Saturday, Sep. 23, 2023

Castello And Towell Join Forces For Blowing Rock Derby Victory

With a new rider aboard, the bay continues his derby domination.



With a new rider aboard, the bay continues his derby domination.

All eyes were upon Castello as he cantered into the ring for the second round of the $10,000 The Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby. The gleaming bay, ears pricked, zoned in on the first fence of the handy course and never put a foot wrong as he turned and jumped in immaculate form.

Roger and Jennifer Smith’s Holsteiner gelding is well known as a derby specialist, but this time he was without his regular rider, Liza Towell Boyd, who is four months pregnant. So the question everyone had on their minds as they watched Castello begin the course was: could Boyd’s little brother Hardin Towell step into the winning role? 

And the answer was a resounding yes—with 10 exclamation points—as one pair of judges awarded Castello a perfect bonus of 10 points for handiness.

After the scores were tallied, Castello and Towell leapt from sixth to clinch the victory in one of the featured classes of the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show II, July 29-Aug. 2 in Blowing Rock, N.C.

“Hardin was phenomenal. He did every inside turn,” said judge Rob Bielefeld, who presided over the class with Bill Ellis, Cindy Ross and Woody Dykers.

“The derby is designed for that particular horse,” added Bielefeld. “He isn’t a great mover, but he’s a great jumper. The more he turns and jumps, the better he is. He was ridden so handy and aggressive but soft at the same time. And that’s exactly what we all want to see.”

Let The Sun Shine In

One thing competitors didn’t want to see was more rain. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans, and torrential downpours off and on during the week relegated the show grounds to a quagmire in some places.

With diligence and dedicated ring work, however, show manager Rick Cram and course designer Blake Alder kept the footing in the rings intact. Even with yet another deluge during the Sunday afternoon L.P. Tate Jumper Classic, just prior to the start of the derby, the footing held up remarkably well.

Nevertheless, the starting field of 30 scratched down significantly to just 16 before the class began.

Those who braved the conditions to journey a mile up the road from the resort town of Blowing Rock were justly rewarded, however. While Alder and his crew set the fences for the derby, the clouds disappeared over the mountains, and the sun reappeared for a beautiful afternoon of top hunter competition.

Alder’s course, set in the main hunter ring surrounded by old-fashioned grandstands, was described by one competitor as “the left half jumper and the right half hunter.”

While Alder’s innovative course included typical derby fences found in the hunt field such as gates, hay bales and natural rails, he also included two airy sets of plain, white rails without ground lines that offered many different bending-line options and heights from 3’6″ to 4’3″.


“I loved the course,” said Towell. “I thought it was tricky enough. The bigger options were big and more than anything very airy. I liked the airiness, though. I thought it would make my horses jump even better.”

As Hardin walked the first-round course with his sister and father, trainer Jack Towell, they formulated a plan for Castello and Hardin’s second ride, the gray Val D’Isere.

“I thought rather than try to jump the big stuff right away I’d take the lower options,” Hardin explained. “I didn’t want to lose the class in the first round; I wanted to win it in the second round.”

And the class set up for Hardin just as he thought. While he bided his time in the middle of the pack with his two mounts, Daniel Geitner led the way after Round 1 with a precise and lovely round aboard Landano that scored 182 points. Hunt Tosh held second with the show’s second year green reserve champion Rosalynn with 178 points.

Serious Business

With Castello’s second-placed ranking in the standings for the upcoming $100,000 ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals in Kentucky, Hardin was confident in the horse.

He admitted with a smile, though, that he had some big shoes to fill in taking his sister’s place. Nevertheless, he planned a challenging route that he hoped would show off Castello’s classic form and endless scope.

“He’s the best in the handy hunter classes. He always wins it in that round,” Hardin said of the 12-year-old (Cassini I—Toccada). “I was enough points behind, but I felt confident I could make it up. So I chose to ride the same track I’d do in a jump-off, just a little slower.”

As Hardin and Castello turned and jumped through the winding course, taking the 4’3″ options with ease, it was easy to see that the bay had found another Towell much to his liking.

“He felt excellent as he went,” said Hardin. “At the second-to-last jump when we were in the air I heard everyone kind of gasp because he’d jumped it so well, so I knew were doing pretty well when I heard that.”

The pair easily took over the lead with a score of 90 plus 10 bonus points and an 87 plus 8 bonus points for 195. In the end, no one could catch their two-round score of 365 points.

Hardin and Val D’Isere, who stood fourth, also moved up and placed third with 361 points after an impressive handy performance that garnered Hardin another 10-point bonus.

Hardin chose a slightly more conservative track with the 7-year-old because he’d recently been gelded, but they still jumped all of the 4’3″ options. The former young jumper, owned by Chris Kappler, showed that he’s enjoying the change of career.

 “He jumps in good form, and he looks like he’ll be a great hunter and derby horse,” said Hardin.

Hardin, an established grand prix rider who works with his father and sister at their Finally Farm in Camden, S.C., is relatively new to the derby format. He first contested a derby at the Atlanta Summer I Horse Show (Ga.) on June 12, where he placed third on Val D’Isere. With Boyd now on the sidelines training rather than riding, Hardin’s been called into action once again to pilot the hunters.


“I enjoy the hunter derbies,” said Hardin. “The jumpers are more my passion, and where I want to make a career, but the derbies are fun because it meets in the middle. You see a lot of big jumpers doing this, such as Ken Berkley’s Carlos-Boy. If they jump great it doesn’t always come down to the horse with the best movement. It’s about the ones who jump best and are the bravest and the riders who can be the boldest.”

Blowing Rock Builds The Future

The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show is an 86-year tradition in the mountainous resort area of Western North Carolina. With such attractions as Grandfather Mountain, gem mining, zip lining, top-class golf and other outdoor activities, the area is a favorite destination for tourists and equestrians alike who congregate each summer.

The two-week hunter/jumper show and one-week American Saddlebred show are held on the L.M. Tate Show Grounds in J.E. Broyhill Park, a stone’s throw from the quaint village of Blowing Rock.

The Blowing Rock Equestrian Preserve, as it’s known, is also the permanent home of the Blazing Saddles therapeutic riding organization, and the Blowing Rock Charity Foundation also supports the Appalachian State University Equestrian Team and The Blue Ridge 4-H Club.

Unlike many modern horse shows, the BRCHS has close and loyal ties with the community.

More than 75 local businesses and families sponsored the show this year, and “Welcome Equestrians” signs are frequently seen throughout the area at restaurants, stores and other businesses.

In an effort to expand and preserve the tradition of the BRCHS, a fundraising effort is underway to raise $5 million for expansion and improvements to the show grounds. And they’re off to a great start. The Schaefer family of Blowing Rock has contributed a $1 million challenge grant, and show president Burr Collier said they’re nearly 70 percent of the way toward matching it.

Highlights of the master plan include a new 36-stall main barn with office, apartment and reception room, an indoor riding ring, a new schooling area and additional permanent stalls.
And when horse show competitors need a break from the new amenities, they have several options available.

“Our facility serves as the gateway to the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, offering over 25 miles of carriage trails. Thousands of horse people use us a base to take advantage of this treasure for horse lovers,” said Collier. “Our goal is to build a facility that will continue the tradition of Blowing Rock for the next hundred years.”

Owner Roger Smith, of Green River Farm in Rutherfordton, N.C., was happy to accompany Castello and Hardin into the ring for the awards ceremony. He credited the Towells and his barn manager, Randi Goulding, for Castello’s continuing success. Castello has now won the past two derbies he’s contested, including victory at the Aiken Spring Classic Masters (S.C.) on April 18 with Boyd in the irons. He also placed fourth with Boyd in the $50,000 derby in March in Wellington, Fla.

“The Towell family is amazing,” said Smith. “They know how to bring a horse to gold and produce winners. And they’re great friends.”

Rose Is Beautiful

Betty and Ernie Oare couldn’t have been happier with their second year green hunter Rosalynn. In her derby debut, the bay Oldenburg mare (Lanciano—Haupt-stutbuch Rendite) jumped confidently into second place with Tosh, placing in between Hardin’s two mounts.

“I don’t think anyone could have been handier than Hardin,” said Oare, laughing. “He rode great on both horses. He was in the hot seat with his sister doing so well on that horse too. But he did it! He’s a good guy, and that’s a great family.” Oare and her brother Bucky Reynolds were in Ocala, Fla., in 2008 when they spotted Rosalynn, a first year horse at the time, with the Quiet Hill group. The mare’s resemblance to their champion hunter Estrella didn’t go unnoticed. “Bucky was on one side of the schooling ring, and I was on the other side. We both spied this mare, and we nearly collided at the ring to watch her go. We both thought she had some natural talent,” Oare said. They took Rosalynn home to Warrenton, Va., and since then she’s been making a name for herself in the green divisions. After earning top ribbons at Devon (Pa.), Rosalynn had the summer off until Blowing Rock, where she earned the second year green reserve championship during week 2 prior to the derby. “She’d never seen anything like that course before,” said Oare. “We were very happy with her. Hunt gave her a nice, soft ride and didn’t pressure her, especially in the handy class. We wanted her to be good and not take any chances. We were so pleased with the first round. The judges gave her 8 points for style and movement, and we really feel that was well deserved. We couldn’t have asked her to be any braver.”




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