Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 15
When Amanda Steege saw the frontrunners in the 3’3″ pre-green hunter division score 90s in the first over-fences class, she was pretty sure she’d be using her time at the Pennsylvania National to school her new mare, Mirror Image, not win.
“When I looked up, I was like, ‘Well, there’s no way,’ ” recalled Steege. “So then I went last and she got a 92! It was exciting. She’s gotten a few high scores, but that was definitely the highest.”
Steege and “Mimi” continued their winning ways, topping another over-fences class and winning under saddle on their way to the pre-green hunter championship.
But in May, when Steege started showing the big bay mare, those results would have been hard to predict.
“At her first horse show in May, she was pretty frisky,” said Jim Toon, who co-owns the horse with his wife Ellen Toon. They’re based in South Salem, N.Y., and for the first time ever, they took a trip to Europe this March and bought the horse they’d seen on video originally in the states (typically, plans go awry and they import an unforeseen prospect there).
“When she first came, she was excited,” said Jim. “She would come to the shows and get very nervous and tense and she’d scream. But the more she’s done, the more of a routine she’s getting in. She likes to go in the truck now because she eats the whole time. So she likes traveling. It’s just a consistency of riding and turning out and not getting too enthusiastic.”
Because of Mimi’s jumper background in Germany, her natural propensity to get over a fence was in need of some adjustments before she debuted in the hunter arena. “The jumpers want that powerful, fast jump, and we want that slow, lofty, effortless jump, so they’ve got to learn how to do that differently,” said Jim, who rides her most at home and has focused on straightness and rhythm to re-purpose her.
Capital Challenge, her first indoor, didn’t faze the 7-year-old Oldenburg. She’d hung out at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) to take in the American scene before Jen Bliss showed her in the 3′ pre-green hunter division at Old Salem (N.Y.) in May. Then Ellen took her around the adult-amateur hunters, sharing the ride with Steege in the pre-greens, at several shows throughout the summer, such as Lake Placid (N.Y.) and the Middleburg Classic (Va.).
Steege added that “she’s had numerous tricolors throughout the year, but for me it was always so exciting to show her one week and then send her home with Jimmy, not see her for two or three weeks, and then have her come back and be like, ‘Oh my God—she’s so much straighter! She’s so much more responsive to my hand and leg! Each time I ride her, my job is so much easier because of the work they do in between [shows].
“She’s your classic hunter,” she continued. “She has all the things that we’re constantly searching for when we look for a horse—it starts with her looks and confomation, up to her movement. It’s like night and day. She never did anything bad or wrong, but at the beginning I think she just didn’t walk in the ring and take a breath and sort of understand what we were looking for from her. And now, she’s so relaxed out there.”
An Old Soul, Young Body
Chris Payne likes to keep himself busy with the young horses. Immediately after winning the pre-green 3’ division aboard Anderson, he had to run off to jump on another horse for the pre-green 3’3” division.
“I really enjoy the pre-green—the young horses—and developing them and having them come along,” he said. “I really find that very challenging and interesting.”
However, so far Anderson has proved to be far from a challenge. Payne purchased the Holsteiner gelding from Europe this spring, but soon sold him to his current owner, Debbie Bass, who shows in the adult-amateurs and hopes to start showing the 6-year-old gelding in the upcoming season.
“When we brought him over from Europe, he had hardly done anything at all, but she could get on him and ride him,” Payne said. “He has an amazing mind—just an old soul in a young body.”
“Nolan” attended his first show in June, but it didn’t take long for him to start racking up tricolors. He attended Capital Challenge (Md.), but showed outdoors so Harrisburg was Nolan’s first indoor experience.
“Yesterday he held his breath a little bit, but he’s such a professional he just followed me around the ring and rode beautifully,” Payne said. “Today he [took] a little more of a deep breath about it and was a little more of his normal, easy-going [self.]”
Nolan won two over fences and the under saddle to take the division championship before topping the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Stake.
“This is a big thing for him to go in her and do this,” Payne said. “I was really proud of him. It feels amazing to win this year with such an amazing group of quality horses.”
To read more about the winners at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, check out the October 27 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse print magazine.