Friday, Apr. 19, 2024

Kudos! Keeps The Accolades Coming In Ocala

Amber Henter and her large junior hunter start the year with two consecutive junior hunter titles at HITS Ocala.

Amber Henter traveled to Ocala, Fla., eager to get a strong start to the season with her horse Kudos!, but she wasn’t counting on dominating the division. So when she and Kudos! won four classes to handily capture the large junior hunter, 15 and under, championship during the Ocala Winter Festival, Feb. 19-24, and topped the large junior hunter classic, she was ecstatic.


Amber Henter and her large junior hunter start the year with two consecutive junior hunter titles at HITS Ocala.

Amber Henter traveled to Ocala, Fla., eager to get a strong start to the season with her horse Kudos!, but she wasn’t counting on dominating the division. So when she and Kudos! won four classes to handily capture the large junior hunter, 15 and under, championship during the Ocala Winter Festival, Feb. 19-24, and topped the large junior hunter classic, she was ecstatic.

“He’s been amazing,” said Henter, 15. “It’s been such a learning process together—it’s great to see it pay off.”

The week before, during the first week of the Ocala circuit, the pair put in a similar performance, earning the tricolor and blue in the classic and setting the tone for a stellar season.

Henter started riding Kudos! (Kojak—Silanda) a year ago when the Dutch Warmblood had only a handful of shows under his belt. He had contested a few pre-green classes the year before and started in the first years, but Kudos! was hardly the seasoned competitor favored by most competitors in their first year out of the ponies.

The St. Petersburg, Fla., native joined Quiet Hill Farm as she was looking to graduate to the A-rated circuit. Under the guidance of Christina Schlusemeyer and Bob Braswell, Henter piloted the medium green pony Cosmopolitan Girl to the national title in 2006 then leapt straight to the juniors with two great mounts at the start of last season. Though she’d already started contesting the children’s jumpers, the move from 2’6” to the 3’6” in the hunter ring kept her on her toes. While her small junior partner, Jade, had logged plenty of miles as an amateur horse, Kudos! was scarcely out of the pre-greens and far less predictable.

“He’s a beautiful, athletic, high-jumping overachiever,” said Schulesmeyer. “But Amber has to ride. He’s talented, but he sure is interested in the umbrellas or the clumps of trees or that skinny jump.”

The pair had plenty of highlights during their first season together, including championships at Skidmore College (N.Y.), Vermont Summer Special and the Manchester Classic (Vt.), but it took a while for the partnership to really meld.

“I really had to ride him a lot and get to know him pretty well before we clicked,” said Henter. “During the summer we were getting there, but it was still a little iffy. Finally after indoors we’ve started working together, and things keep getting better and better.”

Last season Kudos! got a little extra ring time by competing in the first year green division with Kate Conyers and Sachine Belle, earning reserve horse of the year honors along the way, but this year the 8-year-old will stick to the junior hunter classes.

Not having a professional to get her horse in the ring puts more pressure on Henter, but by now she’s figured out a good system to keep her sometimes-nervous horse calm.


“He’s much happier doing just one division, and he’s not as fit so it’s easier to get him ready,” said Henter. “We learned that it’s better to take him to the ring and let him see everything and relax before a class, rather than getting on and riding him. Once he knew we weren’t trying to push him he was much more comfortable and trusting with us.”

In addition to her to two junior mounts, Henter also competes in the jumper ring aboard Jordan Santi’s Tigre Royale. Last year in Ocala the pair earned the circuit championship in the high children’s jumpers, and they topped most Marshall & Sterling classics they entered during the year. Henter hopes to graduate to the low juniors with him before the end of the circuit.

“Amber has learned to ride very well over the last year,” said Schlusemeyer. “She’s extremely well-mounted, but she’s earned it through her hard work. I always tell her: The more talent you have, the harder you’d better work to maximize that talent, because there are plenty of people in this world you compete against that are quite talented. Amber has natural ability, and she’s learned to be aggressive in order to get the job done.”

In addition to ability and a winning attitude, Henter benefited from a family happy to support her in her equestrian endeavors. Her mother grew up pleasure riding in Panama and competed on the hunter circuit after moving to the United States as an adult. Her father is a champion athlete in his own right, first competing in motorcycle racing and then, after a car accident left him blind, he became a six-time U.S. blind water skiing champion. Her family owns the boarding stable in Clearwater, Fla., called El Cazador—“The Hunter” in Spanish—and Henter gets pointers between lessons from Leslie Cox.

Her background provides her a second unexpected advantage. Thanks to her Panamanian-born parents, Henter finds herself eligible for a Panamanian passport, which might come in handy should she ever excel to the international level.

But Henter hasn’t yet planned out a path to the Olympics through Panama. “My mom would like me to try to ride for Panama,” said Henter. “I’ve always been American—I was born and raised here. It may be easier to get on a Panamanian team than a U.S. one, but I’m not really thinking about it now. It’s a very long way off.”

Henter stays focused on her next round by drilling her equitation with Braswell and Schlusemeyer on her regular jaunts to Quiet Hill Farm in Ocala. She usually leaves her own mounts behind and rides any available horse at the farm.

“Bob has been working with me a lot to make any situation not only work out but look good,” said Henter. “We’ve been working hard on riding position and technique. I’ve really been learning that you’re never, ever done training. Once you figure something out there’s always something new to work on.”

Solem And Mianta Rise To The Top In Ocala

The average spectator with an eye on the schooling ring during the jump-off for the $50,000 Duggan Equipment Grand Prix on Feb. 25 during the HITS Ocala Winter Festival wouldn’t have placed a last-minute bet on Callan Solem and Mianta.


As the first four jump-off contestants zipped around the course Solem struggled to school a few fences.
“I could barely jump a jump because she kept bolting,” she said. “She knew she was going to go fast, and she wanted to go and do her job. Mark [Jungherr] was watching the ring for me, and he came over and said, ‘Tracy was fast. Kristen was fast. You’re going to need to go.’ ”

With Mianta raring to go, Solem struck up a blazing pace right from the in gate, whizzing around the course without touching a fence to stop the clock 5 seconds faster than second-placed Kristen Vanderveen and taking the top check back to Colt’s Neck, N.J.

Mianta and Solem set the bar high right from the start by winning the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix on Feb. 3 for Quiet Winter Farm and Redfield Farm during the second pre-circuit week in Ocala. The pair stayed in the grand prix ribbons over the next two weeks, but a single rail in each class separated them from the blue.
“She has been jumping so well, and she’s felt great,” said Solem. “She’s been almost jumping clear; she just needed be a little lucky. Sunday it was her day.”

This latest victory is the Dutch Warmblood’s biggest since recovering from Lyme disease that struck a year earlier. “I’d been having a hard time with her. She felt like she was struggling,” recalled Solem. “She wasn’t unsound, but she just wasn’t herself. I was thinking that maybe she wanted to be retired.”

Eventually a test revealed the source of her discomfort, and a three-month course of antibiotics got her back on track.

Mianta (Hemmingway—Hianta) was never the easiest of partners. She’s high strung and not terribly rideable, but her quirkiness only endears her to Solem.

“She is incredibly talented, and I get along very well with her,” she said. “I think part of her success is letting her be who she is. She isn’t going to go like 95 percent of the horses that do the class, and I’ve learned to respect how she is rather than working to make her something she’s not. You’re better off being six inches too long or six inches too tight rather than getting to that perfect spot and having her annoyed that you’re riding her.”

Solem, who benefits from the guidance of Jungherr and Quiet Winter Farm owner Carol Thompson, has established a good routine to keep “Mimi” happy. She always warms up in a loose ring and draw reins before a class, then swaps the bridle just before she goes in the ring. Back at the barn everyone bends over backwards to be calm and quiet around her stall—and when she’s feeling agitated Solem chases everyone out of the barn until she can relax.

Despite the challenges, Solem harbors no misgivings about placating her picky mount. Mimi earned her keep stepping up to the plate when Solem’s more reliable grand prix partner Allison was hurt in 2005.
“I used her for the Nations Cup in Lummen [Belgium], the World Cup qualifier at Syracuse [N.Y.]—classes she didn’t have any business jumping, quite honestly. But she was great,” she said. “When you need to call on her she’s there.”

But Solem isn’t planning to test her 14-year-old veteran again any time soon. As the careers of Mimi and Allison, 16, wind down, Solem has been bringing along a new talent, VDL Torlando, a promising Dutch stallion she hopes will fill their shoes. Torlando contested the $10,000 Footing Unlimited Mini Prix on Feb. 22 and posted one of the two clear rounds to win the class.

“He’s the first horse I ever picked for myself without anyone really helping me,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited about him.”

Mollie Bailey




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