Upperville, Va.—June 11
Coming into the $25,000 Salamander Hotel USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, Michael Britt-Leon had his work cut out for him. As the reigning champion aboard Private I all eyes were on him, but a star-studded lineup including two-time class winner In The Know (Samantha Schaefer) and 2021 Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship winner Cannon Creek (Hunt Tosh) among the 28 entries were there to give him a run for his money.
But Britt-Leon held his composure to score a wire-to-wire win aboard the 9-year-old Hanoverian, edging out Schaefer and In The Know to score his second consecutive derby win at Upperville.
“To win a second time has just been [incredible],” he said. “I can’t even tell you how excited I am, I’m trying to hold it together. It’s pretty incredible. We just got off of Devon [Pennsylvania] and coming here and you’re competing against the same horses; it’s the top in our country. Top riders with their incredible horses, to be able to make it out on top it’s anybody’s day, and I’m just fortunate it was my day today.”
Judges Rachel Kennedy, Jen Bauersachs, Scott Hofstetter and Danny Robertshaw awarded him matching bonus handy points of 10.
“My plan for Bacchus to be able to win the class and stay on top was to do two of the very difficult inside turns,” said Britt-Leon, Alpharetta, Georgia.
“Both were very strange angles that you have to set your horse up for and your horse has to trust you,” he continued. “The handy is always my favorite part of the international hunter derbies. Bacchus is super handy, he follows me wherever I need to go. He listened, he was on it, he tried his heart out and jumped high. He’s a big horse, he’s a little over 17 hands and quite large. He’s big boned, so making those turns usually would be pretty hard on a horse like that, but he’s catty and just turns, slices and dices and it turned out really well for us today.”
Britt-Leon admitted that Bacchus has played second fiddle a bit to Private I, but he’s excited for his chance to shine. He’s had the horse since Bacchus was 4 and newly imported by Alex Granato and Josh Dolan, and he shares the ride with owner Kelly Sims’ daughter Jordan Carlson.
“He can be a little bit exhausting as far as he’s an extremely quiet horse,” he said. “He does make me work a little bit going around the ring. But the minute he sees the jump his ears perk forward, he has great expression. He’s just a laid-back guy, that’s the best way I can describe him. He’s definitely your typical kind of jock who’s going to lay back on the couch and relax until it’s time to perform at the game. He doesn’t want to work too hard.”
Britt-Leon said his barn name of “Bad Boy” is a complete misnomer.
“He’s probably the sweetest horse we have in the barn,” he said. “My husband comes out or friends come out, or Kelly’s daughter comes out, and he’s the kindest horse you’ve ever met. He goes and puts his head in your chest. And he’ll let you rub him and close his eye. He’ll lay down in the stall and you can go lay with him, he’s chill.”