He easily tackles jumping from ring to ring for an impressive victory.
In the old western movies there always seemed to be a posse that went out to catch some black-hatted villains. So it was only fitting that in the “wilds” of Parker, Colo., a horse named Posse should chase down the victory in The Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby.
With Colleen Acosta on board, Posse led the charge at the Colorado Horse Park during the Colorado Summer Classic Horse Show, held July 15-19.
The pair stood third after the first round, with trainer Matt Cyphert offering his words of wisdom to Acosta prior to the start of the class.
“The first round was a nice, very straightforward hunter class, and there wasn’t a lot to talk about,” he said. “I told her, ‘Just go in there and be brilliant, find the jumps well.’ ”
It was the second, handy phase that had Cyphert and other trainers and riders concerned. The final fence was an in-and-out, requiring horses to jump out of the main hunter ring over the rail, take one stride in the aisle, and jump into the second hunter ring. This challenge created considerable problems for some among the top 15.
With his win in the handy phase, Posse took the victory, and Rex The Wonder Horse, with rider Kris Killam, moved up from fifth for second in the handy and overall.
“The handy was a little scary,” Cyphert admitted. “I think most of the riders were a little intimidated by the in-and-out at the end of the course.”
This sort of challenge, something horses and riders aren’t going to see during the week in the regular hunter divisions, is exactly what the USHJA leaders were looking for when they developed the derby concept.
Course designers are expected to show creativity and build tracks that challenge horses and riders to solve the kinds of problems they might encounter when actually riding to hounds. Cyphert said that course designer Scott Starnes had done it exactly right in Parker.
“Scott did a great job, giving plenty of opportunities to show your horse off,” he noted.
Acosta was also one of those worried about that in-and-out, but she had trust in her horse. “I knew that he was going to be there, and I just needed to be there for him,” she said.
Her approach was the key. “I galloped a little bit, and then I held and supported him, gave him a little room, and then kept my leg on in the inside, stayed up off his neck,” she explained.
She confessed to being quite relieved when they got to the other side. “I was excited, too,” she said with a grin, knowing she’d pulled it off.
The derbies always feature unique ring décor, and Parker was no exception. Flora Baptiston, who was responsible for jump decorations at last year’s Olympic Games in Hong Kong, set up an old-fashioned pump and barrel in the middle of the handy course. A small electric pump kept a steady stream of water flowing from the tap. Riders had to stop at the pump, fill a cup, and then replace the cup on the pump handle.
The riders could also show a little creativity here. It was a hot evening, and Charlie Dennehy, riding Jennifer Singer’s Benchmark, removed his helmet and poured the water over his head. Acosta’s variation was to lean down and offer the cup to Posse. The gelding did turn his head and sniff at the cup but declined to drink.
Although she didn’t practice having Posse drink out of a cup before the class, she did prep him differently for the big class than she would prior to his usual amateur classes.
“He did a couple of classes during the week preparing for the derby,” she said. “We also did one jumper class.”
Getting into the jumper ring helped Posse prepare for the differences he’d encounter during the derby. “In the adult hunters it’s straightforward, just straight lines,” said Acosta. “[In the jumpers] there’s lots of turning, different angles. It gets him paying attention.”
Owner Chris Guthrie, Austin, Texas, was thrilled with her horse’s derby win. “Posse is just a fabulous horse,” she said.
She purchased Posse in 2005 at the urging of Cyphert.
“We bought Posse from Terry Brown after the Gulfport [Miss.] winter circuit,” said Cyphert, who operates Woodhill Farm in Argyle, Texas. “He was leading the [national rankings] then. We campaigned him, and he ended up being [U.S. Equestrian Federation] horse of the year in the first year green division.”
Cyphert urged Guthrie to buy Posse because of a certain set of qualities the 15.2-hand Westphalian gelding possessed. “When you’re trying to buy a horse for an amateur, they need to have a good brain, they need to be kind, have enough scope to deal with some mistakes and be brave,” said Cyphert. “And he is all that.”
Guthrie had been riding all of her life and has been through a slew of trainers before she found Cyphert. “I had switched every two years,” she said. But that pattern came to an abrupt halt when she moved to Cyphert’s barn 10 years ago. “These guys are forever. I’m so proud of being with them. And they found Posse for me. I feel like crying. He’s just a wonderful horse, and they’re wonderful trainers.”
Likewise, Acosta began working for Cyphert about five years ago, and said she feels she’s finally found the job of her dreams.
“I get a lot of really good miles on nice horses,” she said, noting that competing in the hunter derbies is a great opportunity. “It’s a privilege to have Posse to show. He’s a very sweet, kind horse, and very brave.”
Acosta never had any doubts about what she wanted to do with her life.
“I grew up on a little farm in Florida, just riding my pony in the back yard,” she said. “Ever since my little tiny pony, I knew that horses were my passion.”
Acosta went straight from high school into the professional horse world, and she’s enjoyed the ride.
“I’ve been very privileged to have a lot of successful, educated trainers help me,” she said. “You have ups and downs. I think even now, you have ups and downs. It’s a hard road, a lot of work, a lot of determination, but just keep at it and it’ll pay off in the end.”