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February 6, 2011

Show Hunter Horseman Of The Year: Scott Stewart

Photo by Mollie Bailey.

Scott Stewart may not spend much time in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a gambler. He’s one of the few hunter trainers who regularly takes chances on young horses, often importing them from Europe as yearlings or 2-year-olds. His slightly unusual system pays off—almost every horse he rides into the ring is a top competitor, and they all do it in the same classic style. You can point out a horse and say, “That’s a Scott Stewart type,” and if the horse moves well, jumps beautifully and looks good to boot, you’d be right.

“I like to try to keep the ideal hunter type in my mind,” said Stewart, who is based out of River’s Edge Farm with his partner Ken Berkley. “It’s nice to have a good group of customers who enjoy finding young horses and get excited about bringing along a nice horse. There’s always a risk in building young horses, but my owners are all up for that challenge and willing to share in the wins and losses.”

Talk to anyone about Stewart for a few minutes, and the same themes quickly show up. He’s a great rider. He loves his job. He’s kind to his horses. He’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.

“He really deserves all the success he has,” said Susan Weisman, whose daughter Krista has ridden with Stewart for eight years. “He’s just genuinely a nice, nice man. He doesn’t have one set system—he’s very individual for what each horse needs.”

“I think people stay with him because he’s 100 percent honest,” added Brigid Colvin, Victoria Colvin’s mother. “He chooses good horses and stands behind them. When a customer comes, he stays. And that’s rare.”

But his knack for finding high quality horses and the ability to keep his clients happy are just two reasons Stewart’s become one of the top hunter riders—he’s also extremely skilled in the saddle, honing his techniques by sitting on as many as 14 horses a day.

All that practice time has paid off. In 2010, Stewart topped his fourth Professional World Championship Hunter Rider Final at Capital Challenge (Md.) and was named Leading Hunter Rider at Devon (Pa.) for the eighth consecutive year. He keeps his show schedule light, but picked up tricolors numerous weeks at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) and at Capital Challenge (Md.), Devon (Pa.), the Upperville Colt & Horse Show (Va.) and the Hampton Classic (N.Y.). With Summer Place, owned by longtime client Glen Senk’s Fashion Farm, he finished second in the $100,000 The Chronicle Of The Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals (Ky.).

“I would have to say either doing well in the hunter derby or winning the WCHR class for the fourth time was the highlight of my year,” Stewart said. “It had been a while since I won it last time.”

But Stewart doesn’t just take chances on horses. He also took a chance on a junior rider about five years ago and ended up with another winner. When Victoria Colvin came to his barn from Sharon Cole, he saw an innate talent and recruited her to ride some of his ponies. This year Colvin finished fourth in the $100,000 The Chronicle Of The Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals but also earned championships at WEF, Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National, USEF Pony Finals (Ky.) and Devon. Not bad for a 12-year-old.

“She’s always been really dedicated, even five or six years ago on small ponies,” said Stewart. “Her parents did all the groundwork with her, and it was just a matter of getting her on a lot of horses. She’s really patient, and the horses and ponies love her. She’s really one of a kind. She can get the horses to jump better than anybody. It’s really a nice gift to see her ride all the young horses and ponies.”