Sept. 5—Antioch, Ill.
It’s a good day to be Tammy Provost, and she knows it. A smile finds its way into every picture snapped of her, whether she’s galloping, jumping or accepting the top ribbon in the $5,000 USHJA Chicago National Derby aboard the bay gelding Essential.
“He’s a sale horse, but we’re not too excited to sell him now, because he’s just coming into his own,” Provost said (with, you guessed it, a smile).
Provost and Essential, owned by Provost, Wendy Hofmeister and Dean Burger, have been unstoppable all weekend at the Chicago Hunter Derby—they won the $2,500 National Hunter Derby Welcome stake on Friday, and were leading the field after Saturday’s opening classic round.
All that remained was to seal the deal with a knockout handy performance, and the pair did just that. Scores in the 90s meant Provost and “Ollie” captured the tricolor. The ringing of a large bell standing center ring reminded onlookers of the charities associated with the Chicago hunter derby—every time a rider earns a score of 90 or higher, people who have pledged money make an additional donation to various charities.
Provost is grateful the big shiny bell didn’t distract her mount, whose head she can usually count on finding in the clouds (like the ones drifting across the big, blue beautiful sky at the derby—more on how stunning the Annali-Brookwood Farm venue is later).
“He just, he’s a pleaser. He always tries to do the right thing. He does go around distracted but is not scared of anything,” Provost said.
Standing at the in-gate, fellow competitors hanging around to watch Provost’s handy round could be heard commenting on her brilliant pace over the “bridge,” a dirt path in the middle of the grass field bordered with a birch post fence. “Oh, she’s going for it,” someone remarked as Provost thundered on by, seamlessly steadying from a hand gallop to find a good spot out over the next fence.
“He’d rather walk than gallop, so you can slow down fast. There was many a time out there where I had to make sure I didn’t trot. Like when I would do a roll back, he would be like, ‘Do you want me to trot?’ No, keep going!” Provost said.
“We brought him here last year to do the derby, my partner Wendy did him, but it was in the [sand] ring, and she did trot,” Provost said with a laugh.
“But this is his first setting like this,” she said, gesturing to the huge expanse of grass dotted with jumps, “and he was fantastic. He got better each round.”
And let’s talk about that setting—I’ve never been to the Chicago Hunter Derby, held at Rush and Carl Weeden’s Annali-Brookwood Farm, but it seems to me if the big man in the sky unrolled a blank canvas and said, “Let’s have ourselves a hunter derby,” this is what he would make.
A massive—and I mean gigantic, gallop for days massive—grass field, with a sun-bleached split rail fenced marking the boundaries of the competition arena. In one corner of the ring, there are woods. Because this field is so huge it has its own woods. Riders actually gallop through a little tree tunnel and out over a horse-shaped hedge. A small pond outfitted with fountains lies just outside the far side of the ring. Massive trees can be found randomly gathered throughout the ring and make for a great backdrop for pictures of already beautiful horses (Check out the gallery!).
And the jumps. Oh the jumps! You can count on anything thought up by course designer Bobby Murphy to be beautiful, and this more than fits the bill (Look at them all!). It makes me want to learn how to build things, so I can run home and buy a bunch of wood and start my own course! Take for instance the final jump on course in the first round of the national derby—it was straw bales, with a shorter stone wall in front, with fake ivy snaking its way across the stone, piles and piles of pine brush in front of the stone wall, and two lanterns that were just higher than the wall on either side as standards. Fill standards with about 10 plants each, and voila! Awesome twist on straw bale jump complete.
But back to the beautiful horses jumping those beautiful fences—the opening classic round of the $50,000 USHJA International Derby (presented by Canadian Pacific, check out their awesome train jump in the gallery!) was also on Saturday, with the final handy round to follow on Sunday. Leading going into Sunday’s round is the powerhouse team from Lane Change Farms, Kelley Farmer and Mindful. Farmer also took second aboard Taken, and when all was said and done she had five mounts in the top 12 finishers of the classic round. Now that’s some derby domination!
Check back with the Chronicle tomorrow for more from the Chicago Hunter Derby.