Upper Marlboro, Md.—Oct. 2
Jane Gaston was fighting tears as she hopped off Lumiere with a look of gratitude, helped put on his scrim and walked out of the indoor arena at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, but it wasn’t only because they’d just led the victory gallop in the World Champion Hunter Rider amateur-owner 3’6” challenge.
She was celebrating she and “Lu’s” return to Capital Challenge after a several-year hiatus out of the spotlight. She’s ridden the gelding for the past 10 years out of her farm in The Plains, Va., but explained that a minor injury and focusing on some newer charges at indoors kept Lu from the show ring.
“He stumbled at Devon [Pa. in 2012] and slapped the ground and kind of concussed his feet,” said Gaston. “It wasn’t soft tissue; it was just a long-term bruising.” It was enough to keep them out of the running for indoors that fall.
“Then in 2013 I had pre-green horses that we did in the 3’3”, so I decided to go in that direction with Amarillo,” Gaston continued. “Then Amarillo left us, and this year I had a second horse and it got hurt.”
Katie Robinson bought Amarillo and shows him in the amateur-owner hunters. “He’s been a great horse for her, so it makes me happy to see him in a great situation—well managed and well ridden,” said Gaston.
The timing afforded her the perfect opportunity to bring her old friend back into action.
“I count on my old friends when all else fails,” said Gaston of Lu. She appreciated the gentle work his vet and farrier recommended to keep his circulation up while healing from the injury, and upped his fitness gradually.
“He gets ridden every day because as you can see, he’s a fat man!” she said with a laugh. “He goes cross-country, gets ridden six, maybe seven times a week. And the last 60 days he’s been ridden twice a day, so he’s as svelte as he’s going to get!”
The 13-year-old Oldenburg showed eight times in the WCHR amateur-owner series this year, starting in Ocala, Fla., and Gaston got to Capital Challenge with a horse over-jumping everything so much that you wouldn’t guess he was a seasoned campaigner at indoors.
They scored an 86 to take the win ahead of Stephanie Danhakl on Golden Rule (85.66) and Missy Luczak-Smith on Positano (85.25).
“It’s just been great to have him back this year,” said Gaston. “He always tries. I know, no matter what I do, he’ll figure it out. I can make a mistake; he’s forgiving.”
In addition to her win, Gaston got another confidence-booster as she looks forward to the Pennsylvania National next week: the reserve national WCHR championship ribbon. She missed the champion title by one point to Becky Gochman on Touchdown.
Touchdown’s Graduation Present
Becky and her husband David have had Touchdown for four years, but when they walked down the ramp to head into the indoor for the WCHR amateur-owner 3’3” challenge, she noticed something different about the big chestnut. It felt like a long year of hard work had finally come to fruition.
“He has really grown up,” she said. “This is the first indoor where he’s walked down the ramp with a joyful expression, and I can’t believe how much he’s matured. So that’s just such a nice feeling: to go in the ring and know he’s not going to spook and he wants to try his best.”
Becky took home top honors after scoring an 87.66. Daryl Portela on Winner collected a check for second place (84.83) and Krista Weisman on Concept rounded out the top three (84.16).
Becky and the 9-year-old Oldenburg (Quattro B—Schila) had done well in the amateur-owner hunters, both in the WCHR series and elsewhere, all year. They picked up plenty of top placings at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) in the spring, and then really gained some momentum throughout the Horse Shows By The Bay series (Mich.) over the summer, earning several championships. Terence Prunty helps take the ride a bit and showed him at the beginning of the year in the 3’3” performance hunters around her training program with Scott Stewart.
“All I can say is I can feel that he’s enjoying himself now, and so then he’s a blast to ride, in that he’s just been getting easier and easier,” said Gochman, of New York, N.Y. “I think that’s pretty normal for a horse, but I feel like he’s graduated college now or something! Because he’s really made. He knows what he’s doing.”
“Touchdown is very smooth and he has this springy step, but he just tries really hard and gets really round over the fences, like a ball, he really rounds up,” explained Gochman of the ride. “He used to spook quite a bit, and now he just goes in so bravely, so I can really trust him.”
Gochman’s partnership with “Buddha,” as she calls the gelding because of his wise and gentle manner, has not only helped her become a more confident rider—“He’s not going to look anywhere anymore,” she said. “He used to kick out for his lead change once in awhile. He’s just a big boy now, and so I can feel that and so I feel very relaxed on him and I don’t feel very much pressure on him.”—but it’s also helped ease some sadness over her beloved mount, Sambalino, who passed away earlier this year.
While her relationship with Sambalino was irreplaceable, she’s really developed a soft spot for Touchdown.
“I feel like it has been a breakthrough just to know that he can become really, really consistent,” she said. “He doesn’t have a lot of preparation; he’s just a good guy.”
Gochman thinks Touchdown’s consistency will even yield a new ride for her two daughters, Mimi and Sophie, soon. “He’s a neat horse; we love him very much,” she said. “He truly feels like part of the family.”
To read more about the winners at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, check out the October 20 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse print magazine.