Thursday, May. 23, 2024

FF Blade Runner Makes A Career Change To Win In Kentucky



When Jill Gaffney and her husband, Trevor Gaffney, imported FF Blade Runner as a 5-year-old in 2019, they were thinking he would be a great grand prix prospect, but Trevor had a suspicion from the beginning he might have other talents too.

“I remember when we imported him that Trevor said ‘Rocky’ would also make a good hunter—and he was right,” said Jill.

After purchasing Rocky through Olive Clarke and Dave Scally of Four Seasons Stables in Ireland, Jill and Trevor slowly brought Rocky up the jumper ranks. In September 2021, Rocky won the USHJA 7-Year-Old Young Jumper Championship at Traverse City Fall Horse Show (Michigan). He and Jill have also earned multiple top-10 finishes in grand prix classes across the country.

But during this year’s winter circuit at the World Equestrian Center—Ocala (Florida), Jill and Trevor accidentally stumbled upon the idea of Rocky becoming a hunter.

“I had been showing him in the three-star grand prix [classes] at WEC, and Rocky is a slower, colder type ride,” Jill said. “He has all the scope to jump the big classes, but he’s not fast enough to keep up with the bloody, sensitive grand prix horses. So I decided to do something different Week 9 at WEC and show him in $20,000 WEC 3’6”/3’9” Hunter Derby.”

That decision paid off; the pair ended up in sixth place.

“After the class, I remember looking at Trevor and saying, ‘Well, he really likes this,’ ” said Jill.


Jill Gaffney and FF Blade Runner won the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on May 12 at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show. Shawn McMillen Photography Photo

And on May 12 at Kentucky Spring in Lexington, Jill and Freestyling Farms LLC’s 10-year old Irish Sport Horse stallion (Air Jordan Z—HVL Bright Eyes, Guidam) rose to the top of their first USHJA International Hunter Derby together, winning the blue ribbon in the $10,000 class. They also earned the highest classic round score to lead the class going into the handy round.

“I chose to compete in the derby because Rocky is shown off the best over bigger fences,” said Jill. “I just wanted to do a class that would make Rocky happy; he could go at his own preferred pace. He has a massive stride and a metronome canter. I wasn’t sure how this would go. I just went in and decided that Rocky jumps the way he does, and the judges would either like his style, or they wouldn’t.”

Going into the handy round, Jill was most worried about one fence: the trot jump. Rocky had only jumped a trot fence in competition once before, and although it was successful, Jill wasn’t sure what would happen.

“Trevor set [a trot jump] for me in the schooling ring before we went in for the handy, and I biffed it all three times I jumped it,” Jill said with a laugh. “Trevor was like, ‘What are you going to do when you get in there?’ and I was like, ‘We’ll figure it out.’ We went in, and Rocky jumped the trot jump beautifully, even landing the correct lead afterward.”

That perfect trot jump helped them secure the overall win.

“After the handy round, I was grinning from ear-to-ear; it was so fun,” Jill said. “I had an absolute blast on my favorite horse, and he’s really good at his new job!”

Earlier in the week, Jill showed Rocky in several 3’9” green hunter classes as a warm-up, and the day before the derby, she took Rocky out on the Kentucky Horse Park cross-country course.


Watch their handy round:

“We loped up and down the hills a few times out there,” Jill said, “and we jumped a couple of the smaller cross-country jumps. We didn’t longe Rocky the morning of; we took him straight out of his stall to go to the derby. When we do the derbies with Rocky, I show him in a snaffle bit with no earplugs. Rocky is definitely suited for the derbies because I don’t have to do anything to him to get him ready for his job. The few hunters we’ve had in our program before going similarly—not much prep or longeing. I like to ride the horses as they are.”

At their Freestyling Farms LLC, in Batavia, Ohio, Jill and Trevor specialize in breeding, training and producing young jumpers up through grand prix level.

“Most of our horses live out, including Rocky,” Jill said. “We keep them out of their stalls as much as possible. We do lots of different things with our horses at home. We always change things up for them. One day we go on trail rides, the next day we ride the field, then we jump things into the water, etcetera. Instilling bravery into our horses and making sure they’re happy is very important to both of us.”

Looking forward to the rest of the year, Jill is hoping to Rocky in the USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Upperville Horse Show (Virginia) in early June. Now that she and Rocky are qualified, she also hopes to compete Rocky at the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky) in August.

“I’m really excited [at the thought of] Derby Finals,” she said. “If we go to Derby Finals, I’m going to practice a bit more and nail the trot jump there!”



Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse