Few riders would choose a grand prix class to get to know a new mount, but that’s just what Aaron Vale did. Just 10 daysafter Artur arrived in the United States,Vale piloted him to the win in the $50,000 Jacksonville International Grand Prix, the featured event of the Jacksonville Winter International, Jan. 21-23 in Green Cove Springs, Fla.
“He’s a class horse with quality, and he has a lot of experience, so I thought it would be a good place to get to know him. And I thought I’d have a chance to win as well, and it turned out well,” Vale said.
Vale bought the 11-year-old Hanoverian by Accord II from dealer Paul Schockem? in Germany. Artur had been competitive on the grand prix level there, so Vale had confidence in him despite the fact that it was their first class together. He went ninth in the 13-horse jump-off, and blazed around clean and more than 3 seconds faster than the leading time.
“I knew he could go a little bit. It was just a matter of doing it. When I landed off a jump and turned, he did it; when I wanted to gallop, he went. He listened and did all the things to get around the course quickly,” Vale said. “They told me he was a little bit strong in the ring, but he was very rideable; I could put him in all the places I wanted him, pretty much. I learned some stuff about him, about what I’ll need to do at the bigger jumps. It was nice to learn about him as well as getting a win at the same time.”
Vale plans to aim Artur for the grand prix classes on the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., with an eye toward qualifying for the Budweiser American Invitational. “The only real question was how quickly we’d get to know each other, and it looks like that worked out pretty quick. Hopefully, we can continue like this; but I only have down to go now!” Vale quipped.
Vale also claimed third in Jacksonville aboard Romulus, a horse he’s been riding for a year, with a clean round just a few seconds slower than Artur’s.
“There was an inside turn that I kind of chickened out of doing on Romulus, and he might have had a chance to win the class if I’d gone inside there,” Vale said.
It was a good weekend for Vale, since he also won the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix at the HITS Ocala January I (Fla.) the next day on Sea Cloud, a horse who was imported along with Artur. With such a good start, Vale is looking forward to the year. “It looks like a nice group of new horses to jump,” he said.
Patience Pays Off
While Vale is getting to know his new string, Lora Foshee scored a Jacksonville win with an old friend. She rode Tamarisk to the adult amateur hunter, 36 and over, championship.
She’s had Tamarisk for five years. A friend had gotten Tamarisk off the racetrack, and he was out grazing in a field when Foshee saw him and decided she wanted him. “He looked a lot like Secretariat, and I remember seeing Secretariat run, and he has much the same kind of heart,” Foshee said.
She started out slow with Tamarisk, spending a few years in the 2′ and 2’6″ divisions before moving up to the adult amateurs. Foshee keeps Tamarisk at home in Jackson-ville, and takes lessons with Stacey Robison.
All her hard work has paid off, with Tamarisk, 12, developing into a consistent performer. “He’s been the find of the century. He’s always done everything I’ve asked of him. I’m the only one who’s been on his back the whole time I’ve had him. It took me two years of playing with him to get him to jumping the three-foot, but I didn’t want to go too fast,” Foshee said.
With three children, Foshee doesn’t have much time to show, so she limits her schedule to about eight shows a year, in the Jacksonville area. “I try to make the most of it when it happens,” she said. In the meantime, Tamarisk leads a varied life. “We take the horses to the beach and on trails. It’s not all business for us. We have the horses as much for pleasure as for showing,” said Foshee.
Foshee is hoping that Tamarisk will make a good future mount for her daughter, now 11, who also rides. “I keep my horses forever,” she said.
Winning at Jacksonville was also special for Ashleigh Bridges, who rode Knight Without Armour to the children’s hunter, 15-17, championship. “It’s been the result of a lot of hard work with my horse,” said Bridges.
“I’ve had him for three years now, and we’ve had a couple of different trainers. My trainer now is Jen Miller, and she really picks up on subtle details and little things that are important, and those little things have made a world of difference. I’ve really watched my horse grow and change, and we’ve become a real team. I definitely owe a lot to Jen.”
Bridges has ridden with Miller for six months and said she’s come a long way in that time. “Her approach is to make the horse happy, and if they’re happy, they perform better. Now I work with him, rather than against him. Jen’s really helped me be in sync with my horse,” she said.
That’s been particularly rewarding for Bridges, since she’s always believed “Buckley” to be special. “He’s been such a blessing. I think there’s a lot of trust there. It’s definitely a positive experience; he makes me want to ride more often,” she said.
Ironically, when Bridges first tried Buck-ley, an 8-year-old, appendix Quarter Horse, in 2002, things didn’t go very well. “When I was trying him, he tripped and fell. I fell off, but he just got up and waited for me. We brushed the dirt off, and I got back on, and he was an angel again. It really showed me his character,” she said.
Buckley was Bridges’ first horse, after she showed in the short stirrup divisions. She started him in the 2’6″ classes and worked her way up to the children’s division. Bridges, 17, is in her last junior year, but she hopes to keep riding Buckley and maybe even take him to college with her.
When Lawson Mayfield bought Blue Martini two years ago, she was looking for a jumper. Little did she know she’d found a jumper, hunter and equitation horse. “Marty” excels in all three rings, but at Jacksonville, he took the children’s hunter, 14 and under, championship with Mayfield.
“He’s so versatile,” Mayfield said of the 8-year-old, Branden-burg gelding. “I bought him for the children’s jumpers, but then my hunter got hurt and we tried him in the hunters, and he was great. He didn’t bat an eye. He definitely has a little more spunk in the jumper ring, but he goes back to the hunter ring and is perfect.”
Mayfield, 13, has since bought another hunter, so Marty will now concentrate on the jumpers and equitation ring. She’s learned a lot from him. “He’s taught me that I really need to watch what I do with my body. I can’t just sit on him and do nothing or flop around. I have to think about what I’m doing and how he’s reacting,” she said.
Andrea Duffy trains Mayfield, who lives in Tallahassee, Fla. “They’ve just really clicked. He’s not the easiest to ride, but she’s really quiet and light. Her other horse was very inconsistent, but he’s very kind and willing. The consistency of focusing on him and really riding him has helped her grow incredibly,” said Duffy.
Courtney McGehee hasn’t had Bold Venture long, but they’ve already started winning. She bought the 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood last summer, and they claimed the junior hunter championship at Jacksonville.
“It was nice to be back in the ring since I haven’t shown since October. But the time off gave me time to figure out his person-ality. I got to know him at home, and then I learned a lot about showing him. I learn more about him every time. It was nice to be able to go in and he was perfect, so I got a feel for how I need to ride him,” she said.
McGehee, 17, rides with Don Stewart Jr. Bold Venture was showing in the first year green division last year. “You can definitely tell at times that he’s green. But he’s been a pretty knowledgeable little green bean,” she said. “He has a good heart, and he takes care of me. He covers up when I get into trouble.”
Three catch rides resulted in three tricolors at Jacksonville for Cate Billings. She guided Wild Blue to the medium pony tricolor, After Hours to the small/medium green pony championship, and took the large pony reserve championship with Ice Princess.
It was Billings’ first time showing Wild Blue. “He’s a really good jumper, and pretty easy to ride,” she said. Christina Schlusemeyer sent Wild Blue and After Hours to Billings to show. Schlusemeyer also asked Billings to ride Ice Princess, but she had about two weeks to get to know that one. Billings also shows the medium pony British Blue for trainer Bill Schaub.
Billings, of Tallahassee, Fla., rides mostly with her father, Rob Billings, but also gets help from Schlusemeyer and Schaub. She’s a prolific catch rider, but owns a pony, Peanut, that she hunts. Billings, 12, hunts with the Live Oak Hounds. “I like it when we get galloping on the runs,” she said.