Washington D.C.—Oct. 26
Meredith “Maddy” Darst had a choice when she planned for the Hermes Washington International Horse Show Equitation Classic. She could ride the seasoned equitation horse that helped her qualify for ASPCA Maclay Finals (Ky.), or she could ride a much newer partner.
She’d ridden that horse, Soldier, for the first time about a month ago at Capital Challenge (Md.). While he had miles in the hunters and derbies, Soldier didn’t have much practice in the equitation, and at 7 was still pretty green.
But Darst liked him, and opted to ride him at Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals at the Pennsylvania National. Things didn’t go quite to plan there—they logged two rails and finished out of the ribbons—but that didn’t deter Darst. She picked Soldier again at Washington, and that horse helped her score the hunter, jumper and overall titles in Washington.
She finished ahead of fellow former pony star Tori Colvin. Michael Hughes—who won at the Platinum Performance USEF Talent Search Finals (N.J.) this September—claimed third ahead of Caitlin Boyle.
Heading into the final round where the top 10 riders swap horses and repeat their jumper course, Colvin lay third behind Darst and Hughes, 9.25 points off the lead. Colvin laid down a gorgeous round—she scored marks of 90 and 93—on the mount she swapped with Caitlin Boyle, Loredo. Both Darst and Hughes logged rails for a mandatory 4-point deduction, but Darst’s round was strong enough to hold the lead.
“I was really excited,” said Darst, of Lebanon, Ohio. “I knew Tori had a great round today, so I was a little bit nervous. I knew it could go either way.”
Stacia Madden, who trains Darst along with the Beacon Hill team and Darst’s mother, Mindy, heaved a sigh of relief when she saw which horse Darst drew for the work-off. Another of her students, Elizabeth Benson, drew the same horse, Patrick, last year and won.
“We had seen him a lot,” said Darst, 16. “He’s very lazy so I needed a lot of leg. I’m not really used to riding quiet horses so it was a little bit of a different ride for me, but he’s super easy and has a huge stride.”
This marks the third time that Madden coached the winning rider in this class.
“Being a professional’s daughter is huge,” she said of Darst. “She has tremendous feel and has been in the pressure cooker pretty much all of her life. She’s probably been on a horse more than her feet. For her to be here and accomplish this—it’s not a fluke. She’s been working very hard.”
The top two riders each have made major reputations catchriding hunters from a very young age, and Darst is a relative newcomer to the jumper ring. Colvin wanted to give her mount from Medal Finals the week off, so she tacked up the only horse she owns, a jumper named Monsieur du Reverdy, for the class. That horse had never competed in a hunter class.
“I was supposed to do him [here] in the high junior jumpers,” said Colvin. “At the last minute we decided to do him. For him to change from the equitation to the jumpers is amazing. This is pretty much the first real equitation class he’s done. For him to go in there and do what he did—it’s amazing.”
Trainer Missy Clark, who trains Colvin along with the team at North Run and Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley, gave her student most of the credit.
“Her ability to smooth out a jumper ride is a testament to her abilities as a rider,” said Clark. “I always say it's like going to the basketball court with Michael Jordan.”
Clark was especially glad to see her student win as she’s been having a tough week. She took a fall on Tuesday while mounting a horse, and suffered a broken arm.
Chestnut Mares Rule The Highs
Abigail McArdle lay down the fastest clear jump-off round to win today’s $15,000 high junior/amateur-owner jumper classic on Cosma 20. That blue boosted her to the division reserve title behind Charlotte Jacobs and Kachina, who finished third in the classic.
“[Cosma 20] is a really great speed horse,” said McArdle, 19. “I think everywhere we were right on the pace.”
McArdle has been out of the show ring during the last two months to focus on her freshman year at University of Miami (Fla.). She and her longtime partner Cosma 20 spent the summer showing in Europe and at Spruce Meadows (Alberta), and it took a few days to get used to the smaller and spookier Verizon Center.
“She definitely goes differently here,” said McArdle. “I could tell that the first day when she was really backed off, but as [the horse show] went on the next day she was great and today she was even more comfortable. It’s a lot to take in.”
McArdle and Jacobs both tacked up chestnut mares—with plenty of attitude—for the event.
Jacobs, 18, took over the ride on Kachina from her father, Louis Jacobs, after he was laid up with a knee injury.
“You always just have to keep thinking forward, forward, forward,” said Charlotte, who just started her freshman year at Southern Methodist University (Texas). “She's very careful as well and can really hang up in the air if you're getting deep to an oxer. You have to be galloping.”
Charlotte, East Aurora, N.Y., bonded with Kachina before she started riding her; she used to sneak into Fédération Equestre Internationale stabling to feed her mints during her father’s competitions. “She kind of knows me as treat lady,” she joked.
Friends Finish First
When Cloe Hymowitz and Bon Vivant came back first for the jump-off in the low junior/amateur-owner jumper classic, she laid down a super quick round that looked impossible to beat.
“I went into the ring, and just thought, ‘Cloe was so fast, I don’t know how I am going to do this,’” said Heather Hooker, who rode Perle in the class. “I just had to do it down the last line; I had to make it happen.”
That she did. Hooker, 20, outran her barnmate by .02 seconds to win the class.
But Hymowitz’ strong performances over the week gave her the division championship, and Hooker took reserve.
Both riders train with Ken Berkley of Rivers Edge Farm, whom they credit as instrumental to their success. He’s stressed fitness with the girls, and they’ve taken to using temporary stalls as pull up bars.
“I think Ken rides every stride harder [than we do],” said Hooker. “You can hear him out there and when he says ‘whoa,’ your horse backs off!”
Hymowitz, 17, has come a long way since her first horse show on Bon Vivant last summer in Vermont. “I was running around the ring; I couldn’t stop him!”
Since then they’ve racked up numerous wins.
“I was scared of the jumpers. I never thought any of this was possible for me,” said Hymowitz, Bridgehampton, N.Y. “Ken has given me a lot of confidence in the jumper ring.”
Click here for lots more from the Chronicle on the Washington International Horse Show.  For a full report from the Washington International Horse Show, check out the Nov. 11 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse . Full results are available at the official Washington International Horse Show site.