Upper Marlboro, Md.—Oct. 5.
Scott Stewart had a hunch that his night would end in second place well before Liza Boyd jumped the final fence in the $10,000 World Championship Hunter Rider Professional Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.
As he stood by the in-gate watching, he said, “I think she got me.”
And he was right. Though Stewart got massive scores in his final round, it wasn’t enough to topple Boyd’s hold on the top. Boyd led each round of the clean-slate Final Four competition, earning an accumulated score of 366.82 for the title of World Champion Hunter Rider.
“I can’t remember the first year I did [the class], but I was so nervous, and I made mistakes,” said Boyd. “I’ve chipped in this class before, and then you just go home thinking, ‘Oh my God! I’m so embarrassed— the whole world saw me chip.’
“I think the older you get, the more you realize you’re human, and you can make mistakes, so you sort of let go of that, and you go in there and just do your best,” Boyd continued. “We’re all good riders; we all got this far, and at this point it’s just whoever’s night. I think I’ve matured so much as a rider and evolved through this World Champion program.”
Boyd, who is the defending champion from last year, entered the finals aboard O’Ryan as one of the six qualified contenders. Riders qualified based on their WCHR national rankings following the professional divisions at Capital Challenge. Boyd was actually ranked eighth overall, but both she and Sandy Ferrell (who was seventh) made the cut after John French and Hunt Tosh opted out. Tosh didn’t compete in the WCHR Professional Challenge earlier in the week since he felt he didn’t have the right horse, and French had a sub-par performance in the Challenge and felt he didn’t have the right mount to take into Friday’s portion of the competition.
The final had a new format this year, where the scores from the first round Wednesday’s WCHR Professional Challenge counted as their first round score in the Pro Final. Riders then jumped a handy round, called the Playoff Round, on their own mount, and the top four based on combined scores headed into the Final Four, where each rider takes a turn on four borrowed horses, all donated by Clairborne Bishop and the Barracks Farm.
Boyd was the lowest qualifier to advance to the Final Four with an 89.66 from the handy added to her first round score in the Challenge aboard Tradition (86.16) for an overall score of 175.82.
In Round 1 of the Final Four, she rode Falcon and earned an average score of 92.33 from the three designated judges. Her lowest score of the class, an 89.33, was earned in Round 2 with Ravello. In Round 3, she rode Suit And Tie to finish on a score of 91.66, and in Round 4 she sealed the deal with Ohh La La, earning a high score of 93.50 (the best round of the night).
“I have to thank John French for the win; he opted out of going [in the class],” said Boyd. “Going into the handy I just went for it. I had to go first, so I thought, ‘Just go for it. Whatever happens happens.’ It’s a new format this year; I thought if you qualified, it will be fun. If you don’t, it was OK; you tried hard.”
Boyd was in favor of the new format that debuted this year. In previous years riders alternated between only two of the provided horses. (Did you know the first time Boyd won, back in 2013, the class was also trying out a new format?)
“I think that it’s fun that they changed it; I think change is good,” said Boyd. “I think this is a great combination of—you show a nice classic hunter rider; you show a good handy hunter rider, and then you show a versatile rider that can catch ride. I think it really does create a good job of showing who that year’s champion is.”
Scott Stewart came into the WCHR Pro Finals ranked as the second overall WCHR rider, just behind Amanda Steege. This year marked Stewart’s 19th time contesting the class, and he’s the winningest rider in WCHR history, but tonight wasn’t quite his night. He rode the Playoff Round on his seasoned partner Private Life and was the top qualifier out of that format. Stewart was in a tie for third after the first round of the Final Four, but he was never able to knock Boyd off first place.
“I liked the new format; it was actually really fun,” Stewart said. “Going in the first round on our own horse in the handy gave us a good shot to do our best. I thought all of the horses were great. They were all different but hunters. It made for a good class.”
Stewart rode his final round on Falcon, who also won the USHJA/WCHR Far West Farms Perpetual trophy, which is awarded to the high-scoring horse of the class.
“[Falcon] was really good for everybody. He was the most fun,” Stewart said, and the other riders agreed.
Steege won the $50,000 WCHR Professional Challenge for the first time this year, which earned her an automatic spot in the Playoff Round aboard Lafitte De Muze. She tied Stewart for third after the first Final Four round and held her spot to finish on a score of 354.99.
“This is my third time doing the Pro Finals, but both times I’ve done it before was the format where you only had two donated horses,” Steege said. “I had a great time. I was much more relaxed this time doing the class than I was the first couple years I got to do it.”
Tori Colvin finished fifth in her WCHR Pro Final debut last year, but this year a win wasn’t meant to be. After a sticky second round aboard Ohh La La, she dropped from second to fourth and was never able to recover. Colvin, who is only 20 years old, was happy just to get the chance to compete again.
“I always really wanted to do this class when I was a junior, so to be able to just compete in it is wonderful,” she said. “After my second round, I knew I was going to be [fourth] anyways, so then I just had fun.”
For more in-depth coverage from the Capital Challenge Horse Show check out the Oct. 22 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.