Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024

Rockford Romps To The Win At Oaks Blenheim Spring Tournament

A lost shoe didn’t slow him down in the final West Coast World Cup qualifier with Keri Potter.

When Rockford I threw a shoe at the second fence in the jump-off of the final West Coast League World Cup qualifier, Keri Potter saw her chances to compete at the FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, start to slip away.
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A lost shoe didn’t slow him down in the final West Coast World Cup qualifier with Keri Potter.

When Rockford I threw a shoe at the second fence in the jump-off of the final West Coast League World Cup qualifier, Keri Potter saw her chances to compete at the FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, start to slip away.

But the gutsy Rockford dug in, oblivious to any problem, to clock the fastest time of the evening and capture the $50,000 Orange County Register CSI-W on March 29 during the Oaks Blenheim Spring Tournament in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

The victory secured the pair a ticket to Gothenburg.

The red ribbon went to New Zealander Guy Thomas aboard Carino, who finished right on Potter’s heels, for Equinity LLC.

Richard Spooner picked up third and fourth, respectively, with Cristallo and Ace, while Mandy Porter topped the four-faulters aboard Summer for fifth.

Course designer Leopoldo Palacios correctly predicted that competitors would run into trouble negotiating fences 11, 12 and 13—an airy vertical, to a 1.60-meter plank fence to a wide oxer, set on an
S-curve.

“Riders have to have the ability to handle all kinds of problems on this course, and they have to show a different kind of stride here,” said Palacios of the line. “They have to plan how many strides they do and how they ride each fence very carefully.”

Sure enough, the final three fences claimed plenty of victims in the first round and tripped up Spooner with both his mounts in the jump-off.

Spooner and Cristallo, the first of four pairs to return, ran up the clock through that line, logging a clean but uncharacteristically conservative trip over the shortened course. 

“I was trying to be a little too careful making six strides to the [planks], which slowed me down by at least a second,” said Spooner, clearly disappointed by his mistake. “I should have done five rather than six strides to the last fence—I knew better.”

And a few rounds later, when Ace nicked a rail over the tricky fence 11, Spooner opted to pull up, already resigned to fourth place.

Cristallo’s beatable time left the door open for Potter, who found the shorter track to stop the timers more than a second faster than Spooner. Thomas turned on the afterburners aboard Carino, but the plucky pair couldn’t quite catch Rockford and Porter.

The show farrier hustled to tack on Rockford’s shoe, finishing just in time for the bay gelding to lead the victory gallop.

When Rockford (Robin Z—Olivia NJ) showed up as a sale horse at the stable where Potter rode three years ago, he was passed along from rider to rider, and no one really clicked with him.

“The first course we did I liked one fence out of all of them,” recalled Potter shaking her head. “The second course we did I liked two fences, and things just kept getting better. I bought him, and over the years we’ve created this great bond.”

But Potter, Del Mar, Calif., admitted that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “He has a very cheeky personality—he threw me off a few times in [HITS] Thermal,” she said with a smile. “My personality can be a little too nice, so I’ve really had to toughen up to keep us both sharp. He makes me stay on my game.”

Solidifying The Standings

The top three U.S. riders in the West Coast League of the World Cup standings will join the top seven from the East Coast League at the FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final in Gothenburg, April 23-27.

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Rich Fellers, Wilsonville, Ore., sat out the last qualifier after an outstanding season aboard Flexible left him with a comfortable lead atop the standings, guaranteeing him a trip across the pond.

With her win, Potter moved up in the standings to finish tied for third with Canadian Chris Pratt, behind Fellers and New Zealander Thomas.

Porter’s fifth-placed finish in the class tied her with Will Simpson for fifth in the standings (third-ranked U.S. rider). Simpson, named to the 2008 Olympic short list (see March 21, p. 8), will opt out of the World Cup Final to prep his mount, Carlsson vom Dach, for the upcoming European Tour, so Porter and Summer will join other top riders in Sweden.

“We didn’t hear about the final points until [the next day], so I didn’t know right away that I was going,” said Porter. “Qualifying was definitely one of my goals for the year. I spent seven years in Europe riding and competing, but I haven’t been back to compete since 1999, so I’m very excited.”

A Newsworthy Performance

With 2 1⁄2 years of catch riding experience, 11-year-old Tara Spencer has sat on a lot of ponies. But at the Oaks Blenheim Spring Tournament, March 26-30, in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Spencer finally had the opportunity to show a mount she’d been dreaming of riding for years. When owner Kara Chad sat out the show, Spencer filled in aboard Newsworthy, winning the large pony hunter championship aboard the Welsh gelding.

“I’ve wanted to ride ‘Cheers’ since Olivia Esse had him [in 2005],” said Spencer. “When I found out I would get the chance at the Oaks, I started counting down the days.”

Spencer dominated the pony divisions. She also earned the reserve championship in the larges for Katie Dawson with A Day At The Beach, and she won the small/medium pony championship on West End Stables’ Tuscany. Plus, she took the top three slots in the pony hunter classic with Katie Dinan’s Keep Dreamin’, Tuscany and Newsworthy.

A precocious rider, Spencer started daily lessons at 4 years old under the guidance of Mark Watring, learning mostly on green mounts. Before long she was a fixture at the pony ring in-gate, waiting to see if anyone needed an extra set of legs to jog or hack a pony.

Spencer, Westlake Village, Calif., has a large pony of her own, Storytime, who competes in the regular and green pony hunter divisions, but she usually spends her weekends filling in for other riders.

“Tara can figure out the right buttons to push to get the most out of her horses,” said trainer Jenny Brown. “She works hard and can incorporate what we practice on any mount. She’s a very positive and encouraging rider, and the ponies respond well to her.”

Brown isn’t the only one who noticed. Spencer’s natural rapport with her mounts prompted trainers from across the West Coast to recruit her to fill in aboard their smallest mounts. And this winter she traveled to the East Coast to pilot ponies for Bibby Farmer Hill and Don Stewart Jr. for two weeks during the HITS Ocala (Fla.) circuit, where she earned three tricolors aboard Hill’s Tuxedo Twist and Ashley Burke’s Land’s End Lady Slipper.

Back in California at HITS Thermal, Spencer was named best child rider on a pony three weeks straight, and she picked up tricolors on six different ponies.

This year alone she’s picked up catch rides for Archie Cox, Peter Pletcher, Micaela Kennedy, John French, Sahib Bhullar, Randy Henry, Ilan Ferder, Michael Dennehy and Alicia Saxton, among others.

Last year, Spencer won the Los Angeles Hunter Jumper Association Pony Medal Final, and going forward Spencer hopes to spend more time in the equitation ring.
Her committed parents, Linda and Peter Spencer, help arrange her busy schedule.

“I let Tara do as much as she wants to do, and Peter and I just hold on for the ride,” said Linda. “I don’t push her, but I don’t want to hold her back either. When I was younger I was asked to be on the Olympic synchronized swimming team, but my mother wouldn’t let me because she didn’t want to drive to the team practices because they were too far away. So as much as Tara wants to do, we’ll be there with her. If she starts to get a little overwhelmed, we take a step back and focus on schoolwork.”

But as of yet, Tara shows no signs tiring of her horsey lifestyle. After a long day schooling green ponies and drilling her equitation, Tara’s favorite place to relax is in a western saddle aboard one of her mother’s barrel racing horses.

Porter and Wild Turkey Farm’s Belgian Warmblood mare finished 21st at last year’s World Cup Final in Las Vegas, Nev.

“She’s a lot easier to ride when there’s a crowd, because she can be a little bit on the lazy side,” said Porter, San Diego, Calif. “I actually have an advantage when there’s more going on.”

Cristallo’s third-placed finish in the final qualifying class left Spooner seventh in the standings, just out of contention for the Final.

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“We did a lot of showing with Cristallo and Ace last year in Europe, and Cristallo was very, very good,” said Spooner. “I applied for [Olympic] pre-selection. I didn’t want to go to Florida [for the Olympic Selection Trials].”

But the Olympic selectors didn’t award Spooner the bye he hoped to acquire. So, with no major championship looming on the horizon, Spooner will head to Europe over the coming weeks to try his luck on the other side of the pond.

Rising To The Occasion

Stepping into the arena to walk the course before the $10,000 ASG Software Solutions USHJA International  Hunter Derby on March 28, even the most seasoned riders’ hearts began to beat a little faster. Many riders had contested hunter derbies earlier in the season, but no one had ever ridden a course quite like that which Scott Starnes set at the Oaks Blenheim Spring Tournament.

“Jenny [Karazissis] and I turned to each other while we were walking the course and said, ‘I hope we don’t go off course!’ ” said Shelby Wakeman.

Unlike the outdoor galloping courses set on the spacious grand prix ring at HITS Thermal (Calf.), riders at Oaks Blenheim faced a covered indoor arena packed with natural jumps, complete with plenty of optional higher fences, bolder lines and tougher turns to show off—or trip up.

“I was more nervous than I’ve been in a long time,” admitted Keri Kampsen. “I could only watch the first one go—I watched the first couple jumps then I had to walk away.”

In the end, Kampsen’s strong ride propelled On Top to the blue, edging out Wakeman catch-riding Ashley Pryde’s Truly. Katie Taylor put in two solid trips to finish third aboard Stahl Equestrian Farms’ Cinico.
After settling for fifth at her first derby during the Thermal series, Kampsen set off to ride a little harder this time around.

“I learned at Thermal that in order to win you have to go inside, you have to jump the bigger jumps and you have to carry some pace,” she said. “This was a very different environment than Thermal, being inside, but it worked out great.”

With plenty of miles in the hunter ring in the second year greens with Kampsen and the equitation ring with owner Nicoletta von Heidegger, it’s no wonder that On Top (Kojak—Pabule) showed the style and rideability necessary to take home the victory. Kampsen kept up a blazing pace to each of the fences, seamlessly finessing Monarch International’s Dutch Warmblood gelding through the tightest turns she could find and choosing all of the taller option fences.

Two teams of judges—Arthur Hawkins and John Roper at position No. 1 and Mary Cohen and George Schneider across the ring at position No. 2—presided over the 23-horse class, while Dick Carvin and Fred Bauer provided live analysis during the competition.

Many competitors found it difficult to strike up and maintain a good gallop in the covered arena, but the boldest rides, even those with minor mistakes, topped the quieter trips, especially in the second round.
After Bauer and Carvin declared the first pair in the handy round—Ali Leopold aboard Norah Jones—too conservative, Jenny Karazissis positively attacked the course with Palmar, demonstrating the kind of brilliance the judges rewarded. She found every inside track on course off a strong gallop, earning 6 bonus points from both teams of judges to move from 11th up to fourth.

An equally inspiring performance by Karazissis on Aragon moved the pair from eighth up to fifth. Likewise, Taylor managed to find the most efficient route aboard the well-broke Cinico in the second round without sacrificing her hunting pace, moving her up from seventh to third after the second round.

Wakeman led for much of the first round aboard Pryde’s second entry, Wesley, until Erin Duffy put in a flawless round aboard Chelsea Wilkinson’s scopey first year horse, Rumba.

“Just as I was entering the ring with Truly, they announced Erin’s [Duffy] scores,” recalled Wakeman. “Fred said, ‘Shelby just got knocked out of the lead; she’s going to have to work hard to get it back.’ I was thinking, ‘Thanks a lot, Fred.’ ”

But Wakeman held her nerves in check. A smooth, forward ride in the handy moved Truly up to second, but her second mount, Wesley, fell to seventh after the chestnut didn’t get his eye on the last fence.

Duffy and Rumba returned to the second round on top, but after a tight turn they came into a broken line below the pace and Duffy had to dig in her spurs to press Rumba out. Rumba kicked up his heels in protest, dropping the pair down to sixth. 

Kampsen isn’t aiming On Top specifically for the derbies, but with von Heidegger on vacation in Hawaii, Kampsen took the opportunity to keep On Top tuned up for the equitation ring, a task she was more than happy to take on.

“The family is so supportive and fantastic,” said Kampsen, Burbank, Calif. “They gave me my first job out of college, and now they’ve helped me and Joe Thorpe get our new business, Sovereign Place, off the ground.”

Mollie Bailey

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