Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Allegro Proves An All-Around Winner At The Blenheim Spring Classic

This jumper and equitation mount proves he’s got what it takes in the hunter ring too.

Jocelyn Neff didn’t enter Allegro in the $10,000 ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby on April 10 during the Blenheim Spring Classic III thinking she would take home the big prize. The 16-year-old entered her USET Talent Search Medal mount just to take a break from the pressures of the equitation and jumper rings.

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This jumper and equitation mount proves he’s got what it takes in the hunter ring too.

Jocelyn Neff didn’t enter Allegro in the $10,000 ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby on April 10 during the Blenheim Spring Classic III thinking she would take home the big prize. The 16-year-old entered her USET Talent Search Medal mount just to take a break from the pressures of the equitation and jumper rings.

But Neff and her handy partner proved they could be competitive even outside their comfort zone, winning the class over Peter Lombardo and Jane Fraze’s Mandarin. Jenny Karazissis posted a typical bold ride aboard Tonia Cook Looker’s Aragon to jump up from fifth to third.
“Because he’s done all the jumpers the 4-foot options are really easy for him,” said Neff. “He’s a beautiful horse—my mom calls him ‘poetry in motion.’ He’s so perfect for this class, just very intelligent and brave. He’ll always forgive me if I do something wrong.”

Allegro’s game attitude and unflappability earned him the edge over plenty of veteran show hunters for the outdoor class held on the grass fields at Oaks Blenheim in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. In the first round competitors had to jump out of the ring and into an adjoining one, through an element the announcer dubbed the “tri-angle of doom” after the casualties inflicted by the unusual element.

Riders selected which rail of the two legs of the triangle to attempt, riding into the second field over the other leg in either one or two strides depending on the panel. In the second round riders also had the option to ride the element as a bounce, which Neff selected, helping her earn 8 bonus points from each panel of judges.

“That was definitely the hardest part of the course,” said Neff. “We practiced in the warm-up ring, jumping from the ring out onto the grass, and ‘Silver’ didn’t care.”

The win tasted especially sweet to Neff as it marked Silver’s return to the show ring after a nine-month hiatus following a tendon injury. The pair contested a few derbies last season after her trainer Karen Healey pointed out that the horse jumped well enough to make a name for himself in the hunter ring.

“We kept doing all right, even when I would make mistakes,” recalled Neff. “This time we really went for it. When we were walking the course trying to decide which options to do Karen said, ‘no guts, no glory’ and told me to take the hardest route, and I did.”

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While Neff has enjoyed dabbling in the derbies—she compared the experience to the difficulty of an equitation final without any of the pressure—until this win she never considered aiming toward the final in Kentucky. But the derby has reinvigorated her interest in the hunters, and she plans to contest another class during the Memorial Day Classic (Calif.).

Neff lives in Newport Beach, Calif., and keeps her legs strong by riding Cinnamon Twist, her gold-medal pony jumper partner in the 2006 Adequan/USEF Pony Jumper National Team Championship. She boards him nearby with Hillary Ridland, but she commutes 90 minutes on weekends to train with Healey, whom she credited with helping her riding grow by leaps and bounds over the past 11⁄2 years.

“Karen is an amazing trainer. She’s taken me from barely getting by up to the high junior jumpers,” said Neff. “At home the courses are really hard. I really appreciate her honesty and that she doesn’t baby you. It makes a big difference.”

Back In The Saddle

Michelle Parker probably wasn’t the most prepared rider to enter the $35,000 Spring Classic III Grand Prix.

An accident during the HITS Arizona Finale a month earlier left Parker with a broken hand, forcing her to sit on the sidelines for a month and watch her assistant Alex Alzarado tune up her mounts. But as soon as the doctors cut off her cast, Parker taped a few fingers together, pulled on her boots, and tacked up Cross Creek Farms’ Socrates to win the signature class at the Blenheim Spring Classic III.

Parker and Socrates posted the only clear round to take the top check back to San Marcos, Calif., over a course that only 15 of the 21 competitors managed to complete.

“It was a substantial course for sure, probably harder than most of the riders were expecting,” said Parker. “Last week the grand prix was on grass, and they moved it to the indoor this week. I think the fact it was at night backed off a lot of horses. Until that class my horse had only done 1.40-meter classes, and I wasn’t sure how he’d be in [a 1.50-meter class] but he went great.”

Parker only got back in the tack four days before the grand prix, but she didn’t exactly ease into her riding schedule.

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“I went right back to work jumping big jumps right away,” she recalled. “I hadn’t been doing anything to try to stay in shape, so my calf muscles were so sore and I was hobbling around two days later.”

Parker jammed her hand during the last grand prix in Tucson aboard another mount. “At the time I just thought it was sprained,” said Parker, who didn’t let the accident stop her from jumping off aboard Socrates to finish fourth. “Typical horseperson, I had the vet X-ray it first, then the next Friday I went to see a doctor.”

Socrates made his U.S. debut in Arizona, finishing second in the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix during week 4 and topping the class the next week. While the 9-year-old Westphalian was hardly green when Parker brought him back from Europe in January, she didn’t expect him to progress so quickly.

“He’s been very easy to train,” she said. “He has tons of scope and seems to be quite careful. He just doesn’t want to hit the jumps. He really brightens up on grand prix day, and we haven’t had any difficulties with him yet.”

While Parker originally bought Socrates with the hopes of reselling him, his performances have given her plenty of reason to keep planning a future together.

“He needs more mileage, for sure,” she said. “I want to keep him going in California grand prix [classes]. He went so well indoors [at the Oaks] that I can try to aim him at the Del Mar National [Calif.]. But I don’t want to throw him somewhere he’s not confident.”

Mollie Bailey

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