Thermal, Calif.—March 17
Heading into the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular on Friday night, Nick Haness was feeling a little extra nervous. Earlier in the day he had topped the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby on Cardentos Dree Boeken in the stallion’s first show stateside, then he won the $20,000 Young Hunter Championship on True That.
“[True That] had scores of 92 and 93 today, so we were thrilled with that outcome,” said Haness. “I thought to myself, ‘My luck’s running out for the day. I’ve won two of the events, there’s no way I’m going to win the WCHR $100,000 class tonight.’ ”
But Haness’s luck held, and he rode Strasburg Morin Inc.’s McQueen, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Cornet Obolensky—Sanea) to win the biggest hunter event of the Desert Circuit during the final week of competition. He edged out another horse also named McQueen, owned by Barbara Lovre and ridden by Nicole Bourgeois, with junior Avery Glynn taking third aboard AE Farms’ Dauphin.
Forty-nine horses contested the first round of the competition, each jumping over their respective height of either 3’6”, 3’9” or 4’. The top 20 horses—the cut off was an 83 average—came back to contest Meghan Rawlins’ second-round track under the lights, and that’s where things got interesting.
Rawlins set a testing handy track with plenty of options for inside turns. She asked riders to trot through a fenced off track early on course, but the real question came later. Riders had an option of oxers to Fence 7, then they could choose how to traverse two haybale jumps angled away from each other. Riders could elect to jump them in either direction, singly or as a two- or three-stride combination. A few riders who took them as a line had trouble with the striding. After the second haybale fence riders had to turn back and jump a vertical set between the two jumps.
Coming back on a numerical tie for second, Haness jumped the haybales as a line on his first two mounts, but took a different option on McQueen. He elected to make a figure-8, jumping each as a single fence before returning to the vertical between them.
“I think the judges didn’t mind whatever you did, as long as you did it well, so I didn’t want to take a chance with McQueen,” said Haness, Temecula, California. “He’s sort of a younger horse as well, and not very experienced at night. His stride is very, very large, and I thought that jumping them individual was going to be my best bet. And I think that he jumped so beautifully, that was going to be the telling sign for the judge that that was the winner.”
Watch their winning handy round, courtesy of ShowGroundsLive.com:
“I kept my pace forward even though I went around to the haybale,” Haness continued. “I was galloping still and the horse turned in the air, landed his lead beautifully, jumped way up over the jumps and turned pretty tight to the next haybales. His ears went right onto it, locked onto it and he was going to jump it great. Once I got there and I felt him really sail over that one and landed him in a very snug turn back, almost angled the next vertical pretty tight, so it was still handy even though it was more of a longer route.”
He showed off a true hand gallop to the last jump, and the judges rewarded him with matching marks of 94 and the win. This marks Haness’s second WCHR West Coast Spectacular victory in a row, having won last fall on Lindsay Maxwell’s HH Elmo.
Haness took over the ride on McQueen, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Cornet Obolensky—Sanea) at Capital Challenge last year. The horse is trained by Carleton and Traci Brooks of Balmoral, and Haness meets up with him at shows. Last year the horse showed in the 3’3” green division, and this year he stepped up to the 3’6” green and the green conformation divisions. Friday marked his first night class—and by far the biggest win of his career.
“Being that I’ve only ridden him for a few months, I really like his ride,” said Haness. “He really likes me, and we get along really well.
“He’s a bit of a unique horse,” he continued. “He likes to be ridden a certain way, which suits my riding style. He likes to be ridden with long reins, and he has a huge stride and a lot of jump, and he’s very brave. As long as you give him an opportunity and dare him a little bit, he can jump anything.”
McQueen’s steering was still a little green when Haness first started riding him, but he’s matured quickly.
“He’s really learned to follows me,” Haness said. “He almost thinks with me now, which is really fun.”
Next up for Haness and McQueen? They’ve got their eyes glued on coming East for Devon (Pennsylvania), where Haness hopes that McQueen’s monster stride and bravery will shine. But for now he’s basking in tonight’s big win. Even though Haness has been on a roll—he earned the Chronicle’s hunter person of the year honors for his accomplishments in 2022 and just picked up the leading hunter rider award from Desert Circuit—he’s doesn’t take any of it for granted.
“Your horse has to jump well that day, and it’s all about luck,” he said. “Everyone in the class tonight rode really well, the horses went great and the atmosphere at night was definitely a different challenge than we’ve been having lately here, so that added an extra challenge for some horses out there. It was bright and very big, and the lights are bright, and these hunters are not really used to that atmosphere. It was a fun class and a great competition.”