Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

Enchanted Charms At USEF Junior Hunter Championships West


Sage Flynn tackles Del Mar’s expansive grass grand prix ring and posts the winning scores.

Sage Flynn wasn’t expecting such a captivating experience at the USEF National Junior Hunter Championships West because it was her first time competing in the event.

But in Del Mar, Calif., Aug. 20-21, aboard a well-practiced mare named Enchanted, she earned the large junior, 15 and under, cham-pionship and ultimately the grand championship.
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Sage Flynn tackles Del Mar’s expansive grass grand prix ring and posts the winning scores.

Sage Flynn wasn’t expecting such a captivating experience at the USEF National Junior Hunter Championships West because it was her first time competing in the event.

But in Del Mar, Calif., Aug. 20-21, aboard a well-practiced mare named Enchanted, she earned the large junior, 15 and under, cham-pionship and ultimately the grand championship.

“It was such a surprise to me to be grand champion,” Flynn said excitedly.

The pair’s handy round scored 79, their under saddle an 85.75, and their classic round an 88.66 for the wins.

“I got chills watching her go around her last round,” said trainer Hap Hansen.

Flynn said the laidback and friendly atmosphere helped keep her cool.

“It was really fun because it was just the juniors,” she said. “I got to hang out and joke around with my friends and watch their rides too.”

The 42 junior hunter combinations competed in Del Mar Horse Park’s big grass grand prix ring. It was anything but a typical hunter course.

“The hills were very different from riding in a regular ring, but they were fun,” said Flynn, 14, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. “There was an option fence, which I’ve never done on a hunter before, and all the fences were flowery, which made it challenging. It was something new.”

Flynn found the distances and the straightforward 9-year-old Westpha-lian made the course look easy. Both Flynn and Hansen said the horse’s scopiness helps her jump from almost any distance.

“I haven’t ridden a hunter as nice as [Enchanted] in years,” said Hansen. He showed her a handful of times in the second year green division last year.

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From his perspective, “she just out-rode everybody,” said Hansen of Flynn’s performance. “That horse has never competed [in a big grass ring], but she just took a special interest to it and Sage rode beautifully.”

Enchanted Then And Now

Enchanted is Flynn’s second junior hunter, and she’s had her for just over a year. Like many mares, “she can be a little temperamental,” said Flynn, “but once she gets in the ring she’s always easygoing.”

Mark Groff, who showed Enchanted as a pre-green hunter, originally imported the mare. In 2004, Erin Duffy, Newmarket Farm, one of Flynn’s previous trainers, took over the ride in the professional hunter divisions. Cathy Hayes, another Newmarket rider, bought her  in 2005.

Hayes hadn’t ridden for nine years before sitting on Enchanted, but it didn’t seem to matter. They captured numerous adult amateur championships and top ribbons at the HITS Indio Desert Circuit and other California A-rated shows that year. Duffy continued to find similar success in the first and second year green divisions.

Few would guess that Flynn has only ridden for five years. She started in children’s hunters and equitation and eventually found Newmarket. There she built a strong foundation with talented trainers and horses.

“It’s such a pleasure to work with her,” said Hansen. “I should give a special thanks to Newmarket for finding her such a nice hunter and giving her such a good start.”

Likewise, Flynn is thrilled to be training with a legendary grand prix rider like Hansen.

“I love it here; he’s so nice!” she said enthusiastically. “He’s gentle and calm and always fun to be around.”
While her junior hunter record seems to be on the rise, it isn’t her entire focus. She has a talented jumper named Hot Pants and also hopes to improve her equitation. Hansen sees a bright future for Flynn in all categories.

“She’s a talented rider, very intelligent and has a good eye,” he said. “She’s pretty good at getting on most anything and being able to ride it. I can actually see her [getting to grand prix level] later.”

For now, she wants to focus on the ASPCA Maclay Regional Finals and making her way East for the first time to compete at the fall indoor shows.

Wakeman Catches A Winner

Shelby Wakeman, on the other hand, has shown hunters at the championships before but never in the grand prix field at Show Park. She’d hardly even ridden The Frog Prince before that weekend. But that didn’t stop her from earning the small junior, 16-17, championship and securing the reserve grand championship.

In previous years the event was held at the Oaks Blenheim in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., usually in a standard hunter ring. Like Flynn, Wakeman found this year’s big open ring challenging and fun.

“Going up the bank on the handy course on a hunter was different,” she said. “I’ve never done that before, and a lot of the horses were spooky.”

“Froggy,” however, didn’t think twice about it.

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Wakeman, 17, Westlake Village, Calif., had seen Froggy’s name before under Jennifer Waxman’s ride. Ashley Pryde, who trains with Archie Cox, acquired him in October last year but chose to ride her other horse, Perfection, in the older small division at the championships. Riders are only allowed one horse per size division.

The first time Wakeman rode Froggy, however, was two weeks before the championships at the Menlo Charity Horse Show (Calif.). After snagging a small junior, 16-17, tricolor at the Oaks Blenheim Summer Classic II (Calif.) the following week, she felt quite confident.

“He’s fun but lazy,” she said lightheartedly. “But that’s fine for me because I don’t really get along with horses that like to go fast.”

The 14-year-old gelding knows his way around a hunter ring, but it helps when he’s paired with a confident, relaxed and accurate rider, as Cox described Wakeman.

“That’s what I look for when I try to match riders with horses,” Cox said. “I don’t think that there’s any ring out there that would intimidate this horse or rider.”

Wakeman started catch riding for Cox about three years ago after realizing the cost of showing hunters. Her real passion lies in the jumper and equitation rings. “I get to catch ride hunters a lot so it’s almost like having my own anyway,” she said.

While she has trained with Karen Healey for two years, catch riding numerous horses from Cox’s barn has been invaluable.

“It’s really helpful, especially if I had to switch horses in the medal finals,” she said.

She currently has two equitation horses, 8-year-old Rodan and 9-year-old San Francisco, and a spunky jumper called Punker.

But no matter whose reins she holds, Wakeman is always grateful for the rides she gets.

“She’s always available, and she’s always appreciative with thank-you notes and always a phone call before and after the show,” said Cox.

While Wakeman’s thoroughly enjoying every aspect of her junior career, she doesn’t strive to go pro just yet. Of course, if she can earn a riding scholarship for college she’ll continue. But she truly wants to be a doctor.

“I’ll probably ride as an amateur for a while,” she said. “After I’ve gone to school I’ll come back to it.”

Joshua A. Walker

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