Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Doddridge Is Best At USEF Junior Hunter National Championships-West

Melissa Doddridge realized her goals this summer with U.S. Equestrian Federation and American Quarter Horse Association championships.

Whether she was aboard her World Champion Quarter Horse or her first junior hunter, Melissa Doddridge couldn’t be stopped this summer.

The 16-year-old homeschooler from Tustin, Calif., arrived at the Oaks Blenheim show grounds just days after winning two American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championships (Okla.) to earn
yet more accolades at the USEF Junior Hunter National Championships-West.
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Melissa Doddridge realized her goals this summer with U.S. Equestrian Federation and American Quarter Horse Association championships.

Whether she was aboard her World Champion Quarter Horse or her first junior hunter, Melissa Doddridge couldn’t be stopped this summer.

The 16-year-old homeschooler from Tustin, Calif., arrived at the Oaks Blenheim show grounds just days after winning two American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championships (Okla.) to earn
yet more accolades at the USEF Junior Hunter National Championships-West.

In San Juan Capistrano, Calif., she picked up the grand and large junior, 16-17, championships.
Doddridge rode her 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood-Thoroughbred, Best Man (Wizard—Just For Luck), to fourth in the under saddle, second in the handy and first in the classic to clinch the tricolor. Her final average score of 84.55 topped all others, Aug. 12-13.

“I just wanted to do well at Junior Hunter Finals and was hoping to get champion or reserve in my division. It was pretty special that we ended up with the overall,” said Doddridge.

Doddridge teamed up with her winning mount, “Grant,” last August, and this is her first year competing in the junior hunters.

“Grant is a great horse, and he’s so sweet. He does anything you ask him to,” she said.

Course designer Scott Starnes set beautiful, yet challenging, courses on a large grass field that required competitors to ride brilliantly and accurately. This was also the first year that the scores from the classic and handy rounds carried equal weight in determining the overall champion.

“The handy course was really hard, and people were having trouble with it,” said Doddridge’s trainer, Tracy Baer, of Huntington Beach, Calif. “The handy isn’t Grant’s specialty, and he had a little trouble after the trot fence that lowered his score a bit, but he’s great on big fields.”

Goals Achieved

The demanding handy hunter round on the first day resulted in many mistakes and refusals. The course consisted of spooky fences, a bounce combination, numerous options, bending lines, a gate to open and a bucket to drink from.

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The result: lots of low scores coming into the classic round.

“The handy was interesting but fun,” said Doddridge. “Grant just took it all in stride, though. He looked hard at the bending line with the options, which a lot of people had problems with, but it just made him jump better.”

After a strong start the first day, Doddridge was nervous entering the classic round. The course started off with a big oxer and was followed by large flower walls and natural fences. The big field and flowing course worked to Grant’s advantage, however, and they posted a high score of 87.66 for the win.

“I love the grass fields,” added Doddridge. “You can really gallop and be forward. I just went in wanting to have fun and have a good trip, but Grant was amazing.”

Equally amazing is Doddridge’s progress in the hunter ring after receiving her first English horse a mere five years ago. Along with her sisters and mother, Doddridge grew up riding Quarter Horses and doing western pleasure.

Although Doddridge’s focus has shifted toward the hunters and jumpers in recent years, she still maintains her love for the Quarter Horse and finds time to balance competing the Quarter Horse circuit as well.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to win the [AQHYA] Worlds,” said Doddridge. “I won the equitation over fences and the working hunters just three days before Junior Finals. They’re a lot like classes in the hunter world, so it’s easy to go back and forth.”

Doddridge has two Quarter Horses that she shows in the hunters and the breed shows. Because she’s home schooled, she’s able to dedicate herself to multiple disciplines and endless weeks of horse showing.

“I just work hard and ride a lot. I know it sounds cliché, but practice makes perfect,” she said.

A Last-Minute Ride

Theodore Boris found out he would compete in the Junior Hunter Finals less than 24 hours before he walked in the ring. The 15-year-old from Los Angeles catch rode Ralph and Holly Caristo’s Aura to the large junior, 15 and under, championship and overall reserve championship.

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“Aura was brought down from John French’s barn, and Monday afternoon I thought I should find her a rider,” said Archie Cox of the 7-year-old warmblood mare who qualified through championships at the Oaks Blenheim (Calif.) shows in June with riders Lucy Davis and Taylor Siebel.

Boris, who rides with Laura Van-Meter and Rick Fliederman, normally competes in the equitation and junior jumpers. He catch rode Stephanie Danhakl’s Smitten in the junior hunters at Del Mar (Calif.) in April, and Cox was impressed.

“Theo hadn’t ridden Aura before, but he has a great feel and natural instincts. This horse has great rhythm and a beautiful gallop, and Theo was very comfortable in the big field on her,” said Cox.

“Not that I’ve catch ridden a lot of horses, but Aura’s the nicest hunter I’ve ever ridden,” said Boris. “She tried everywhere, and our rounds went really smoothly.”

Boris’ smooth riding earned him a second-placed finish in the handy round after he was second under saddle. While some combinations struggled with the challenging tests on course, Boris answered all the questions with ease.

“I mainly do the equitation and jumpers, so it’s fun to do the hunters. Things like inside turns and hand gallops you see all the time in the equitation, so I think that prepared me well,” he said.

Cox added, “The handy ended up being much harder than anyone would’ve thought. Aura’s only 7, but she’s as confident as a horse can be. She didn’t look at any of the spooky elements of the course.”

Both Aura and Boris excel on grass, so it was no surprise when they galloped boldly around the classic course and delivered the winning trip to round out the two days.

“I got to do the first years in the morning, which were almost identical to the classic course,” said Boris. “I think that set me up for success.”

A score in the high 80s added to his scores from Tuesday resulted in an overall average of 82.46 to solidify the championship. “Theo was the clear winner of his division,” stated Cox. “It was wonderful that he ended up reserve overall.”

In the large junior hunter, 16-17, division, Nicoletta Von Heidegger and Monarch International’s Small Town picked up the championship with an average of 80.46. Olivia Esse rode Oscany Inc.’s Country Grammar to the championship in the small junior, 15 and under, division with a score of 82.40.

Alexandra Beckstett

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