Genn Grins All The Way To The Bank At Gulf Coast Mid Winter

Mar 23, 2006 - 10:00 PM

Happy Z gave owner-rider Wilhelm Genn good reason to smile, racing to the top of a four-horse jump-off for a victory in the $25,000 Nutrena Grand Prix, Pensacola, Fla., on Feb. 26.

Genn, 46, of Lebanon, Ohio, has owned the 8-year-old, Dutch Warmblood mare (High Valley Z–Anais-anais Z) for two years. This was his fourth grand prix win of the year.

“Happy is the one I can always count on–even though she’s young, she tries so hard. She has so much heart,” said Genn, who rode five horses over the Allen Rheinheimer-designed course.

The 16.1-hand chestnut won the Gulf Coast Winter Premier Welcome Stake in the first week of the circuit and was second in the $25,000 EMO Grand Prix the following week. “She’s getting better and better as she comes along,” observed Genn.

Although the modestly proportioned mare has a comparatively short stride, she compensates for it with sheer speed and incredible agility. “Happy is quicker than anything I’ve ever had,” Genn said, “She just wants you to stay out of her way and hang on!”

Spurred on by the din of a particularly raucous crowd, Happy galloped and whirled like a barrel horse through the twisting track, leaving its seven elements untouched.

The cacophonous cheering clearly unnerved some of his competitors, but Genn appreciated the audience’s audible enthusiasm. “There was quite a bit of noise in here!” he said.

He also placed second on Ariado, a 9-year-old, bay Holsteiner gelding owned by his wife, Patricia, who celebrated her birthday the day before the class. The couple have three sons: Wilhelm Jr., 18; Theo, 16; and Ryan, 14.

Although he’s often ridden at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., in the past, Genn opted this year to instead bring his string of still developing young horses to the less intense Gulf Coast circuit. He was unequivocally pleased with his choice.

“We had a great time here–we absolutely loved it! People were so friendly. The show was so professional and so organized. I’ve never seen a horse show where they worked so hard–it was absolutely outstanding,” he enthused, adding that the cooler weather of northern Florida “kept the horses beautifully fresh–after five weeks of showing, they’re still bucking and playing!”

Genn, a native of Frankfurt, Germany, thought that the Pensacola facility was of international caliber. “I feel like I’m back in Germany–a beautiful indoor, the footing was great, and the jumps were great,” he said, “My biggest compliments to the management.”

A “Heck Of A Job”
The dedicated management of the Gulf Coast Winter Series deserved every word of Genn’s lavish praise, as the show’s original home of Gulfport, Miss., was one of the areas hardest hit by the deadly wrath of Hurricane Katrina last September.

Although the actual show grounds were largely unscathed and later used as an aid-distribution center, the decision of Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to close its shelters and move hundreds of the displaced into Gulfport’s hotels forced the circuit’s relocation only 100 days before its scheduled start.

Co-chairman Bob Bell explained, “We couldn’t provide housing for the exhibitors, and the restaurants were still having problems with help. We kept waiting for FEMA, but they couldn’t guarantee anything. Our decision was absolutely correct–it made for a much better circuit to consider another venue. We found this, and it turned out great.”

Bell, Co-chairman Janet McCarroll, and their tireless staff considered nine sites before discovering the Escambia County Equestrian Center in Pensacola, 130 miles east of Gulfport.

“It all happened very quickly. They were able to clear the calendar for us at the last minute,” said Bell.

The community was eager to ensure the show’s survival. Two rings and 300 temporary stalls were added to the existing facility, also the home of Beulah Bit and Spur 4-H Club, which was the first of several local organizations to cede its event dates to the show. Area hotels committed blocks of rooms to the series, and the local media provided enthusiastic coverage. “We’ve been on television every week,” said Bell proudly.

The Gulf Coast Winter Series joined forces with its “sister show,” the five-week Jacksonville Winter Series hosted by the North Florida Hunter Jumper Association, to form an eight-week “Sunshine Circuit.”

Fun In The Sun
Exhibitors’ response to the management’s extraordinary efforts and its collaboration with the community was overwhelmingly positive; each show during the circuit’s three-week tenure sold out, with every division and all 614 stalls filled.

“We’ll definitely be coming back. It’s low-key and a very user-friendly showground,” said trainer Abbi Seley Ferrigno of Connecticut, who coached Cailah Carroll to the small pony championship aboard Land’s End Eros.

This was their first winter showing on the southern circuit, which Carroll, 11, lauded as “really fun and really nice.” The show offered an appropriate opportunity for Eros’ debut in the regular small division, as the 7-year-old Welsh pony, a diminutive dead ringer for Anne Kursinski’s eponymous grand prix partner, had only competed in the green division “a handful of times,” said Ferrigno.

Hayley Barnhill of Memphis, Tenn., traded in her small pony to acquire Classic Sun, the 12-year-old, Russian warmblood gelding she has owned for six months. The pair, who train with Michael Tokaruk and Dave Pellegrini of Spring Hill Farm in Memphis, claimed the younger small junior hunter division and Gulf Coast circuit championship.

Barnhill, 12, had competed at Gulfport the previous year, and she liked the compactness of the new facility, which allowed her to keep an eye on the pony ring, as she showed a large pony as well as “Tommy.” The pair also accounted for their division’s Sundance Circuit Grand Champion title.

Rachel Cline’s own “Tommy,” more for-mally known as Guest Appearance, similarly carried her to a trio of tricolors, taking the division and both circuit championships in the younger large junior hunters. Cline, 14, of Moorestown, N.J., has owned the dark bay warmblood gelding for two years. They train with John Mastriano of Tustin Farm in Hainsport, N.J.

She also rode a second mount, Sublime, to equivalent honors in the younger children’s hunter division. Cline believes that she owes her success to her longtime trainer. “I wouldn’t have this without him,” she said gratefully.

Lindsey Ward, of Milford, N.J., is a new beneficiary of Mastriano’s expertise, and she logged two championships and a reserve to take the medium pony Gulf Coast circuit championship on Finally Mine. This was her first show under his guidance, as her regular trainer didn’t make the migration south. At home, Ward rides with Bob Coles of Hillsborough, N.J.

Having competed at both HITS Ocala (Fla.) and WEF in seasons past, Ward, 11, was nevertheless very impressed with the quality of the Pensacola show. “I’d come back here again,” said Ward.

Scott Stewart discovered her pony, appropriately nicknamed “Roo,” in Australia. She named him Finally Mine because “It took forever to get him!” she said. She first had to convince her mother that she was ready for the pony, a task she accomplished by means of “a lot of begging,” laughed Kim Ward, her initially reluctant parent.

The younger Ward has owned the 9-year-old, gray gelding for three years, but said sadly that “he needs to find a good home,” as she begins to look for her next mount, a large pony or horse.

From Blue Ribbons To Baby Bottles
Booth Parker, of Emerald Isle, N.C., also compared Pensacola favorably to the other winter circuits. And Parker and her warmblood Lexus were literally put first enough times to take the week’s amateur-owner championship.

Her trainer of 10 years, Harold Chopping of Southern Pines, N.C., swept the regular working hunter championships and earned both circuit awards aboard Lexus.

She purchased Lexus in 2003 from Todd Minikus, who found the 8-year-old Hanoverian doing dressage in Europe. Lexus is “a lapdog. He’s the sweetest horse in the barn–he’s everyone’s favorite,” said Parker, 28.

Parker, four months pregnant, will be taking some time off from showing to have her first child while Chopping continues to campaign her horse.

Her lifelong best friend, Elizabeth Tarumianz of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., will miss her company in the amateur-owner division. “We’ve known each other since we started riding, and we’ve had such a great time together–I’m so sad that she’s done for a while,” said Tarumianz.

But Tarumianz believes that this is her own year to “go for it!” Although she and her mount Bocelli are new to the amateur-owner ranks, they’ve been champion or reserve at nearly every outing. Bocelli, an 8-year-old “Thoroughbred in a sea of warmbloods,” has “exceeded our expectations,” said Tarumianz.

Tarumianz, 29, said her horse, whom she purchased a year ago from Miranda Scott, is “very forgiving of my amateur mistakes. I’ve been really spoiled.” But the pair didn’t make many mistakes, collecting both the Gulf Coast Series and overall Sunshine Circuit championships.

She’s trained with Pat Dodson and Keith Hastings of Clouds Harbor Farm in Clemmons, N.C., since she was 8. Her bay gelding has logged wins in 10 consecutive hack classes. “Reef” also shows in the second year green division under Hastings.

Reef’s only discernible fault is that he cribs in his stall, a habit that doesn’t bother his owner at all. “He can do whatever he wants because he takes such good care of me,” said Tarumianz.

She intends to compete in the amateur-owner division at Devon (Pa.) in May and on the fall indoor circuit. Ultimately, she hopes to finish in the top five of her division’s year-end national rankings.

Her husband, Jeff, wholeheartedly backs his wife’s goals. “I can’t say enough about how supportive he’s been,” she said, “I’m so lucky he lets me do all this!”

They’ll Be Back
Will the Gulf Coast Winter series return to Gulfport?

“Yes–we are going back!” stated show Co-chairman Bob Bell definitively. But he cautions that the immediate future of the circuit remains subject to “a lot of variables.”

In order for Bell to commit the series to Gulfport, Miss., for 2007, service in the area’s hotels and restaurants would have to be completely restored no less than six months before the start of the show to ensure that exhibitors and their support teams have access to affordable accommodations and dining. The Gulfport hospitality industry has been steadily recovering since the hurricane, but whether it can return to its original operational status by the deadline is anyone’s guess. Although Bell is typically optimistic, he’s prepared to wait another year for the show’s homecoming.

Additionally, Bell speculated that a proposed revision to the USEF mileage rule could reduce the distance required between shows from 250 to 125 miles in some zones, thus allowing events to be held simultaneously at both the Gulfport and Pensacola facilities.

Category: Horse Shows
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