Discussing strategy for the $10,000 World Champion Hunter Rider Professional Finals with friend Geoffrey Case, Michael Britt-Leon realized his normal smooth style just wouldn’t do. With all the best hunter professionals concentrated in one class, he needed the adjective “brilliant” to flash before the judges’ eyes.
“We worked on something a little bit different than what I would normally do,” said the 37-year-old of Alpharetta, Georgia. “For this kind of class, instead of my kind of cantering around super quiet on a loopy rein, I tried to pick up a gallop and show a little more brilliance.”
The judges at Capital Challenge in Wilmington, Ohio, on Oct. 2 concurred, awarding Britt-Leon and Private I the highest score of the first round with a 92. Normally following this classic round, the top four riders would return to put their catch-riding skills to the test, as each rode four different rounds on four different horses. But the traditional format held too much risk this year due to COVID-19.
“It takes a lot of interaction between people and cross-traffic to have this class held in its standard format,” said Carl Weeden, chairman of the USHJA WCHR Task Force. “We waited to see if there was a possibility of attempting to keep the original format, but we ultimately decided to do what would be safest for our riders and staff members given the pandemic.”
Instead, the riders returned for a handy round designed by Ken Krome. And with an unusual flutter of emotion in his chest, Britt-Leon returned to this allegretto pace.
“I’m not used to having nerves in the show ring,” he said. “It’s been a little bit different, but I knew it was a special day. I put pressure on myself, and that’s how I keep pushing forward. As soon as I came off the turn [to the final fence] and picked up that canter, and I asked him to gallop a little, I felt his ears perk forward. He looked to the jump, and it felt like the sun just hit it, and we were in.”
And the angels-singing-in-a-heavenly-choir moment didn’t deceive as Kelly Sims’ 8-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Corrado—Verdi) turned Britt-Leon’s WCHR Pro Finals debut into his first WCHR Pro Finals win.
Watch Britt-Leon’s winning ride, courtesy of Jump Media.
“[My husband and I] have our business, Windsor Stables, that I’ve operated since I was 17. I’ve had an up and down career [as] I think like all of us have,” said Britt-Leon. “It is a dream come true to win the WCHR Professional Finals. I have watched this class for a while. Being here in 2020 when it’s been so crazy, just being at a horse show of this caliber, is incredible. It’s been a memorable and wonderful experience. This just put it over the top. I could not be more grateful and proud and excited.”