Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 18
John French woke up Thursday morning and decided to take a small gamble. With any green horse that’s going well at a particular show, as the days march on the question inevitably arises as to whether it needs a change of scenery or a never-to-be-changed routine. Coming into Thursday’s third and final day of the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’/3’3” Green Hunter Incentive Championship, French was on an upward trajectory with Susan Moriconi’s Wyatt. He’d earned 10th the first day out and then moved up to fourth the second day. But after two days of showing in the Walnut Ring, French decided to change the routine for the 7-year-old Bavarian Warmblood gelding (Balou Du Rouet—Siria’s Highness, Lordanos).
“I knew he had it in him,” said French. “So today I just took him out in the field and hacked him around. I didn’t want him to be too bored, having to go three days in a row. I think it paid off.”
The horse had moved into French’s Wellington, Florida, barn at the beginning of the Winter Equestrian Festival after being imported from Europe. And though he had the ability to jump into the 3’6” green division, the jump fillers and hunter fluff proved to be a little bit too much starting out. So French reinstated his 3’3” status and went back to the basics.
“I knew he had the jump and the scope to jump the bigger jumps, but I realized he needed to be hunterized a little bit,” French said. “So, I dropped him down; I got his first year back before I did too many shows and went back to the pre-green, and thought this would be my goal, to get him ready for this class.”
But in May, French broke his femur and needed a hip replacement. Then the Green Incentive became a guiding post on his personal calendar. It was the marked-in-red, “work hard, so you can get here” source of motivation while he spent weeks healing out of the saddle.
“I just have been trying to get back in shape, and this was definitely [the goal],” he said. “I thought, ‘I’ll do a practice show and see if I can ride,’ and hopefully make it to here because I really wanted to come here for this special class.”
French and Wyatt beat defending champions Hunt Tosh and Twain by five points with scores of 86, 88 and 91. Tosh and Tim Goguen on Endeavor tied for the second-place honors with scores of 260.
“It’s a great class obviously,” Tosh said. “You get the young horses a chance to win this kind of money. For him to come two years in a row and do that, it’s awesome.”
“I thought my horse got better each class,” Goguen said. “The first class he was a little frozen. I wasn’t sure if he’d have enough left in the tank, but he went beautifully. I couldn’t be happier with him.”
To French, the quality of the 130-plus horse field made the win all the sweeter.
“To have 130-some young horses that everybody is aspiring to be their next great superstar—it’s really nice to see as many horses as we are seeing here at the show and the quality of the horses,” he said.
“You see a lot going to the jumpers and all their grand prix for thousands of dollars. But when you see it put into the hunters, it really helps to get owners interested in buying young horses and bringing them along,” he added. “Because it costs a lot of money nowadays showing horses. To have this class makes people want to buy them young and bring them along, where if they didn’t have that, by the time they got to bigger classes, they would have had so much money in it. So, it encourages owners to be a part of it.”
What A Hunter Round Should Be
In the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’6”/3’9” Green Hunter Incentive Championship, Jimmy Torano didn’t leave Scott Stewart with much of an option—in fact no option unless a red ribbon was the end goal. Before Stewart entered the ring on Betsee Parker’s Nottingham, scores of 92, 91, and 86.5 flashed on the screen for Torano and Laskano’s flowing, pace driven ride. Conservatism, Stewart realized, couldn’t belong in the Walnut Ring.
“I was lucky enough that Jimmy went before me and had a really good round,” he said. “So, I thought I really had to go all out, which I did. If I hadn’t seen him go right before me, I probably would have been a little more conservative.”
Stewart decided to open up the 10-year-old Oldenburg (Verdi—Calibelle). The gelding’s ears never wavered from their perked position heading to the last oxer off a bending line. Cheers and applause followed. Photographers oohed and ahhed over their photos. Nick Haness, looking on before showing himself, said something to the effect of, “That’s what a hunter round should be like.”
“He did exactly what you want to do and opened it up,” said Stewart. “Jimmy did it, so it didn’t really leave me an option. Nottingham is really great at that. He has big stride, and he’s really brave, and he never gets quick so you can turn him up, open him up, and he’s really adjustable. So he’s the perfect horse for that.”
And the judges agreed, giving the pair with a 93, 90 and 92 for a total score of 275 that proved untouchable for the rest of the class.
“This course offered a lot of places to gallop, and watching both of them, they both did a great job demonstrating the hunter pace,” said Haness, who earned fourth on HH Elmo as well as the Rider Style Award for the 3’6″/3’9″ championship. “Galloping, Scott on his horse, to the last fence, it was phenomenal.”
Torano and Isalou Inc.’s 10-year-old Westphalian (Los Angeles—Laskaja) took the second-place prize, with Stewart earning the yellow ribbon aboard Stephanie Danhakl’s Casanova Royal.
“I thought he went well this morning,” said Torano. “I can always trust that horse. He felt great in the ring. He’s best out of a real gallop and thought go in there and lay it down. My horse and Scott’s horse have gone head-to-head all year.
“And simple, I got beat today,” he continued. “His horse, I actually thought won the first round this morning—and he beat me. Those two horses are neck and neck every week. A lot of quality horses out there today, I thought it was a great class.”