When Aaron Vale started training Paige Andros in February, he had no idea that her ambition would leave him gasping for breath during the Kentucky Hunter/Jumper Association Grand Prix. The class was held in Lexington, Ky., during the KHJA Horse Show, Aug. 23-27.
“I was really hoping to win when I went in for the jump-off. I was second to Aaron and Mobile U the week before, so this week I really wanted to make him run,” said Andros with a smile.
And she did.
For two consecutive weeks, Vale and 18-year-old Andros topped the grand prix events held at the Kentucky Horse Park. A second-placed finish for Andros aboard Fairway Farms’ Gelha’s Junior in the $30,000 Rood & Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix put the pressure on Vale aboard Sagamore Farms and Debbie Dolan’s Mobile U to pull out the win again.
Just four out of 26 starters jumped clear around Michel Vaillancourt’s question-laden course.
After Vale had a rail with his first mount in the jump-off, Millstream Inc.’s Waldi, Wilhelm Genn rode his horse, Happy Z, to a conservative fault-free round to take the lead. But when Andros walked into the ring, she heard opportunity knocking and rode for the win, leaving Genn almost 5 seconds behind her in the dust.
“Going in to the jump-off, we had a plan and were hoping to take the first, second and third spots,” admitted Vale. “Unfortunately, the rail on Waldi left the door open.”
Andros’ fault-free effort and lightning fast time certainly put the pressure on Vale and Mobile U, but veteran Vale grabbed the opportunity for yet another win and ran faster, finishing a mere .3 seconds ahead of Andros to a mix of boos and cheers from the crowd.
“I think I could have had the better time if I’d turned tighter to the second fence in the jump-off, but on the whole, I was very pleased,” she said.
Vale started training Andros during the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit (Fla.). “It’s really exciting when you see someone do well who works as hard, tries as hard, and focuses as much as Paige does,” said Vale. “It’s great to watch her learn and get better.”
There’s another young female in Vale’s life who tries hard too–the 10-year-old, Oldenburg mare Mobile U.
“The mare really likes showing here in Kentucky. She’s wonderful–she tries hard and jumps clean almost every time in the ring,” he said. “In the jump-offs, she’s almost easier to ride because I can soften my ride and go forward more, which is the ride she prefers.
“I’d love to be able to keep showing her because she always gives 200 percent and tries to do the right thing and leave all the fences up,” he added.
“I think the hardest part about a catch-ride is figuring out on short notice how the horse wants to go. You as a rider need to be able to change your ride to what the horse likes,” said Tommy Serio about his ride aboard Kobi Rhodes’ Bella Rouge.
With only a day to figure out how Bella Rouge liked to be ridden before showing her in the first year green division during the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show, held in Lexington on Aug. 16-20, Serio had to think quick.
“By walking, trotting, cantering, and going over a few jumps, you know how to adjust your ride to what the horse likes and then it’s your job as a rider to compile their weak points and try to strengthen them while capitalizing on their strengths in the process,” he explained.
By the second week of showing the 8-year-old, chestnut mare, Serio had her figured out almost perfectly. The pair took first place in every class except for one.
“What I learned after showing her the first week is that she jumps really hard and so she would then land and slow down–I realized if I rode her across the jump better then she would land and carry more momentum,” he said.
Rhodes chose Serio, of Keswick, Va., to ride his Hanoverian at the KHJA horse shows because Serio showed her to much acclaim during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) two years ago in the pre-green division.
“I was extremely happy with her performance at this show. Serio is a brilliant rider and I think the match is working out very well,” added Rhodes.
CeCe Williamson, who trains with Serio, returned to her home in Baltimore, Md., with the title of grand amateur-owner hunter champion.
“I’m very motivated by Tommy. His levels of interaction and communication motivate me to ride my horse the best I can ride him,” said Williamson about her long-time companion Ivanhoe, a 10-year-old, Selle Francais gelding. “I haven’t had that much motivation since I trained with Ronnie Mutch, and I’ve had my fair share of trainers.”
Williamson started riding in Charlotte, N.C., when she was 5 years old and has never taken a break, although years of experience have helped give her a new perspective.
“I felt a lot of pressure as a junior–although I’m sure it was nowhere near what junior riders feel today. It’s such a mental sport, but I think the balance I have between riding and my professional life has helped create a more healthy frame of mind,” she said.
During a trip with a friend to Europe in 1999, Williamson saw Ivanhoe for the first time and knew that he was the right horse.
Over the course of the six years that Williamson has owned Ivanhoe, the two have earned numerous accolades, including ribbons at the Devon Horse Show & County Fair (Pa.), the Washington International (D.C.) and the Pennsylvania National horse shows, but more importantly, they’ve developed a mutual trust that’s unveiled in the show ring.
“Consistency pays off a lot with riding,” said Williamson. “You can’t always be perfect, only the best you can be on that day.”
Consistency paid off for John Barker and Martin Schlaeppi’s Brown Eyed Girl. Several blue ribbons as well as the championship in the pre-greens prepared Brown Eyed Girl for the adult amateur, 50 and over, division in which Schlaeppi took the grand adult amateur hunter championship honors.
“The mare is so easy and consistent it’s unbelievable,” said Barker of the horse that showed up on his doorstep in Middleburg, Va., one hot August day last year.
“My wife Kitty and I knew right away that we wanted to keep her. She’s a good mover and jumper, does perfect lead changes, and has a great expression. The mare’s about as close to perfect as you can get,” added Barker.
Prior to starting her career as a hunter a year ago, the 10-year-old Oldenburg competed in dressage. If all goes according to plan, Barker hopes to move Brown Eyed Girl up to the first year green division next year.
“I thought he was beautiful and he jumped so nice, I had to have him,” said Louise Serio about Theory, a horse she purchased in Europe in fall of 2005 and later sold to Bridget Hallman.
Upon Serio’s return from Europe, Hallman, 32, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., received a phone call about Theory.
“He’s such a nice horse–with lots of quality, scope and desire–I wanted him to stay in the barn,” admitted Louise, 52, about her decision to show Hallman the horse.
“I trust her opinions and when I saw him, I loved his jump. He’s got a great canter and a big stride, along with excellent balance and rhythm,” said Hallman of her attraction to the 17-hand, bay stallion by the famous grand prix horse Baloubet du Rouet and out of My Girl.
After purchasing Theory, Serio and Hallman decided to start the horse’s showing career in the green conformation hunter division. Theory, now a 5-year-old, is constantly improving, both in rideability and show ring etiquette.
“He’s a puppy dog around the barn,” said Hallman, “the only time the stallion comes out in him is when he goes in for the jog–he just gets a little excited.”
With plans to end the 2006 season after competing at the fall indoor shows, Hallman will give the horse a few months off before the WEF circuit begins. During that time, Theory will travel to the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania to be collected for breeding.
If all goes as planned, Hallman hopes to make her show ring debut on Theory in the adult amateur division at WEF.
Rachel Geiger was another winner from Derbydown Farm. The Malvern, Pa., resident took home the amateur-owner, 18-35, tricolor aboard her Dream Date.
“When Louise and I went to look at the horse six years ago, we both knew right away that he was the one,” said Geiger about the now 10-year-old, Oldenburg gelding purchased from Rolf and Jennifer Bauersachs.
Currently entering her last year of college at Elizabethtown College (Pa.), Geiger, 21, is majoring in psychology. “Ever since my mother died, I’ve known that I wanted to help counsel grieving children,” she said.
While firmly focused on her studies, Geiger still finds time to make it out to Derbydown and ride a few days a week. In addition to Dream Date, she owns two other amateur-owner hunters, Aeropostale and Midnight Date, as well as two jumpers, Pentagon and Play Date.
Geiger laughed–her contagious smile growing–when asked about the repetition of the word “date” in the names of her horses.
“It’s sort of an on-going joke with my father who doesn’t like me to go out,” she added with a smile.
Despite the occasional good-natured chastising from her father, Geiger remains focused. “My goal for the rest of this year is to remain consistent with my horses,” she said. “I’ve never been the most consistent rider, and I’m excited right now because I feel as though I’ve reached a level of teamwork with my horses and more than anything I don’t want to let them down.”