Harrisburg, Pa., Oct. 22
Victoria Watters figured out a foolproof way to deal with her nerves on the day of the $10,000 North American League Adult Amateur Hunter Finals—she channeled them toward something concrete.
“I was so nervous,” she said “It’s stupid, I know, so I made a bet. I said, ‘There’s two beautiful alpaca coats up there, and I told [trainer Anne Thornbury] if I get that prize money, we’re going up there and going shopping.’ I just took my nerves and put them toward another goal!”
Thanks to a spot-on ride aboard her Eye Remember Rio, Watters will have that special coat. The pair jumped the two best rounds of the day to claim the title at this year’s Pennsylvania National, with Tina Furey and the lovely French Kiss taking second.
Watters first won the NAL Finals in 2007 aboard “Rio.” According to the Cincinnati, Ohio, rider, the ado of Pennsylvania National inspires the Hanoverian (Rio Grande—Sandros Girl) to show off. Also, as a legally blind rider, the even lighting of the arena makes it considerably easier for her to ride in than at a typical horse show.
“Things stand out well,” she explained. “Even if I can’t see the rails, I can see the brush on the sides. It’s such a pleasure to ride in this ring and just to be here. Rio loves the classics—he knows when the tails come out it’s time to perform!”
But according to Watters, while Rio may be a perfect gentleman for her, he’s not a ride for just anyone. She let her 12-year-old son, Max, ride him around the arena, but Rio quickly grew fed up with the short-stirrup rider’s inelegant kicking. After sending Max into the dirt once, he solidified his distaste of the affair by lying down in the middle of the arena after Max remounted.
“He knows his job, and he’s absolutely perfect for me,” said Watters. “He’s just not a short-stirrup horse!”
A Versatile Winner
There isn’t much that Danielle Cooper’s amateur-owner jumper, Kosta, can’t do. He’s stylish enough to place well at USHJA International Hunter Derbies, broke enough to earn ribbons at equitation finals and mellow enough to trail ride with Cooper’s mother. And most importantly, he’s talented enough to win in the jumper ring as well.
Cooper and Kosta clinched the high amateur-owner jumper championship at the Pennsylvania National with a second-placed finish in tonight’s $15,000 Cavalor Show Jumping Hall of Fame Classic behind Kristin Glover and The Boy Wonder.
Cooper and Glover notched the only clear rounds over Steve Stephens’ course. First to return, Kosta had a single error, which cost her the top check when The Boy Wonder followed up with a perfect effort. That second-placed ribbon was enough to elevate Kosta to the championship, and Cooper to the leading amateur-owner jumper rider title in her first year in the division.
“The courses here were technical, which made it fun—you had to be an active rider,” Cooper said. “My horse had been at [USEF Talent Search Finals—East (N.J.)] with Victoria Birdsall [where he placed 6th], and his stride had gotten really big. On the first day I didn’t judge the lines well. But he was great, and I figured it out by yesterday.”
Kosta and Cooper, Oyster Bay, N.Y., started their career together 2 1/2 years ago in the low junior jumper division, moonlighting in an occasional hunter derby. When she needed an equitation mount the following year she tacked up Kosta—her ride for her 11th-placed finish at the Washington International Equitation Classic (D.C.) last year. Now that she’s amateur, she’s stepped up to the high division, and the pair has continued to gel all season.
“He’s been great,” said Cooper, 19. “We won the $25,000 Carolex Derby at the Hampton Classic [N.Y.], and he just keeps getting better.”
Kosta’s next stop will be the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament (N.Y.).
Another Blue For Attaché
Ellen Toon didn’t start out the season hoping to win the low amateur-owner championship at Harrisburg this year. She didn’t even think she’d be in the division.
But she and her long-time partner clinched the title today with a perfect stakes round. Natalie Allen’s Val d’Isere claimed the reserve championship after winning a hack-off against Enticing and Susan Kelly.
When her long-time amateur-owner mount, Attaché, got hurt after Devon (Pa.) last year, Toon took her time bringing him back to form. When they started campaigning in the regular amateur-owner division early this season, it quickly became clear that while he didn’t seem uncomfortable, the 14-year-old just wasn’t himself.
“At the time I didn’t think about doing the [low amateur-owner] because I have a son and I commute back and forth during [the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival], and that division goes earlier in the week,” said Toon. “Then later in the season I thought it might be great practice for me and a little easier for him, and we decided to give it a try.”
Starting in Old Salem (N.Y.), Toon showed “Donny” just enough to qualify for the Pennsylvania National, while still campaigning her other mount, Invincible, in the regular division.
“I don’t think [the low amateur-owner division] is hurting the 3’6” division at all,” said Toon, who trains with her husband Jim Toon and with Rodney Bross. “It’s very competitive, and it gives a place for people to step up to from the 3’ and also a place for an older horse like Donny.”
A regular on the Indoor circuit, that horse has won a blue ribbon every time he’s come to Harrisburg with his owner. She credits some of that good luck to his talking doll, Mr. Wonderful, that hangs on his stall everywhere he goes and spouts out ego-inflating gems like “You’re perfect!” when its string is pulled.
Regular amateur-owner hunter divisions kicked off today and will wrap up tomorrow with another over fences and a stakes class. The NAL league finals continue in the afternoon with the $5,000 NAL Low Junior Amateur-Owner Jumper Finals and the $10,000 NAL Adult Amateur Jumper Finals. The evening brings the competition’s featured class: the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W.
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