When announcer Oliver Kennedy relayed scores of 98, 93 and 93 for McQueen’s round in the Platinum Performance USHJA 3’6″/3’9″ Green Hunter Incentive Championship, everyone around the Walnut Ring knew they were likely looking at the winner. Just ninth in the order, and the first at the 3’6″ height, the gelding piloted by Nick Haness put in a jaw-dropping performance with gallops to bold distances and powerful jumps.
Their score of 284 set a high bar, and a few riders joked at the in-gate that you’d have to score a 100 to surpass them. Ultimately no one could touch it, and Chris Payne’s 272.5 with Hemsworth was the closest, but was still 11.5 points behind. Scott Stewart slotted into third with Colter.
“I thought that the rounds today went really well,” Haness said. “It was a little bit of a challenge. At the end of the day the atmosphere changed—the weather shifted; it got kind of windy—but the second round was pretty inviting, a lot of single jumps you could really gallop. I think that was a really fun part for me, my horse particularly in the second round—really letting him open his stride up and use his stride and scope to be brilliant, and I tried to do it, and it did pay off.
“Across the diagonal line there was a bending line that was either an eight or a nine, and I chose to do an eight because he has such a huge stride,” he added. “I think that oxer sealed the deal for us. He really fired over that oxer and jumped it beautifully, and the last line again was a long galloping line. I let him open up his stride, and he just gave me his all. It was really nice.”
While Carleton Brooks of Balmoral oversees the gelding’s day-to-day training, Haness takes the reins at shows, and he and Strasburg Morin Inc.’s 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Cornet Obolensky—Sanea) have been on a bit of a hot streak this year. They won the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular (California) in March and then came east to earn the grand championship at Devon (Pennsylvania) in May.
“He’s a very fun horse,” he said. “He’s really my style horse. I love riding him because I can really use a loose rein on him and I can trust him 100%. He’s very brave, and he has a lot of stride and a lot of scope, so a venue like this in this huge arena is actually a great place for him to show that off, so I was really excited to show him here. He was great all week long. He was champion in the first years this week and he obviously made an impression today with a 98, which is very exciting for us.”
On the other hand, Payne’s mount, a 6-year-old warmblood (Cicero Z—Getorette) owned by Stephanie Ring, could be seen as a bit of an underdog. He arrived stateside in June, and this is only his third horse show.
“He doesn’t have all the experience the other ones have, but he just goes out there, he put his ears forward, and he puts in a nice effort every time, and he just tries to enjoy himself,” he said. “He didn’t do much in Europe before, so he really just wants to do it right, just wants you to tell him what to do, and he’s game.”
Watch McQueen’s winning round, with commentary from Haness, courtesy of USHJA and ClipMyHorse.TV:
Stewart’s Winning Streak Continues
Who is Scott Stewart’s greatest competitor? Himself. And Jennifer Hannan.
The hunter pro has won at the Platinum Performance USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championships more than any other rider and has won in both height sections. He continued his winning ways in the 3’/3’3” Green Hunter Incentive Championship, earning monster scores of 96, 92 and 93 with Florian for a class-winning total of 281.
Stewart also rode Cerulean Blue to a tie for second with Hannan and Notorious on a 275.
Stewart has been riding Florian, a 7-year-old Westphalian (Like Angel—Zominga) owned by Betsee Parker, since last year, but their show record is short. They showed just four times last season, and this year Stewart’s plans for the gelding were put on hold when he tripped after landing off a fence during Week 6 of the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida).
“He wasn’t really unsound but he wasn’t quite right, so I gave him just three or four months of just tack walking and trotting,” Stewart said. “So he hasn’t really been able to [show]. Last year I took off from Upperville [Virginia] until now [for the green incentive]. That did not work out well. I did not make it to the final. This year it worked out fine, but he hasn’t shown since Week 6, so he’s just been getting fit, and we peaked at the right time.”
Watch Stewart’s round with commentary, courtesy of ClipMyHorse.TV and USHJA:
This year the 3’/3’3″ championship debuted a new format, after years of riders requesting a change. The championship traditionally had two qualifying rounds held over two days, and the 30 horses with the highest combined score over both rounds advanced to the championship round. This year, the top 10 from round 1 advanced to the final and were not required to jump in round 2—though they could if desired. Another 10 entries came from the top-10 scoring horses from round 2, excluding those already qualified. The final 10 horses earned their spot based on the highest combined score over two rounds.
It was a format that worked well for Stewart, as he elected not to ride Florian in the second round after a second-placed finish on the first day.
“I was a little nervous not showing him, but I thought if I did show him, and he got a little plain and boring for the third day, I would kick myself, so I was really thrilled with the way he went,” he said.
His second mount, Cerulean Blue, a 6-year-old Oldenburg (Diaron—Vivanetta Blue) owned by Rivers Edge, finished out of contention on the first day, but won the second round to earn his spot in the final.
“I like the new format because if you have a horse that went well and finished that well and you thought they could use the day off from jumping, you could,” Stewart said. “It also gave me the opportunity with Cerulean Blue, where I messed up, to get in the final the second day. I think it’s a good format. It’s just bringing the best horses forward because a lot of times some of the really good horses will make a mistake, and it’s nice to have them all in the final.”
Hannan showed in all three rounds on Notorious, a 9-year-old Westphalian mare (Ballous Bellini—Ferrara) owned by Stephanie Bulger. She also won the Tier II championship, which is reserved for riders outside of the top 30 on the 3-year rider money won list as of Dec. 1, 2022.
“Going into today, my horses performed well all week,” she said. “I felt very confident and just wanted to have a nice, smooth round. I think this course allowed us to gallop a little bit and show our horses off, and it was the third day so they felt a little more comfortable.”
Though “Naomi” is 9, she is also light on show ring experience.
“I just started riding her this time probably last year and started showing her middle of Florida,” Hannan said. “She’s a little bit of an older horse but has limited mileage. She showed a little bit under another rider a couple of years ago, and then we’ve had a great relationship so far.”
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