Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 1
As Chris Payne turned to the last fence in the high performance conformation stake class on Can Can, he kept thinking to himself, “Oh, Chris, don’t screw this up.”
The 13-year-old Italian Warmblood (Cascari Della Caccia—Carebella Della Caccia, Canturo) was having a fantastic round, and they just needed to finish without any major mistakes. They found their way to the top of the class, boosting them to the high performance conformation hunter championship at the National Horse Show over Jacob Pope and Jagerbomb.
“I was really quite excited with him this week,” he said. “He has never shown in this indoor, and the way Bobby Murphy set the course was a little bit gallopy and quite substantial oxers, which actually allowed him to go really well, because I could ride him. He likes to get high in the air, so it was nice that I could use the gallop and then get the height in the air. I really thought he enjoyed this a lot.”
Their consistency across the week also earned them the grand hunter championship.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve never been grand here. So to be at the National Horse Show, which is the pinnacle of the hunters of the year—and once again there’s such amazing horses, amazing riders, incredible competition—it just really means a lot to accomplish what I did.”
“Nick” started his career in the jumper ring, but jumper rider Ilan Ferder felt he might be better suited for the hunter ring, so he gave Payne a call. Stephanie Ring purchased the gelding hoping he’d be a derby horse, and this year they contested their first Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky).
“He’s grown up a lot,” Payne said. “The reason they wanted to transition him out of jumpers is he jumped too high. That was the thing he had to get comfortable with, because the verticals he’s beautiful at, but oxers he would take a little serious, and some judges didn’t like it because he got too high. I really think this year he’s kind of leveled out and found just a nice balance to put in a beautiful effort but not too much.”
Payne also found himself center ring to collect the high performance hunter championship with Provence LLC’s Reign ahead of Michael Britt-Leon and Private I. He’s had a long partnership with the 10-year-old Holsteiner stallion, and the pair won the 2021 Platinum Performance USHJA 3’6″/3’9″ Green Hunter Incentive Championship (Kentucky) and the 2022 $150,000 Hunter Grand Prix at Split Rock Hunter Jumper Classic II (Kentucky).
“Reign, I had the most fun on,” Payne said. “He went in there today and with the gallopy course and beautiful jumps, he just rode beautifully around. He took it seriously, but just really had a fun time with it.”
While “Max” is a stallion, Payne said he’s very easy-going and for now he isn’t used for breeding.
“A lot of people wanted to breed to him, but there’s just stories about things that can go wrong or whatever, and he doesn’t act like a stallion at all,” he said. “He’s so easy on a daily basis, I figure he’ll show a few years and then probably settle down in his retirement and have some babies.”
Drumroll Hits A Winning Beat
Earlier this year, Drumroll wasn’t a household name, but starting in July, Meridian Farm LLC’s 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Diamant De Semilly—A-Comme-Ci, Canturano I) started turning heads by winning the $100,000 WCHR Central Hunter Spectacular (Michigan) with Geoffrey Hesslink. And since then he’s just kept winning: Second at the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. Grand green hunter at Capital Challenge (Maryland). Grand hunter championship at the Pennsylvania National. Reserve at Washington International (Maryland).
Today “Doug” ended his year with the championship in the 3’9″ green hunters at the National Horse Show ahead of Scott Stewart and Jordan, cementing his breakout season.
“Literally every time he shows he gets better, which is hard to do, because the first class I ever rode him in was the Spectacular, which he won,” said Hesslink. “He was second in derby finals by a quarter of a point, won section B. He basically wins every big event ever, big or small. His owner’s only shown him four times, and she was champion all four times, two of which were Capital Challenge and Harrisburg; I think the most prestigious shows. It’s such an honor to have him, and we just pinch ourselves every day. We’re so lucky to have a horse like that.”
Hesslink admitted he felt some nerves heading into the week, knowing they’d amassed quite a winning record up to that point.
“I’m always a little nervous to show a horse of that caliber. I just want to give them the ride they deserve and let them have the result I think they’re owed,” he said. “I knew obviously he wouldn’t care about the atmosphere or anything like that, so I thought this particular venue would be good for him, because I thought he really thrives in a bigger arena, and the last two indoors were not hard for him, but it was a different ride being more packaged and controlled, and this ring I was able to really kind of let his stride go and gallop around the course which was nice.”
Kalvarie Carries On A Winning Tradition
After winning the 3’6″ green hunter championship at the National last year with Adler, Holly Orlando came back with high hopes that she might be able to continue the streak with Kalvaire.
“I kept thinking, ‘Come on, “Fig,” you’ve got to defend the title,’ and he did, so we’re beyond proud,” she said. “It’s really hard to be champion here.”
The 12-year-old Belgian Sport Horse (Aganix Du Seigneur—Canterel Z), owned by The Kalvarie Group, earned the division title ahead of Scott Stewart and Daydream.
“It’s a big partnership. It’s a team effort for sure,” Orlando said. “We got Fig in the middle of last summer, and he was a jumper at the time. I jumped him around, and the jump was so lofty and slow [that] we thought maybe we should give him a try and see if we could make him into a hunter, and it took a little bit of time. It’s really been so rewarding and paid off in the end. He’s a special horse.”
Fig spent last fall learning the hunter ropes and came out this season to win top ribbons in good company throughout the year at shows like Devon (Pennsylvania), Upperville (Virginia), the Hampton Classic (New York) and Capital Challenge.
“There’s really nothing to work on with him,” she said. “His style is beautiful. He’s straight; he lands on both leads. It was just the mental aspect of it. Even still now when he sees two jumps in a row, a two-stride, he powers up a little bit, so it’s just more keeping his brain a little bit calm than anything, but he could not be a nicer horse to ride. It is the coolest feeling. It’s unbelievable. He’s very soft, and just the jump is so lofty; it feels great.”
Coming To Fruition
When Scott Stewart first saw California Love as a 3-year-old, he could easily see what the Holsteiner (Clarimo—Daytona Love) might one day become.
“He looks exactly the same as he did as a 3-year-old,” Stewart said. “He’s very beautiful. He has a great personality, and he was a beautiful mover and a very scopey, athletic horse. I think he has a lot of scope to jump much higher jumps, so hopefully for the future.”
Now 8, the gelding owned by Rivers Edge is doing exactly what Stewart envisioned. He topped the green conformation division over Greg Crolick and Concalido. Stewart hopes he’ll get to keep the gelding next year to show high the high performance conformation.
“We imported him as a stallion,” said Stewart. “He was always well behaved, [but] he had too much exuberance. He would actually jump really high. He wasn’t that stallion-y, but a little bit too much, so he’s developed and he’s really quiet and easy to get ready now. He’s an easy horse.”
The Chronicle will be on site, bringing you gorgeous photos, interviews and more, so check back during the week. Make sure to follow along at www.coth.com and on Facebook, and Instagram @Chronofhorse. For full analysis and coverage from the horse show be sure to check out the Nov. 27 issue of the magazine.