Oct. 5—Upper Marlboro, Md.
John French found the perfect way to bid farewell to his top hunter: riding him to the top of their second consecutive WCHR Professional Rider Challenge at Capital Challenge .
French tacked up his partner of three years, Small Affair, to jump to the top of both rounds of tonight’s class, with Scott Stewart claiming second on Declaration and Patricia Griffith riding to third aboard Parkland.
French won the first round decisively aboard Elizabeth Reilly and Chris Iwasaki's entry, scoring the highest average mark of the evening—a 92.33—and topping the cards of all three panels of judges.
“A lot of people bring their best horses, so to win here two years in a row wasn’t easy," said French. "It’s hard because you show and then the Emerging Pro [challenge] goes and you have to wait around for two hours thinking ‘Oh my god, I’m on top, I hope I don’t blow it!’ ”
Twenty-five riders contested Michael Rheinheimer’s courses, which had several bending lines and single fences. Many riders took advantage of the final oxer on course to show off with a good gallop.
“I love this class because you can show off a great horse,” said French. “The [WCHR Professional Finals] is different and it can be the luck of the draw. I really like this class, and I think a lot of people came and watched tonight. Plus winning it gets me a free ride into the WCHR Hunter Spectacular [at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.)].”
Small Affair’s set to continue a tour of the fall indoor horse shows in the junior division, but he probably won’t show in the professional ring as well. He’s for sale so French was visibly choked up as he envisioned what the coming shows would be like without the horse he guided to the U.S. Equestrian Federation First Year Horse of the Year honors two seasons ago.
“He’s the ultimate show hunter,” said French. “There are derby horses and there are show hunters, and he’s a top division horse.”
Metzner Makes A Big Impression
If you’re only going to have one hunter to ride in the professional division, you could do a lot worse than Rumba. The only horse Tara Metzner brought to Upper Marlboro—the only seasoned hunter in her barn—happens to be the 2009 Chronicle Horse of the Year. 
“Imagine the best thing possible and [riding him is] it,” said Metzner, who partnered with him to top the WCHR Emerging Pro Challenge. “He’s the horse of a lifetime for anyone.”
Metzner topped both rounds on Dogwood LLC’s gray to edge out Jamie Taylor, who borrowed Erin Bland’s Weatherly for the occasion. Christa Endicott, the only rider to earn ribbons in both the Emerging Pro and Professional Challenges, earned third in the former on All That.
“I was actually much calmer coming back on top,” said Metzner, 34. “I was pretty nervous coming in the first round. When that went well I calmed down.”
Rumba normally shows with owner Destry Spielberg in the junior hunter division, with Metzner, Los Angeles, Calif., taking him in occasional performance divisions. Still, her consistent performances there coupled with those on the only other hunter at her farm, a pregreen horse, were enough to earn her a ticket to this class. Metzner qualified for the professional class as well thanks to winning the 3’6” performance championship yesterday, but she opted not to push her luck and stay in the emerging pro section her first time at Capital Challenge.
“This is actually the first year I’ve ever become a member of WCHR,” she said. “I thought I’d do it because it would be fun to see my name in print a few times if I could get some points—I never thought this could become a reality. For half the WCHR shows we’d be at a jumper horse show, so I actually missed a few shows. But then I took him to Menlo [Charity (Calif.)], and we did quite well there, and that bumped me up and qualified me for this.”
Metzner rides for Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer at Meadow Grove Farm. But this week Carvin’s at a show in California and Schroer’s horse showing across the Atlantic. So Metzner called friend Patricia Griffith to get an experienced set of eyes on the ground.