The Developing Horse Challenge

Oct 9, 2017 - 12:04 PM

The Capital Challenge Horse Show’s tagline is “rise to the challenge” and that’s exactly what I felt Cassius did last week!

On Wednesday evening, Cassius and I jumped the $5,000 WCHR Developing Pro Challenge at Capital Challenge to finish fourth, and I was so proud of Cassius. He was such a star and totally rose to the occasion, earning average scores of 86.16 and 85.66 in the first and second rounds, respectively.

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Cassius and I competing at Capital Challenge. Photo by Emily Riden/Jump Media

I think I put a bit more pressure on myself for the first round, knowing that I wanted to be within the top 12 coming back for the second round, but Cassius just went in, exhaled, and made it look easy.

Prior to the start of the Developing Pro Challenge, I blogged about how we’ve been able to use this year, and all of the opportunities that we’ve had throughout it, as confidence-building experiences. Wednesday night’s class was such a testament to that, confirming how much Cassius’s confidence has bolstered through all the crazy tests we’ve thrown at him in the last several months.

Cassius is a “young” 8-year-old without a ton of previous experience under his belt, but that has definitely changed a good bit recently! He jumped the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals in August and, at the beginning of the week here at Capital Challenge he competed in the high performance hunters, so by the time we came in to the jump the smaller 3’3″ fences of the Developing Pro Challenge, he didn’t bat an eye.

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I was so proud of Cassius! Photo by Emily Riden/Jump Media

Reflecting on the Developing Pro Challenge now, I think that for myself, Cassius, and Cassius’s owner, Michelle Durpetti, this year’s class could be more suitably dubbed the “Developing Horse Challenge,” as we were able to use it as an important developmental tool for Cassius.

In the industry, I think we talk a good bit about the development of young jumpers who have the luxury of the young jumper classes and young jumper finals; we talk about pre-green horses (now green hunter 3’ and 3’3” horses) and the more recent great addition of the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championships, but I don’t often hear anyone talking about the development of hunter horses that maybe aren’t necessarily qualified to do the pre-green incentive and are a little older but not as far along. Cassius fits into that latter category.

I believe that an important developmental tool, and a big part of Cassius’s progression this year, involves the raising and lowering of the bar, rather literally. We really raised the bar in asking him to jump the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, which was an important milestone for him and a great learning tool. Following Derby Finals, Michelle and I evaluated our game plan for the rest of the year, and decided to take the bar (and the fences) down a hole or two for Cassius’s benefit.

By asking Cassius to jump the lower 3’3″ fences of the Developing Pro Challenge, we could allow him to simply have fun and enjoy the indoor circuit setting. This year marks his first time competing at “indoors,” and by starting it with such a positive, relatively low pressure experience like the Developing Pro Challenge, my hope is that we’re developing a horse that will continue to view competing in these venues in a positive light. Creating those sorts of experiences, often utilizing lower fences, is something that I think should be strived for in any young or inexperienced horse’s progression.

For his first time at an indoor show, Cassius did an incredible job. Throughout the year we’ve developed him to the point where he is now—able to go smoothly around the Developing Pro Challenge courses like a veteran. And being able to go up and down in jump height has given him so much more confidence for what comes next, including the high performance hunters at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg and stepping into the amateur-owner hunters with his owner, Michelle, next year.

Following Harrisburg, we’ll head to the Washington International Horse Show (D.C.). I look forward to sharing more news following both shows!


Born and raised in Sheffield, Mass., Caitlyn Shiels began riding at the age of 8. In 2013, Shiels joined the team at Canterbury Farm in Hampshire, Ill., as a trainer and rider, training hunter/jumper riders to compete on the local, regional and national level. Read all of her COTH blogs.

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