Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

King’s Ransom Pays Off At WEF

Tiffany Neidhardt realizes a lifelong dream at the Winter Equestrian Festival by winning the adult amateur hunter, 18-35, championship aboard King’s Ransom.

Back when Tiffany Neidhardt was still in jodhpurs and pony straps, contesting the Welsh pony hunters in Bucks County, Pa., she fantasized about attending the Winter Equestrian Festival.
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Tiffany Neidhardt realizes a lifelong dream at the Winter Equestrian Festival by winning the adult amateur hunter, 18-35, championship aboard King’s Ransom.

Back when Tiffany Neidhardt was still in jodhpurs and pony straps, contesting the Welsh pony hunters in Bucks County, Pa., she fantasized about attending the Winter Equestrian Festival.

“Growing up I dreamed about going to the winter circuit,” recalled Neidhardt. “My parents were very supportive—they helped me show as much as they possibly could. But going to Wellington just wasn’t an option then.”

So when she learned that she and her gelding King’s Ransom had captured the adult amateur hunter, 18-35, championship at the Winter Equestrian Festival Week 3 Smart For Life, Jan. 30-Feb. 3 during her first trip to Wellington, Fla., Neidhardt was beside herself.

“I was completely shocked,” recalled the 22-year-old. “The adults go on forever, and I’d competed hours earlier. I was back at the barn wrapping someone, and Jen [Bauersachs] called me and said, ‘You were champion! I’m bringing you your loot.’ I was completely flabbergasted.”

The championship, Neidhardt’s first with her 12-year-old Quarter Horse cross, represented the culmination of six years of hard work. In 2002, Neidhardt got “Toby” as a project from her trainer Harry Duce. She’d been catch riding sale horses for Duce since she outgrew the ponies, and she was eager to have a promising horse of her own.

“I haven’t had pros really sit on him, so it’s been a learning process for both of us,” she said. “It’s been such a great experience because we learned together.”

Neidhardt’s equestrian education picked up at Centenary College (N.J.), where she served as team captain of the school’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association team for two years. She led the team to a sixth- placed finish at IHSA Nationals in 2006 and fifth in 2007, and she was also a member of the school’s reserve championship ANRC team. Neidhardt even filled in on the school’s dressage team when they needed an extra rider.

Toby joined Neidhardt at Centenary during her last two years for a little higher education with trainers Tara Johnson, Andrea Wells and Michael Dowling. The easy-going palomino proved his versatility, competing in the ANRC Championships and IHSA Dressage Championships hosted by Centenary and traveling to IHSA Nationals to serve as a mount for riders in the alumni and novice divisions.

“So many people have helped along the way,” said Neidhardt. “It’s made him such a wonderful horse to have so much input from so many different perspectives.”

“This win was such an incredible confidence builder for Tiffany,” said trainer Jennifer Bauersachs. “She is such a hard worker, and she’s great to have around, always upbeat. Her horse is just adorable, and she’s come a very long way with him.”

Double The Success

Over in the professional rings Louise Serio also had a banner Week 3, riding for Meralex Farms, piloting La Fayette to the first year green championship and topping the regular working hunter division aboard Castle Rock.

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Back in the spring of 2006 Serio found La Fayette from Emil Spadone, who had recently imported the bay Saxonburg. The 5-year-old had never shown, but Serio could see he had tremendous promise.

“He’s a really brave horse and so honest,” she said. “He has a wonderful attitude, and he’s just awesome to ride.”

La Fayette lived up to Serio’s hopes, winning the pre-green classic at Capital Challenge (Md.) after only a handful of shows. The next year he debuted in the first years in the winter, but Serio decided to take back his green year and let him wait until 2008 to show off his talent.

A year out of the show ring has only improved La Fayette. He won a class each of the first two weeks in Wellington and finished on top of two classes to top the division during Week 3. “It all came together, and we had tremendous results in the ring,” said Serio.

Serio’s other champion, Castle Rock, dominated the regular working hunter division, winning four out of five classes to earn the tricolor. Hardly a newcomer to the winner’s circle, the gray gelding turned plenty of heads in the green hunter divisions over the last two years with Holly Orlando aboard. But despite his litany of wins, before she rode him, Castle Rock wasn’t one that Serio knew well.

“As a busy professional, you really don’t have time to watch the other horses go—especially in Wellington,” she said. “I knew of him, but I really didn’t know him well before we tried him.”

But Castle Rock popped up on Serio’s radar when she watched him go at Capital Challenge. She was on the lookout for a new mount for student Bryan Baldwin, and the gorgeous gelding had all the right moves.
 
Baldwin, watching the horse show via live webcast, agreed, and before long she had a new partner in the adult amateur ring. Serio considers herself “very, very lucky” to get to keep the Dutch Warmblood tuned up in the workings.

“He’s an ideal adult horse,” explained Serio. “He’s such a quality horse: quiet and scopey with a huge stride, and he can jump anything so easily.”

First Time Out

When Sophie Cohen flew down to Wellington for the weekend to compete in the Winter Equestrian Festival Week 4 Spy Coast Farm, Feb. 6-10, she wasn’t expecting an incredible weekend. After all, her new mount— whom she hadn’t even sat on—was a newly-gelded Oldenburg fresh out of quarantine who
had never been anywhere near a hunter ring.

So when Cohen and Que Sera captured the children’s hunter, 14 and under, section A championship no one was more surprised than Cohen.

“I really wasn’t expecting anything at all, so winning was the best feeling,” she said. “I feel like if we can do this well on our first try I know we can go far together.”

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When Cohen schooled the day before competition things certainly weren’t pointing toward a tricolor weekend.

A Different Kind Of Riding Test

Last May Louise Serio opted out of the most prestigious horse show on the calendar in order to test her riding skills to a different kind of challenge: a horseback riding safari in Botswana.

Serio’s daughter Christina decided to go on the trip, organized by Sweet Briar College (Va.), and invited her mother to tag along. They joined Sweet Briar riding coach Jon Conyers and four other students for the adventure, which included the seven-day safari and trips to Cape Town and Robben Island in South Africa. While no one was judging her performance, Serio and the other riders had to summon their best equestrian skills to live up to a real-world test.

While her colleagues fretted over perfect distances and making the jog, Serio was jumping over fallen logs and outrunning lions. “On the safari we rode from 5:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. every day,” Serio recalled. “You’re prey when you’re up there, so you
really have to ride. It was different—we had funky saddles and awesome horses who really knew what they’re doing.

“One day a herd of zebras spooked and caught up with our group,” said Serio. “We were actually galloping right alongside the zebras which was just out of this world. We had an elephant come into our camp at night. And at one point we were charged by an elephant. The entire trip was just unbelievable—absolutely life changing.”

But the decision to forgo Devon (Pa.) wasn’t one that the Kennett Square, Pa., native took lightly.

“It was a difficult choice professionally but very obvious on a personal level,” said Serio. “Devon is great—I don’t mean to sound glib—but I’ve shown there probably 30 times. You have to weigh a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity with your family against a horse show. In the end it worked out for me: some of my horses got hurt and some couldn’t show, so I probably wouldn’t have had any entries.”

“He was jumping the right side of every jump,” recalled Cohen. “I had been riding a small horse, and he’s definitely a large guy—it was a very different feeling. I wasn’t expecting much on Saturday, but the minute he got his braids in and got in front of people he became a different horse. He was absolutely steady through the lines and perfect.”

Cohen’s trainer Cynthia Williams knew the pair would click. “I have a knack for picking the right horse for the right person, but I really think I hit a home run this time,” said Williams. “I purchased him in November without Sophie seeing him and specifically with her in mind. He’s the only horse I’ve ever tried who was perfect from the beginning. He has lovely manners, a great attitude, and he’s absolutely beautiful.”

Cohen, 14, didn’t compete seriously until she paired up with Williams two years ago, when she began making great strides in the hunter ring, especially aboard her small junior hunter Hero, who finished sixth in small junior hunter, 15 and under, at the USEF National Junior Hunter Finals East last year.

“Sophie is a spectacular student,” raved Williams. “She never complains, and she works hard. She never blames her horse for anything and is very protective of everything that goes on with the horse.”

Now that Que Sera has gotten a taste of the hunters in the children’s ring, he will join Hero in the junior divisions for the rest of the circuit. Cohen will commute most weekends from her home in Greenwich, Conn.

Mollie Bailey

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