Whoops, whistles and “yeeeows” filled the air as McLain Ward, Laura Kraut, Hunt Tosh and Jennifer Alfano battled it out in the ring. But there wasn’t a jump to be seen.
“Rack on!” was the cry, as these four maestros of the hunters and jumpers took to another challenge—they rode five-gaited Saddlebreds in the Saddlebred Hunter Challenge, Oct. 30 at the Alltech National Horse Show. Their Saddlebred star counterparts swung a leg over a hunter for their portion of the competition, jumping a 2’6” hunter course.
When the dust settled, Alfano and her partner Stephanie Sedlacko emerged victorious. Sedlacko scored an impressive 88 over fences aboard Special Edition, while Alfano scored an 80 riding The Blue’s Girl. “I had a blast! Thank God for my partner—she carried the show,” said Alfano.
“I made some mistakes, but my horse was awesome. I was a little nervous because she’s younger and green, but she was awesome. It was so much fun and it’s so nice of them to let us ride their horses. I had so much fun at Devon, so when they asked me to do it here, I was really excited,” Alfano continued.
Alfano’s ride was just 4, Sedlacko said. “I thought Jen did great. I was so proud of her. That horse has only been shown six or seven times and she’s been kind of tough. We were a little hesitant when we picked her to bring, but Jen handled her great. She rode her like a pro.”
Alfano had a bit of an advantage, since Sedlacko grew up riding hunters before she transitioned to the gaited horses in her teens. She’s also galloped racehorses. So, she wasn’t unfamiliar with what was needed to win.
Meanwhile, some of the other Saddlebred riders, like Clark Clouse, who was paired with Laura Kraut, jumped their first cross-rail this week while practicing for this class. Clouse did an admirable job and his hunter rider, Trade Money, made sure they got around safely. He scored a 75 for his efforts. Even though her first time holding a Saddlebred’s reins was in the warm-up just minutes before the class, Kraut earned the highest score of the hunter/jumper riders in the rack-off, picking up an 85. Together, the Clouse/Kraut team took third.
McLain Ward won the Saddlebred exhibition at the Devon Horse Show (Pa.) this spring, and spectators in the know of the Saddlebred were praising his technique. “He’s quite good,” I heard one remark. Ward earned a score of 82 on A Long Good Night Kiss. His partner, Melinda Moore, rode the cute paint Echo to a score of 80 in the over-fences portion. They took second overall.
Just hours after his grand hunter championship, Hunt Tosh had to settled for fourth in the Saddlebred Hunter Challenge. His five-gaited ride showed perhaps a few additional gaits on their way around the ring and looked a bit undone by the raucous atmosphere, spooking and bolting a bit as they tried to line up. Tosh quieted him with a few pats to the neck. Tosh and his partner, Melissa Moore, each scored a 78.