Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Let’s Fly Takes Off At The Pennsylvania National

Rodrigo Pessoa and his rising star swoop into Harrisburg to take the top check.

When Rodrigo Pessoa headed back first for the jump-off of the $75,000 Budweiser Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W aboard Let’s Fly, he knew he would have to find a way to shake off the five strong riders who would follow.

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Rodrigo Pessoa and his rising star swoop into Harrisburg to take the top check.

When Rodrigo Pessoa headed back first for the jump-off of the $75,000 Budweiser Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W aboard Let’s Fly, he knew he would have to find a way to shake off the five strong riders who would follow.

“When you go first with good riders coming behind you, you have to come up with something,” said Pessoa. “There was this little gap after fence 2 to go inside, and I thought if I did that it would be hard enough to be beat. I thought I had to do it and take the chance, and it worked out for me.”

Pessoa made that tight inside turn look effortless and clocked a time no one else could beat, taking the FEI World Cup qualifier during the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, Oct. 12-17. That win also clinched the open jumper championship for Let’s Fly, owned by Double H Farms.

No one else attempted Pessoa’s track. Canadian Erynn Ballard and Robin Van Roosendael came closest but was a full 51⁄2 seconds behind the three-time World Cup Champion.

The unconventional but capable Ljubov Kochetova and Aslan had a conservative clear round to take third. The Russian rider lost a stirrup two fences from home but powered through.

There were 27 riders who attempted Steve Stephens’ first-round course, which Pessoa readily admitted rode harder than it walked. Former U.S. Equestrian Team Chef d’Equipe Frank Chapot explained the track for the show jumping fans gathered at the Farm Show Complex And Expo Center before the class began, correctly selecting the most troublesome points as a tricky combination and a maxed-out vertical two fences later.

Still, six riders—Leslie Burr Howard on Lennox Lewis 2, Mario Deslauriers on Vicomte D and Ken Berkley on Carlos Boy in addition to Pessoa, Ballard and Koche-tova—jumped clear. But Pessoa proved himself head-and-shoulders above the competition.

“I knew that I couldn’t beat Rodrigo, and it wasn’t even worth trying,” said Ballard, Hillsburgh, Ont., bluntly. “But I knew that I could probably end up second if I was fast enough. I was aiming for second place.”

Let’s Fly has proved a solid partner for Pessoa since the two paired up 11⁄2 years ago, winning the Green Cove Springs CSI-W (Fla.), the Loro Piana Grand Prix (Italy) and the $450,000 Charlotte Jumper Classic CSI***** (N.C.). Despite their success indoors, Pessoa isn’t currently aiming the gelding for the FEI World Cup Final next spring. That honor belongs to his mount of the 2009 Final, Double H Farm’s Rufus.

“He’s very simple and very intelligent,” said Pessoa of the Dutch Warmblood (Lordanos—Flamm, Forrest XX). “He’s an easy horse to ride, and he makes the rider look good because he’s really not complicated. He has the same mother as [three-time FEI World Cup winner] Shutterfly, and they have a lot of similarities. He’s a little bit tense and spooky, but he’s getting better every time he goes in the ring.”

Pessoa will complete his U.S. tour at the Syracuse Invitational (N.Y.) before heading back to Europe to organize a CSI***** in Paris, France.

Lone Star Wrangles A Big Win

Even though Douglas Wheeler could have made it to Harrisburg to watch his Lone Star vie for the working hunter title with Hunt Tosh, he opted out.

“Douglas can get a little superstitious,” said Tosh, Cumming, Ga. “He couldn’t come to Capital Challenge [Md.], and when his horse went perfectly there he was scared to come here. So he stayed at home and watched it on the Internet.”

But Wheeler’s whim proved fortuitous when Lone Star won three of his four over fences classes and took third in the handy to claim the championship.

No other hunter could match Lone Star’s consistent performance, and Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler’s name will be engraved on the Beaufort Hunt Perpetual Trophy, awarded to the grand hunter champion.

“When he won both [over fences classes the first day] it really gave me a confidence boost,” said Tosh. “He’s a simple, long-strided, dependable horse. You can go in any ring for the first class and not worry about him. He tries to do the right thing all of the time, and he tries his guts out every time he shows.”

This win comes during a spectacular season for the 10-year-old warmblood. At Capital Challenge he earned the working hunter title as well as the China Blue Trophy, awarded to the best regular working or regular conformation hunter at the show.

The bay gelding had been in Tosh’s barn for a while before the Wheelers picked him up. He’d been showing in the junior division, and Tosh had an inkling he might excel over four-foot jumps, which he started during HITS Ocala (Fla.) this year, winning the circuit title and going on to finish as champion or reserve everywhere he went this year.

Leading The Way

No one was more surprised than Maggie Jayne to hear her name announced as the leading hunter rider in Harrisburg. She was too busy berating herself for a few isolated mistakes.

“I was very disappointed in myself yesterday,” said Jayne. “I didn’t ride Early Applause well, but the horses were all great. I’m pretty much in shock.”

Jayne picked up a second year green hunter reserve ribbon for Pony Lane Farm with Gianni and clinched her first leading rider title by piloting Francesca to the regular conformation championship. The mare won the model, but a few mistakes over fences on the first day meant Jayne didn’t think they had a shot at the tricolor.

“Usually I do her first, then Madeline [Thatcher] does her in the juniors after me,” said Jayne. “She was so quiet in the first class I had a huge chip. Then in the next class I overdid it and almost did five strides in a six.”

But Jayne and Francesca put in a perfect performance the following day, taking blue in both over fences classes and again under saddle to take the tricolor.

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Belgian Axel Verloy sent Francesca over for the Jaynes to try out, and she proved a precocious partner right from the start. She won her first championship days out of quarantine and skipped up to the regular conformation with Jayne and junior hunter ring with Thatcher after just a few shows in the pre-greens.

Jayne trains at her family’s Our Day Farm in Elgin, Ill. This has proved a breakout year for the 25-year-old since she took over the ride on a full dance card of top hunters owned by Pony Lane Farm.

“I actually think there’s less pressure when I ride for Maura [Thatcher of Pony Lane Farm] than when I used to ride more for my dad [Alex Jayne],” she said smiling. “We like to win for sure, but as long as we have a barn full of sound and happy horses—that’s the ultimate goal.”
 
An Unexpected Win

Like Jayne, Darby Toben wasn’t expecting to hear her name called for any special awards at Harrisburg. After collecting her amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, champion-ship she took Nijinski back to the barn and put him to bed.

But 11⁄2 hours later, just as she sat down to eat lunch, she got a call on her cell from friend Amanda Steege informing her that she’d won the amateur-owner grand championship. So Toben, already decked out in her jumper attire, raced back to the barn, ripped off Nijinski’s wraps, scrubbed off his poultice and trotted him back into the ring to accept his neck sash and cooler.

With different horses jogging on top every class, the 28-year-old didn’t even realize she had a shot at accepting the division championship until just before the last class.

“Last year I got a couple of ribbons, and the year before we got a couple jogs,” she said. “He’s always a good boy. This was just fantastic.”

Toben had already endured a long day before she’d tacked up Nijinski for her classes. As the road manager for Redfield Farm, Toben, 28, arrived at the barn at 4 a.m.

“Sometimes it’s actually better, because someone will ask me a question right before I go in the ring, so I can’t get nervous,” said Toben, Princeton, N.J.

Toben and trainer Emil Spadone found the warmblood as a stallion in Europe. Spadone showed the horse for two years in the green divisions, and Toben said he’s become the perfect amateur partner.

“He’s pretty straightforward and very simple,” she said. “He has plenty of scope, which makes it easier for him if I’m not always perfect!”

Patience Pays Off

Simple is the last word that Annie Frazier would use to describe her partner, but that didn’t stop her from taking the low amateur-owner hunter tricolor during the division’s Harrisburg debut.

“He’s very difficult and particular about how you do things, and for the first eight months that I had him we had a lot of trouble,” said Frazier, Ocala, Fla. “Finally, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re on. He came in here today, knew where he was, knew he had to be good, and he was the best I’ve ever ridden him.”

Part of the difficulty came from finding the right niche for “Jack” this year. She and trainers Havens Schatt and Fred Commissaire believed that the amateur-owners at 3’6″ were a stretch for the aged gelding, but in the adult amateur ring at 3′ he was bored.

So when Frazier saw the low amateur-owner division appear on the prize list for the Pennsylvania National she knew she’d found the right spot for him at 3’3″. Sure enough, the division provided a chance for him to shine, as he and Frazier won two over fences classes and took third in an-other to clinch the tricolor over fellow Milestone Farm rider Tracey Scheriff and Absolut.

Before this week, Frazier, 25, had never earned a blue ribbon at the Pennsylvania National, let alone a championship, on her many trips to Harrisburg.

“At this show last year we finally figured out a formula for riding him through the turns,” she said. “If I do everything just right, most likely it will work out.”
 
Frazier lives on her family farm with her parents and 10 retired horses. When she’s not riding or helping with the horses, she assists her father, fiction writer Charles Frazier, with his work.

A Change In Pace

To those watching the NAL Adult Amateur Hunter Finals, there was nothing unusual about watching The Other Brother canter around the ring. But he felt totally different to Jennifer Gurney. Before she got on him, Gurney had always ridden and shown homebred, off-the-track Thoroughbreds. But the switch to a big-strided, easy-going Hanoverian suited her just fine, and their year-long partnership culminated in the blue ribbon.

“I normally ride fixer-uppers, so he’s a huge change of pace,” said Gurney, who trains with Gary Duffy. “But he’s really my dream horse, and we clicked right away.”

With the final fence on course inexplicably causing a spat of refusals, Gurney was careful not to get her mount there too long.

“He was just a little looky the first course, and I let him hunt down the last line and we got there just a little close,” she said. “Then we went and galloped for a little while to get the edge off, and he came back and was perfect.”

Gurney qualified for Harrisburg despite maintaining a light show schedule in order to care for her two children and Thoroughbred breeding farm at her home in Cazenovia, N.Y. And even after she received her letter inviting her to the show, Gurney faced the challenge of getting the gelding’s mediocre feet reliably ship-shape for Harrisburg.

Gurney’s husband recruited a friend at Cornell University (N.Y.), veterinarian/farrier Michael Wilderstein, to help troubleshoot, and The Other Brother trotted into the Harrisburg arena with new glue-on shoes that proved the perfect pedicure.

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“This show has been a blast,” she said. “The [NAL Finals] is a reasonable goal for people like me, and he’s been awesome. If I prep him correctly he’s perfect.”


Equally Thrilled

Most people wouldn’t choose the Pennsylvania National as the first show back for their horse after a long break.

But Paige Johnson had a feeling that Harrisburg was the perfect locale to bring Chiron S back to competition, and her hunch paid off with the blue ribbon in the $15,000 Cavalor Show Jumping Hall of Fame Amateur-Owner Classic, which helped her tie with Chloe Wormser and Udiana for the amateur-owner jumper championship. Johnson also earned leading amateur-owner jumper riding honors.

“He got hurt this spring, and he actually hadn’t shown since May,” said Johnson, 25. “He was second [in the amateur-owner jumper class] on Wednesday, and he jumped so well that I gave him yesterday off. You want to go, go, go and win, but at the same time you have to try to do what’s best for your horse. He really came through for me tonight.”

Johnson, The Plains, Va., won the classic last year aboard her confirmed partner La Martinee. But over the past two years Johnson and Chiron have started to really jell, and she hopes to step him back up to the grand prix level where she’d started campaigning him last spring.

Like Chiron S, Wormser’s mount for the week also enjoyed a light show season—but not for the same reason.

A third–year veterinary school student at the University of Pennsylvania, Wormser doesn’t have much time for horse showing. In fact, the morning of the classic she drove back to Philadelphia to attend a lecture, then drove two hours back to Harrisburg.

“My goal for the year was just to qualify for Harrisburg,” said Wormser, Northbrook, Ill. “It’s my favorite show! I haven’t shown in a couple months; my goal was to stay on and not embarrass myself!”

But Wormser did better than that—she and Udiana won two classes to tie for the championship. But Wormser deflected all credit to her trainer.

“I don’t have much time, but I’m lucky because my trainer Donald Cheska rides her and trains her so she’s ready for me,” said Wormser. “This is her first time showing at indoors, and she was perfect.”

In between her studies, 25-year-old Wormser keeps herself in shape by riding at Kevin Babington’s farm near Philadelphia.


NAL Winners Take Last-Minute Instructions

Kristin Glover had simple—and specific—instructions headed into the jump-off for the $5,000 NAL Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Finals.

“[Evan Coluccio] said: ‘Go fast. When you think you’re going fast enough, go faster,’ ” recalled Glover, Richmond, Va.

Those words of wisdom paid off for Glover when she and The Boy Wonder stopped the timers just fast enough to earn the blue ribbon over Kelsey Thatcher and Esquilino Bay.

The win came on the heels of a quiet season for Glover as she spent time focusing on improving her own riding with her home trainer Teddi Ismond rather than heading show to show.

“He jumps really well. It’s been about slowing me down, trying to get the difference between the verticals and the oxers,” she said.

Glover grew up eventing, competed through preliminary and qualified for the FEI North American Young Riders Champion-ships. But she hung up her helmet to focus on a career in engineering and raising her four children. Two decades later she dusted off her boots to try her hand at jumpers, finding a niche with Ismond and meeting Coluccio at shows.

“The horse loves what he does, and he’s very easy to get to the ring,” she said. “The only thing he doesn’t like is flatwork, but he knows when the spurs come off we’re going to jump and he’s always happy.”

Katherine Edgell, the winner of the other NAL jumper final for amateur riders, also came up with a specific plan before the jump-off—then nixed it at the last minute.

“We’d planned all these crazy inside turns, but when the only clear round wasn’t that fast Emil [Spadone] said to me, ‘Scratch it. Go around everywhere. Just jump everything straight,’ ” said Edgell.

The conservative approach paid off, and Edgell and Miss Kitty earned the top check in the $10,000 NAL Adult Amateur Jumper Finals.

According to Edgell, Miss Kitty “took me from the low adult [amateur jumpers] to being very competitive. She’s a mare—she definitely has her moments—but she’s become my better half. Sometimes I help, and sometimes she helps me.”

Edgell works full time in publishing, often commuting to New York City from her Mendham, N.J., home, but gets to Redfield Farm almost daily to ride her two horses. Though Miss Kitty has been on a winning streak—she topped both children’s/adult jumper classes at Capital Challenge (Md.)—Edgell has no plans to point her toward bigger fences.

“She’s in her element here. My other mare can do more, but this is perfect for her,” said Edgell. “She’s such a special mare—she’s spooky and can be gawky, but when she’s on she’s amazing.”

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