They make careful jumping work for them over a challenging derby course.
Just when the Bluegrass state thought Derby mania was over, Croquet and Caroline Weeden put in a sensational performance to win the $15,000 ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show in Lexington, on May 9.
Plank verticals and natural fences with no groundlines plagued horses and riders all evening. The sun was setting and the rails were falling.
Out of the 26 competitors to challenge the first round of Robert Murphy’s derby course, only eight jumped clean. Weeden, aboard Karen Lackinger’s 12-year-old gelding Croquet, rode a forward first round but chose to jump the lower options after watching horse after horse before them drop rails. Their efforts were rewarded as they were the first pair to complete the course without touching a jump, scoring an 84 and an 85 from the two teams of judges, comprised of Linda Andrisani, Fran and Joseph Dotoli, and Jeff Wirthman.
“It was a very, very careful course,” said Weeden, who is based out of Antioch, Ill. “There were a lot of flat cups, which contributed to a lot of straight, up-and-down verticals. My thought was to try and jump clean, and I actually jumped a lot of the low options in the first round because my horse was a little up.”
Tammy Provost led the pack after the first round aboard Stephen Martines’ Peridot with a combined score of 177. An unfortunate rail in the handy round dropped her to sixth place overall, allowing Weeden, who was sitting pretty in second place after the first round, a chance to move into the lead.
The handy course asked riders to step it up one more notch, requiring them to slither through a five-foot gap between standards as they approached a jump atop a bank, before cantering back down the steep incline.
“I’ve never gone down a hill that steep before, so I did not know what to expect,” Weeden admitted. “I think Croquet must have done it at some point in his life, and I just hung on. I tried to sit as still as I could and let him do what he wanted—he actually cantered the whole way down.”
While some hunters did not take well to jumping over a fence into what looked like oblivion and cantering down a steep bank, Croquet’s mastery of the test vaulted him and Weeden to the top of the class. The judges rewarded them with a set of 90s, plus 14 bonus points for brilliance, to finish with a total second round score of 194.
Louise Serio, aboard Linda Sogard’s equitation and small junior hunter mount, Concerto, executed a beautiful handy round, improving upon their sixth place standing to finish second overall. Erin Hickey’s consistent rides with her junior jumper R. Adermie 4 landed her in the third slot, while fellow jumper Jeanne Hobbs slid into fourth with her grand prix horse Night And Day 8.
Several horse and rider combinations that dropped rails in the first round still edged into the top 12 to be invited back for the handy. One such pair was Katherine Newman and Mimi Able Smith’s Curious, who sat 10th before
executing an impressive handy round to jump into fifth overall.
Lackinger, a Crystal Lake, Ill., native, purchased and imported Croquet from Europe last spring with the intent of competing him solely in the derbies.
A jumper in a previous life, the warmblood gelding has easily adapted to his job as a hunter, competing in his first derby at the June Country Heir shows in Lexington shortly after arriving in the States in spring 2008.
“This is what he does for a living,” said Weeden. “He’s very brave, very forward, and he has a lot of scope. I knew he’d be great as a hunter because he’s so beautiful; he has great style.”
Until this win however, the pair had not yet led the victory gallop in a derby. They came close at the $25,000 ASG Software Solutions USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Evergreen Invitational (Wis.). Croquet received a rewarding break after that September 2008 derby and had not shown again until the Kentucky Spring Horse Show. Rather, Lackinger has enjoyed casually riding him herself.
“Karen rides Croquet all around the farm at home,” said Weeden. “Although he’s quite bold in the ring, he’s very much a gentleman to ride.”
In fact, Croquet requires little preparation and doesn’t show in any classes other than the derby anymore, although Weeden did ride him in the first year green hunter division a few times to get him into the hunter rhythm. “He’s better if you don’t do too much the day of because he gets a little too ready. He definitely knows his job,” said Weeden.
As Croquet stood 16th in the national hunter derby rankings before winning the Kentucky Spring class, Weeden aims to pick up a few more derbies before the summer’s end and then return to Lexington for the 2008/2009 ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals in August.