“When I was little, I would watch the junior hunter ring and think ‘Wow, it would be so amazing to be like them someday.’ And now it seems like I’m living that dream,” said Caroline Ingalls.
Ingalls is living the dream indeed, riding Small Town to the grand and large junior hunter, 16-17, championships at the USEF Junior Hunter Finals West Coast, held Aug. 11-12 in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
“I’ve always watched Junior Hunter Finals through the years, and it was the first time I got to do it,” Ingalls said of her appearance this year. “I was asked to catch-ride Small Town, and I always thought it would be amazing to be grand champion, but I never really thought it would actually happen.”
Ingalls, 17, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., had ridden Iwasaki and Reilly’s Small Town once before, at the Showpark Ranch And Coast Classic (Calif.) in May, and they’d been champion. But she hadn’t ridden him since.
The flashy chestnut Hanoverian gelding (Espri—Goesta) has been showing this summer with his former owner, Nicoletta Von Heidegger, but Ingalls got the ride for the finals.
“I was really looking forward to it. He has such an even, smooth canter, and he’s really trustworthy. He’s got a fun jump. He’s a great horse—it was an honor to be able to ride him,” Ingalls said.
Ingalls, who trains with Hap Hansen, doesn’t own a junior hunter of her own and is focusing on the equitation ring this year.
“But I’ve been catch-riding all year, and I’ve been able to ride a lot of great horses. I’ve always loved to do the junior hunters, and I was so fortunate to have all these offers to ride,” she said. “I’ve really started to pick up the habit of being able to hop on a horse the day of and go in the show ring and put in solid rounds.”
She has also had the ride on the small junior hunter, Falcao, for Hansen all summer.
“Riding a ton of different horses is such good practice because you get to handle so many different situations. It’s given me a lot of great experience,” she said. “I’m a pretty quiet rider. I’ve ridden some jumpers, and it’s fun, but I just love the hunters. I’ve always had a pretty good eye, and I love being able to go out on the big field, float the reins, and get a big jump.”
That soft, forward ride showed Small Town to his best on the open, grass field at the Blenheim facility. Ingalls and Small Town won the handy class and the classic round to take the two tricolors.
“The field is so big that they can build long, flowing lines, and that makes it fun. The lines were open, and you could get a great stride. There was a long ride to a brush jump, and in the handy we had a bounce of hay bales, which was really tough,” said Ingalls.
Small Town didn’t bat an eye at the interesting challenges in the handy round. “He could care less. He’s a veteran,” Ingalls said with a smile.
Ingalls credited Hansen for her success. “I love his training style because he’s quiet. He never puts a ton of pressure on me,” she said. “I used to be a really timid rider when I was young, but he made riding really fun again.”
This fall will bring new challenges for Ingalls, who is headed to Georgia for her freshman year at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She hopes to earn a spot on their equestrian team and plans to study interior design.
Amber Henter followed the “Go West” call to take the small junior hunter, 16-17, title and the reserve grand championship aboard Ashley Pryde’s Pringle.
Henter, St. Petersburg, Fla., got the call to catch-ride the Oldenburg gelding from California trainer Archie Cox.
“When I found out, I was really excited. I’d never shown on the West Coast, and I knew it’d be a great experience. It was such a great opportunity for me, and doing so well was really just a bonus!” Henter said.
Pringle and Henter took second in the under saddle and in the handy hunter class, then won the classic round.
Since Pringle is one of the top junior hunters in the country, Henter knew she was in for a good ride. “I thought he was one of the nicest horses I’ve ever sat on. He’s so smooth to ride, and he’s so much fun. I had a great time showing him,” Henter said.
Henter rode Pringle the day before the show and jumped a few jumps. Then, they contested the warm-up class before the handy round.
“The first time in the ring, for the warm-up, he was a little bit spooky and hesitant—I think he didn’t really know if he should trust me or not. But by the time we’d gotten in the ring a couple of times, he was comfortable with me and the way I ride, and he was awesome,” she said.
Henter has trained with Christina Schlusemeyer and Bob Braswell of Quiet Hill Farm for five years and rides her own Kudos! in the large junior, 16-17, division, as well as showing in the equitation and high junior jumper divisions.
She’s also become quite a catch-rider, guiding Don Stewart’s Fern Walk to fourth overall in the small junior, 16-17, division at the USEF Junior Hunter Finals East Coast (Aug. 21, p. 30). “It really helps me with my confidence, knowing that I can get on a horse I’ve never seen before and jump around and do well. I really like the experience,” Henter said.
A Pretty Good Hand-Me-Down
Hannah Von Heidegger is making a big splash in her first year of showing over 3’6″, riding Breckenridge to the small junior, 15 and under, championship.
Breckenridge has done his share of winning with Hannah’s older sister, Nicoletta, in the irons. But this winter Nicoletta passed the reins over to Hannah.
“I’d always seen my sister showing him, so I couldn’t wait to ride him. They threw me on him at a show and said, ‘Try him out,’ ” said Hannah.
The lanky bay gelding, known as “Bacon,” and Hannah got along right away, and they’ve won five championships and two reserves in the 12 times they’ve shown this year.
“He tries to do as much as he can for you. Even if you ask for something ridiculous, he’ll take care of you. He’s a great horse to start in the juniors on,” Hannah said.
Hannah, 12, Chatsworth, Calif., rode in the children’s divisions last year, but her pony days aren’t far behind her. She was just 7 when Nicoletta started showing Breckenridge.
“He’s intimidating sometimes because he’s a big horse, and I’m kind of small,” she said. “It’s a different ride and feeling, for sure. I was so used to jumping the tiny jumps, and he has a longer body.
“He knows everything already. He does get a little playful at times, especially after oxers,” she added. “You have to be careful about that. And he doesn’t have the longest stride, so you have to go forward. But he’s so easy.”
Since she’s just starting out in the junior hunter ranks, Hannah was a bit surprised by her junior hunter finals tricolor.
“I was just thinking of it as a fun time to practice on him; I didn’t expect to win anything, so it was exciting,” she said.
They were second in the handy class, fifth in the classic round and eighth in the under saddle.