” said Stewart, whose horse, Likewise, was also champion in the amateur-owner, 18-35, with daughter Erin Stewart.
Although McGehee’s trained with Stewart almost her whole life, while at home she rides at Five Fillies Farm, Jacksonville, Fla., a barn her mother, Terri McGehee, started four years ago.
Like Mother Like Daughter
An avid horse enthusiast herself, Alexandra Carlton’s mother, Bernadette Keyes, opened Cedar Brook Farm, Madison, Conn., for their growing collection of horses and ponies.
Following a successful pony career, Carlton moved up to the three-foot division during the HITS Ocala circuit and claimed the children’s, 14 and under, championship with her new horse, Chanel #5, whom she affectionately calls “Lily.”
“She was part of my Christmas present,” said Carlton, 12. “I got her Dec. 16, and so this was only our third horse show at three feet.”
Carlton was making the transition from pony to horse, and trainer Brianna Davis had just the horse in mind. She’d seen Lily showing at HITS Saugerties (N.Y.) over the summer and liked her slow and honest way of going, but didn’t have a customer in mind at the time. After Keyes and Carlton started looking for a first horse, Davis took them to see Lily.
“She’s really lazy and sweet. She doesn’t put her ears back at all, so she looks very happy the whole time going around the course. She doesn’t swish her tail at all and she moves really well and jumps pretty good, but if I don’t keep my leg on her, she’ll break to the trot,” said Carlton, who added that the hardest part about moving up to horses is the extra leg required to get Lily’s motor going.
In addition to winning her children’s hunter championship, Carlton also swept the children’s pony division and won the children’s pony hunter classic. Of the six classes she competed in, Carlton and Float Your Boat, an 8-year-old Welsh, received the top call five times and were third once.
“He can get a little fresh sometimes and is very good at lead changes, so I have to really be on top of holding him on his lead to the jumps,” said Carlton, who hopes to move up to the large pony hunter division in the near future.
Through watching other top riders, like Samantha Schaefer, Carlton improves her riding.
“I like watching the pony hunter riders because a lot of them are really accurate, especially Sam [Schaefer]—I think it’s impossible for her to miss,” said Carlton, who jogged Schaefer’s reserve champion small junior hunter, Monroe, in one of his over fences classes.
Burning The Midnight Oil
Not only was Schaefer reserve champion in the small junior, 15 and under, division with Monroe, she also took the championship in the same division with Keli Colby’s Sunfest, as well as the tricolor honors in the large pony hunter division with Winston.
Sunfest did double duty over the weekend, showing in the junior hunters and the adult amateur, 36-45, division with Colby, who purchased the horse only two weeks earlier from Lily Gildor.
“I saw Sam showing him in the juniors a few months ago and really liked him,” said Colby, who trains with Schaefer’s trainer, Kim Stewart at Glenwillow Farm in Jefferson, Md. “Kim suggested that I try riding him, and we got along really well.”
Even though she started riding at a young age, work and a post-college career took the place of horses for Colby. However, a job change a few years ago has allowed her time to get back in the tack. She’s now trying to make the most of the limited time she has with the horses.
“Kim’s done a lot for my confidence by matching me with animals she knows I’ll feel comfortable with,” said Colby, 45.
And Sunfest is just that horse. “He knows what he’s doing and he teaches you,” she said. “He likes to be ridden with a fair amount of leg and on a loose rein, which I love. I don’t have to hold onto his face; I can keep a loop in the rein and keep cantering, and he shows me where the jumps are.”
In contrast, Colby’s other horse, Lazy Sunday or “Hobbs,” that showed in the first year green division with Scott Hofstetter and was his owner’s second mount in the adult amateur division, is more challenging.
“Hobbs is a lot greener but is similar to Sunny in that he doesn’t like a tight hold. He takes less leg to ride and has a huge stride,” said Colby. “He doesn’t know as much [as Sunfest] and he still gets wiggly, but it’s fun to ride him as he comes along.”
Colby, The Plains, Va., plans to show both of her horses in the adult amateur division with the goal of competing in the WCHR Adult Amateur Hunter Challenge at Capital Challenge (Md.) in October.
“It’s really great. Kim and Stacey [Schaefer] help me out a lot. I call it ‘princess showing,’ but it makes the whole process much easier for me,” said Colby.
And while Colby has her sights set on indoors, Samantha is gearing up for Devon.“She’s hoping to qualify ‘Sunny’ for Devon even though she had a bit of a late start,” said Colby. “The kid is amazing. She just started showing in the juniors in December and she’s rolling. She’s not even very old! I love the way she rides, and she works really hard. I’m always glad to help out a kid who’s a hard worker.”
Amanda Steege was also working around the clock, whizzing back and forth between the hunter rings trying to fit in a back-to-back over fences classes here and an under saddle there before returning to another ring for the jog. When the dust finally settled, she had a heap of ribbons on her golf cart, including one championship with Dr. and Mrs. John McGuire’s Russian Gold as well as two reserve championships—one with Jessica Lundgren’s True Fate in section A of the first year greens and the other with Penelope Ayers’s Alejandro in section B of the first years.
To give her a break, her father, Mitch Steege, who, along with wife, Kathy, owns Red Acre Farm (Mass.), stands Russian Gold up in the green conformation model.
“My Dad does him in the model because he has a lot of experience, and he gives me a hand on the ground too,” said Amanda, who found the talented young horse through Emil Spadone.
When her father isn’t around, Tim Delovich, Amanda’s boyfriend, who doubles as the barn manager of her Ashmeadow Farm (Far Hills, N.J.), helps set jumps.
“Tim has a vested interest in Russian Gold because he really likes his personality. He’s the sweetest horse in the barn,” said Amanda. “He took a lot of attention at the beginning because he didn’t have much experience, and Tim spent a lot of time with him. And even now, he warms him up for me before I get on to show.”
With only 10 horse shows under his girth before moving up to the 3’6″ at Ocala, the charcoal-gray gelding seemed comfortable with the new height.
“It took him a couple of classes to adjust, but I think he jumps better at 3’6″, said Amanda, who also competed the then 6-year-old Brandenburg gelding in the pre-green division last year.
Amanda’s other winning rides, True Fate and Alejandro, are like Russian Gold and have a soft and supple lope around the ring, but True Fate, or “Willy,” demands more physical effort on his rider’s part.
“We joke at the barn that Willy gets tacked up at 7:50 a.m. and is back in his stall by 8:15 a.m. He takes no preparation to get to the ring and really what we want to do is save his energy,” emphasized Amanda. “Despite that, he’s really scopey and puts a ton of effort into his job and isn’t dull at all. But, he’s a bit goofy and likes to get in your face all of the time.”
McKinney And Gun Du Desfi Take Their First Grand Prix Win
Even though she knew her first grand prix win was within her grasp, pre-show jitters didn’t play into the equation when Libby McKinney walked into the ring as one of three competitors in the jump-off of the $50,000 Duggan Equipment Grand Prix on Feb. 25.
“I wasn’t nervous going in [to the second round]. I had that right combination of caring and not caring enough,” said McKinney nonchalantly. “When it’s your day, it’s your day.”
And McKinney seemed to know it was her day. When she arrived at the barn that morning, she told a friend that she felt like it was a blue-ribbon day. And while Tracy Magness aboard Tarco Van Ter Moude almost took the top prize away from her, it was McKinney who took home the $15,000 check.
Magness clocked the best time of 39.15 seconds but leaving out a stride in the last line proved to be the wrong decision as the final rail dropped to the ground.
“It didn’t really hit me until Tuesday when I was hacking around and everyone was congratulating me,” said McKinney, 26. “We’ve been pretty consistent this year, and we’ve jumped a lot of clears, just not double-clears.”
Prior to returning for the second round, seasoned grand prix rider Sharn Wordley gave McKinney a bit of advice, “He told me, ‘Put in a solid double clear and make them chase you,’ ” divulged McKinney, who went on to do just that.
McKinney and the 13-year-old Selle Francis gelding were the first to tackle Anthony D’Ambrosio’s jump-off course. When Rebecca Johanson-Hofmann and Blue Moon Farms’ Blue Okkels went in, her plan was not to chase McKinney, but to just go clean.
“It was our first jump-off together in a grand prix, so I was pretty nervous. My plan was to go double clear and not be crazy-fast, just efficient and patient,” recalled Johanson-Hofmann.
McKinney had stopped the clock at 40.67 seconds, and while Johanson-Hofmann followed the same track as her predecessor, her time was a smidge more conservative at 41.77.
“I was really happy with the way I rode and how the horse jumped,” said Johanson-Hofmann, adding, “of course, I always want to win.”
Oddly enough, McKinney and Johanson-Hofmann both went to Europe looking for young investment horses—not grand prix mounts—and both returned with grand prix jumpers.
On a 2006 trip to Germany to ride young horses under the watchful eyes of Gilbert Bockmann, Johanson-Hofmann knew opportunity was knocking at the door, but it knocked a lot harder than she’d anticipated.
“I came across him, and it was one of those chances where I had to jump up and get it,” said Johanson-Hofmann about the 10-year-old, Dutch Warmblood stallion, Blue Okkels (Peter Pan—Darco).
Similarly, McKinney was in France looking for green investment horses, but after getting jumped off over a crossrail, she knew Gun was a cut above the rest.
“It was the first time in my life I ever decided I had to have something,” admitted McKinney.
Johanson-Hofmann knows that feeling as well. At age 15, she was a working student for Arizona-based trainer Betty Beran. Knowing she would bolster her riding ability, she moved out of her parent’s house in Salt Lake City, Utah, and into Beran’s house in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Over the years, Johanson-Hofmann learned every aspect of the business she could, from diagnosing lameness to how to ride a technical junior jumper course. But when she graduated from high school, she knew what was expected of her.
“When I moved out at 15, I made a deal with my parents and the agreement was that I would go to college,” recalled Johanson-Hofmann, 22. “Now that I’m done, I can say I’m happy I did it, but I can’t honestly say that I wanted to.”
Johanson-Hofmann graduated in just three years from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in business. And true to form, while attending classes, Johanson-Hofmann furthered her riding career by helping to establish Blue Moon Farm LLC, a business she now runs with partner Craig Morgan.
Ultimately, Johanson-Hofmann’s mission for Blue Moon Farm is to generate enough income through the buying and selling of young horses to fund her grand prix aspirations, which include representing the United States internationally.