May 31—Devon, Pa.
I have to admit, when I arrived at Devon to start shooting the open hunters, I didn’t take much notice of Rapunzel. I was pretty sure the grand champion would end up being one of the old favorites I’d written about many times before—there usually isn’t much of an element of surprise to the Devon grand champion.
Scott Stewart had his usual arsenal of top contenders—two in each division. Hunt Tosh had Cold Harbor and Rosalynn in fighting form. Jen Alfano was riding her star Jersey Boy there.
Then I checked the first day’s results. Alfano was also riding a horse whose name didn’t look familiar, and they’d won the first class of the green conformation division. It was Rapunzel. I watched her go and took pictures in two classes on Tuesday. I was struck by her lovely canter and textbook jump. She jogged in front in both classes on Tuesday, an over fences class and the handy, but got moved down to second in the handy during the conformation judging. The judges moved the model winner, Stewart’s ride Beholden, up to first. It made sense—Beholden is a lovely type, and Rapunzel didn’t even show in the model class of the division.
A big chestnut mare with a wide blaze and socks, Rapunzel didn’t put a foot wrong. She won the under saddle and three over fences classes at Devon, including the stake, and placed second in the handy. I know it’s my job to interview winners, but I have to admit, I really wanted to find out where this horse came from and what her story is!
Watch one of Rapunzel's winning rounds...
As it turns out, she’s got a pretty interesting background. Rapunzel, who’s 11 this year, spent quite a few years competing in dressage in Europe. Gary Duffy, a trainer from Ithaca, N.Y., imported the Hanoverian (Rotspon—Wedina) in 2009 as a possible prospect for his daughter, Kelsey, to show in the hunters.
Duffy’s wife, Donna, showed Rapunzel in dressage a bit, and Kelsey, now 22, taught her how to jump under Gary’s guidance. Kelsey started “Ruby” in the low hunter divisions and showed her up to the pre-green classes in 2010. “It's been a fairytale horse. She's a family horse for us,” Gary said.
Last year, the Duffys sold Ruby to their long-time client, Karen MacDonald, and she kept the mare with them as an investment prospect.
This year, Kelsey was in college at the University of Florida, so Ruby showed in the adult amateur division at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) with Jeanine Cash aboard, trained by Geoff Teall, and they were consistently in the ribbons. Gary gave Alfano a call and sent Ruby to her for the last few weeks of the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit (Fla.).
Ruby debuted showing at 3'6" at the end of February, and she showed four weeks in Florida in the green divisions with Alfano. They then hit three shows in South Carolina and Kentucky on their way north. By the time she’d gotten to Devon, Ruby had shown over 3'6" just seven times.
“I know she's a really nice horse, and I like her a lot, but I was really unsure, coming here,” Alfano said. “She doesn't have a lot of miles under her belt at 3'6", and I thought she might be a little green. But she just walked in here like she owned this place. She didn't bat an eye at a thing. I was thrilled with her.”
Even Better This Year
Even though Ruby dominated her division, Stewart gave her a run for her money in the race for grand champion. Glen Senk’s Dedication, who was the first year green champion at Devon last year, was neck and neck with her in points going into the last day. In the second year green division, Dedication had been second in the under saddle, then won three over fences classes. If he won the stake class, he would tie with Ruby for the grand title.
But it was not to be. Amanda Steege rode Balou to the top of the stake class, relegating Dedication to second. Stewart returned to the ring to pick up the second year green tricolor with the bay gelding but fell a few points short of the grand honors. Stewart did, however, pick up the Leading Rider title. There was much debate in the press conference about how many years he’s won that honor, and while we didn’t arrive at a definitive answer, it’s sufficient to say he’s won it more than 10 times.
Stewart was very happy with Dedication’s maturity at Devon. “This was the best he's ever gone. I usually have one or two really good classes on him and then we'll make a mistake in one. But this is the first time he was so consistent in all four rounds,” he said. “He's not quite as green; last year he was a little bit green at the ends of the ring. This year, he's more seasoned about it. He was really easy to ride this week.”
Watch Stewart and Dedication's winning handy round...
Stewart also rode Beholden to reserve in the green conformation division and Touchdown to the regular conformation reserve.
An Unexpected Result
The points for the first year green championship were pretty spread out, so coming into the stake class, it was hard to tell who might be champion. But after Jennifer Hannan and As Always loped around to the top score in the stake class, she and Hannan returned to the ring with owner Jennifer Smith to pick up the tricolor.
Hannan and Smith were a bit shell-shocked after their win, which came due to the stake win, an under saddle win, and a fourth place in the handy class. Hannan hadn’t shown at Devon in more than 10 years—her last Devon appearance was as a junior. But she and Smith knew As Always was special enough to trailer down from Hannan’s farm in Wakefield, R.I., to show in the Dixon Oval. “He's big and lofty and scopey. Everything is just easy for him,” Hannan said.
Smith bought As Always from trainer Jack Towell as a 3-year-old, and Hannan has brought the Brandenburg of unknown breeding along since 2010; he’s now 7. “I bought him off a video,” Smith said. “I really trust Jack. He's a beautiful horse. His barn name is Leonard because when they sent me a video, to show me how quiet he is, they had this little boy holding him, even though he was still a stallion. I asked what the boy’s name was, and it was Leonard, so that’s what we call him.”
Hannan plans to campaign Leonard in the first year division, then Smith will take over the reins for the amateur division.
A Winning Comeback
Owner Betsee Parker couldn’t have had a much better week than Devon’s Junior Weekend, but Hunt Tosh worked hard to bring her some highlights during senior week, too. He rode Parker’s Rosalynn to the high performance hunter championship and her Cold Harbor to the regular conformation hunter title.
When Rosalynn showed at Devon last year, it was with Parker’s trainer Rob Coluccio. Coluccio was ill at the time, but he didn't know it, so he was off his game and had some falls and refusals with Rosalynn. “Rosalynn was confused after that,” Parker said. “I was very crestfallen, of course.” She chose to send Rosalynn to Tosh, and he rebuilt the mare’s confidence. They finished Devon with a score of 92 in the stake class to clinch the tricolor in a heated points race.
Watch Rosalynn go in a high performance hunter class...
“She's such a trier. She made a little mistake here in the first class and came back and went so great,” Tosh said. “Today, it came down to the last class, and we were all pretty close in points. But when you call on her, she tries so hard. She jumped really high and went so well. To get a 92 to finish the week was very special.”
Cold Harbor was green conformation hunter champion at Devon last year under Douglas Wheeler’s ownership, and it was there that Parker first noticed him. She made an offer to buy him then, but it wasn’t until this spring that Wheeler decided to sell. Parker bought Cold Harbor in April and was thrilled to see him win at Devon again.
“To be champion two years in a row here is super special,” Tosh said.
The professional hunter divisions have concluded, and Thursday is full of hunter breeding action before the big excitement of the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon, which is also a U.S. Equestrian Federation Olympic Observation Event.
USEF Network will be streaming the class live, and check at the Chronicle for all the stories and photos.