Most of the riders in today’s amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, classes spent the morning relaxing and getting themselves mentally prepared for this morning’s two over fences classes, but not Darby Toben. As the Redfield Farm road manager, Toben found herself at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pa., at 4 a.m., checking on the horses and longeing her mounts, when most of her peers were still asleep.
But that lack of sleep didn’t stop her from riding to the top of the amateur-owner, 18-35, division at this year’s Pennsylvania National. She topped an over fences class, today, Oct. 17, to clinch the tricolor. Dawn Fogel and Royal Oak finished second to take reserve.
With just 22 points, Toben didn’t think she had a shot at the grand amateur-owner hunter title, so she took her mount back to the barn and got him ready for bed. When friend Amanda Steege called to tell her that she’d won the grand amateur title, she ripped off his wraps, scrubbed off his poltice and trotted an unbraided Nijinski back into the ring to accept his neck sash and cooler. She was already dressed in her jumper attire.
Toben admitted that it can be a big challenge to set aside her responsibilities in the barn when she climbs into the saddle.
“Sometimes it’s better because someone will ask me a question right before I go in the ring, and 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, according to Toben, he’s become the perfect amateur partner.
“He’s always a good boy,” said Toben, 28. “He’s pretty straightforward, and very simple. He has plenty of scope, which makes it easier for him if I’m not always perfect!”
When Terri Kessler told her trainer Andre Dignelli seven years ago that she was in the market for an amateur-owner hunter, she also gave him a price range. But Dignelli didn’t listen.
“He told me that he’d found my horse, and that it was twice my budget,” recalled Kessler. “I loved him, but I didn’t think there was any way my husband would let me do it. But Andre kept saying it was more than a horse, it would be a horse of a lifetime for me. And he was right.”
That spectacular animal, Pavarotti, lived up to that promise at Harrisburg, partnering with Kessler to win the amateur-owner, 36 and over, championship today. Dubari and Gayle Cox won the last over fences class to take reserve.
With Terri’s daughter Reed competing in Fédération Equestre International classes this year, the Kesslers have become mindful about keeping all the horses in the barn fit and sound while complying with the FEI’s strict drug rules.
“It’s a different way of living, but it’s great,” said Terri. “He’s an older horse, so you start to think that every time you ride, every jump you jump, you are either taking something away from him or giving something to him.”
Pavarotti trail rides between shows and enjoys plenty of turn out, with Kessler maintaining a light show schedule to focus on her daughter’s skyrocketing jumper career.
“When Reed won [the USEF Junior Jumper Individual National Championship] earlier this week I knew I had a lot to live up to!” she said. “But it worked out great, he was absolutely perfect here.”
Keeping It Simple
Kirstin Glover had very specific—and very simple—instructions headed into the jump-off for the $5,000 NAL Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Finals.
“[Evan Collucio] 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 faster than Kelsey Thatcher and Esquilino Bay to earn the blue ribbon.
Steve Stephens’ first round course found plenty of victims, with a tough four-stride to triple combination causing three eliminations alone.
“In the first round I just wanted to be smooth,” she said. “I was a little worried about getting up the four-stride to the triple. I wanted to make sure I came out of the turn strong so I had it coming in.”
This win comes on the heels of a quieter season for Glover. She’s spent focusing on improving her own riding with her home trainer Teddi Ismond.
“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, competing through preliminary and qualifying for the FEI North American Young Riders Championships. 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 up with 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.”
A Smart Change In Plan
Katherine Edgell spent plenty of time coming up with a careful jump-off plan before the $10,000 North American League Adult Amateur Jumper Finals, but when it came her turn to attempt the shorted course, she nixed the whole thing.
“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, Mendhon, N.J.
The conservative approach paid off, and Edgell and Miss Kitty rode away with the top check. Pasific Sun and Sarah Kirson contributed a double-clear performance to take second, with Mary Loeber and Playboy ticking a single rail in the shortened course to take third.
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 Mendhon, N.J, home, but she 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 amateur jumper classes at Capital Challenge (Md.)—Edgell has no plans to point the horse at 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.”
In fact Edgell considered her 11-year-old mare so exceptional that she bred her to Argentinus via in vitro fertilization, and the filly—who already takes after her mother—lives down in Florida.
The Big Finish
The final event at the Penn National, the $75,000 Budweiser Grand Prix Penn de National CSI-W, kicks off this evening, with 30 entries scheduled to contest the class. Check back for results, photos and interviews later this evening.