Correction: Due to an error in point calculations, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show on Wednesday changed the winner of the leading hunter rider title to Geoffrey Hesslink. Under show rules, points from a flat class originally used to determine Nick Haness as the leading rider were deducted because the class did not have enough entries.
Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 17
Professional Geoffrey Hesslink has been coming to the Pennsylvania National since he was 12 years old, but he’s never had a performance like this year’s. Together with Meridian Farm LLC’s Drumroll he captured the 3’9” green hunter championship after winning two over fences class and the under saddle, and picking up a red ribbon in the other jumping class. He also picked up the grand green hunter title, the overall grand championship and the leading hunter rider title.
Jenkins and Nick Haness earned the 3’9” green hunter reserve title.
Hesslink and the 9-year-old Holsteiner (Diamant De Semilly—A-Comme-Ci) paired up this summer, and their Harrisburg titles represent the latest in a list of top finishes for the pair.
“He’s a very athletic powerhouse of a horse,” said Hesslink, Wellington, Florida. “He could jump a mountain. In some of the summer classes like the [WCHR Hunter Spectacular—Central, which he won] in Michigan or [Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky), where he was second], I really was able to work out of a big canter and gallop to the fences, and he would back himself off. Here and at Capital Challenge [Maryland], I had to really adjust my ride. I felt like I had to package him together a little bit and contain the stride because he’s really big-strided and scopey.”
Drumroll was champion earlier in the week in a division of junior hunters with Caroline Signorino.
“Drumroll is a once in a lifetime horse,” said Hesslink. “We’ve been really fortunate to have him. He was already champion and [high point] large junior champion last week with his owner, so I knew he was going to be perfect and the venue was going to be no problem for him. I was lucky enough that she supported me showing him in the 3’9”, and he was incredible so I’m really thankful.”
A Flawless Performance
There’s one word to describe McQueen’s trip to Harrisburg: perfect. The 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Cornet Obolensky—Sanea) owned by Walkenbach Equestrian won every single green conformation class he entered with Haness up to take the division championship over All Inklusive and Sam Schaefer.
A technicality in the prize list kept the pair from earning the grand championship and leading hunter rider title: Only classes with eight or more entries count toward the grand title, and the green conformation under saddle, which ran last, didn’t have enough.
Haness was gracious about missing out on the titles, and simply pointed out that the horse couldn’t have performed better.
“It’s been a phenomenal adventure and journey with McQueen,” said Haness, Temecula, California. “He has continuously proven to be a true contender at any level, at any venue across the country, including Devon [Pennsylvania] where he was grand champion, the [Platinum Performance USHJA Green Incentive Championships] at Kentucky [where he won with a score of 98], the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Spectacular [California] in Thermal this year, grand champion two weeks ago at Capital Challenge [Maryland], which was our first indoor show together this year, and coming here this week and winning every single class in the division. And he did it scoring high, in the 90s, in every class. We could not be more proud of that horse. Thrilled.”
That “we” includes a big team of supporters. While the Walkenbach family purchased McQueen this summer, they and trainer Jim Hagman decided to leave him in his program with the Balmoral team through the end of the year.
“Jim Hagman decided to include Carleton and Traci Brooks of Balmoral Farm in the rest of this year,” Haness said. “[McQueen] had so much success leading up to this point, we felt like it made sense to keep it consistent, not change things up, not experiment, not make anything different than what it already was. It was working; things have been going great. Now it’s been really fun to have all of their input. Jim has been in there throughout the whole process, at the jumps in the schooling ring really watching us and learning how this horse performs. An athlete like this horse at this level has a specific regimen, and we truly believe that they’re going to have a lot of success with him next year and in the future, but for now it’s been nice to have all of us collaborate as horsemen. Everyone brings a little something different to the equation.”
Haness’ second champion, Pavlova, came out of the 3’6” green division, where the John and Stephanie Ingram entry won over Small Friendship and Kate Conover. Pavlova is trained by Tom Wright, and Haness meets up with her at horse shows.
“I’ve been able to ride her this year and had many successful shows with her. She really is a mare that goes in there and, as green as she is at times, she really just steps in the ring and consistently just blows it out of the water,” he said. “She has a great team behind her as well with the Ingram family and exceptional caretakers in Torrey Hardison, Jared DePermentier and Tom as the trainer. This is a very, very strong team. This is a very high-caliber horse. She really deserves to win as much as she does.”
After topping the division, Pavolva also won the $10,000 Professional Hunters Winners Stake with the high score of the week, a 94.
“She really went in there and said, ‘I want to win this,’ ” said Haness. “Tom told me, ‘Make the first jump impressive and the rest will fall into place and it will feel like a winning around after that.’ And that’s exactly how it felt. Going in there she just felt very in tune with what we were asking her to do.”
Lafitte De Muze Earns His First Harrisburg Cooler
There’s not many shows where high performance hunter Lafitte De Muze hasn’t won a championship, but the Pennsylvania National was one of them—until today. Cheryl Olsten’s Belgian Warmblood (Darco—Everlychin De La Pomme) won two over fences classes and finished second in another. Coupled with a yellow ribbon in the under saddle, he and Amanda Steege earned 30 points, the same number as runner-up Chappy with Greg Crolick, who earned more points under saddle to take the reserve ribbon.
“Lafitte” has shown prowess in the division and in the derby field, and despite their strong connection, Steege said he still has room for improvement.
“It’s been a long time already,” said Steege of their partnership. “This is my sixth year, but I really think, for me, especially in the derby classes and Derby Finals in particular, Lafitte and I are still developing. People always are asking me, ‘How old is he?’ and I’m like ‘He’s 12,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh shoot, we’re going to see him for years.’
“I don’t know of too many other horses that just love to go to the show and love to go to the ring the way he does,” she added. “He gets really upset when the trailer pulls out and he’s not on it.”
At home in Califon, New Jersey, and Ocala, Florida, Steege focuses on his fitness and honing details of their partnership.
“Pretty much every morning I get to the barn and I ride him first, and some mornings I just flat,” she said. “Some mornings I jump some cavaletti, some mornings I’m working on my trot jumps or bending lines or landing leads. [I’m] not generally jumping enormous jumps or courses; it’s more like breaking it up into things I think we need to perfect. When I’m done he goes outside, and he stays outside as long as he wants to, because if he doesn’t want to come in, he won’t let you catch him.”
Lafitte’s other job? Teaching the next generation of hunters.
“We have a particular horse named Valencio that I do in the 3’3” greens and Lafitte always rides next to him in the trailer and he lives next to him at the show,” she said. “They’re nose-to-nose and I’m like, ‘Are you training him up? Are you getting him ready?’ ”
Worthy Lives Up To His Name
Maria Rasmussen has been on a roll with Sunset View Farm LLC’s Worthy. They came to Harrisburg fresh off a championship at Capital Challenge, and they kept up their winning ways, winning the high performance conformation championship over the Ingram family’s Only Always, ridden by Haness.
“Last year he actually struggled at Capital Challenge and here; he was good at the National [Kentucky],” said Rasmussen, Wellington, Florida. “The only thing we could attribute it to is that we did Derby Finals. He was really good at Derby Finals, and we gave him a big long break. Then we went to show and he was just trying so hard—and he’s already so careful. He really scared himself a little last year. He jumped all the jumps, but it just wasn’t a good time for him. This year we changed the way we prepared him, and he’s been so relaxed and he just jumps higher and higher.”
To relax him after Derby Finals, Rasmussen showed the 12-year-old Holsteiner by Cannavaros in smaller classes.
“He likes a soft ride,” she said. “We flat him and school him in one of those foam bits. [In the show ring] he just has thick rubber in his mouth; you don’t have to touch the reins really.”
At home, Worthy rules the barn. He has the first stall, and enjoys his turnout time with his buddy Sunny the mini.
“He follows her around,” said Rasmussen. “He’s always got his friend. He loves bananas—they’re his favorite food. And Luis [Ruiz], his groom, is his favorite person. There was a derby we did last year in Aiken. Luis had to go home and he missed the derby and there was a huge difference in the horse.”
Next up for Worthy? He’ll head to the National, then enjoy a break until next season.
Find full results here. Check out all the Chronicle’s coverage from the Pennsylvania National here. Check out the Nov. 27 issue of the Chronicle of the Horse magazine for analysis from the competition.