Sunday, Jun. 9, 2024

Soft Spoken Multi-Tasks His Way To The Win In The Thunderbird Hunter Derby

Junior rider Jocelyn Evans’ horse can do it all and win.

Soft Spoken is a jack-of-all-trades, and at the Thunderbird WCHR Summer Classic, Aug. 12-16, he was also the master of one: the $10,000 The Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby.

Jocelyn Evans’ well-rounded gelding took time out from a busy career as a junior hunter, equitation horse and junior jumper, to top the class in Langley, B.C.

“He’s my only one, and he does it all,” Evans said.

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Junior rider Jocelyn Evans’ horse can do it all and win.

Soft Spoken is a jack-of-all-trades, and at the Thunderbird WCHR Summer Classic, Aug. 12-16, he was also the master of one: the $10,000 The Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby.

Jocelyn Evans’ well-rounded gelding took time out from a busy career as a junior hunter, equitation horse and junior jumper, to top the class in Langley, B.C.

“He’s my only one, and he does it all,” Evans said.

Evans, 14, and the lanky bay had to go first in Round 1 of the class, held on the rolling grass field and full of challenging natural obstacles. Last year, they’d been just out of the ribbons in the Thunderbird derby in their first year at 3’6″. But Evans didn’t let her nerves get the best of her.

“It rode really smoothly,” she said. “I just galloped around, and everything came up nicely.”

Their first-round scores put them in the lead, which they held throughout the class.

The handy round gave riders plenty of opportunities to show off their horses’ boldness over an open, galloping track. The course included a natural hedge jump, a two-stride brush in-and-out, a trot jump and a bank. Riders also chose between the options of galloping through the grob and negotiating a set of canter rails.

“The canter rails were really interesting, and I didn’t see anyone do them,” Evans said.

To conclude the course, riders had to halt between two bushes, dismount and lead their horse over a small jump. That test was the only one that had Evans worried.

“My horse is great when you’re in the ring and going, but he gets a little nervous and antsy when you’re standing at the gate,” she said. “He didn’t really like it when I got off in the ring. He didn’t actually circle around me, but he was moving. After I got him started jogging toward the little fence, he was good.”

The same week of the derby, Evans and Soft Spoken were junior hunter, 15 and under, champions and won the ASPCA Maclay and Pessoa/USEF Medal classes. They also placed second in the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search. The next week, they made their debut in the low junior jumper division.

You Never Know

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Evans bought Soft Spoken, or “Nick,” three years ago. “When I got him, he was a project because I’d sold my pony,” she said of the 10-year-old gelding. “We thought he’d be an equitation horse, and he turned out to be great at everything.”

“We got him to be an equitation horse and possibly a jumper,” explained Denise Youell, who has trained Evans for nine years. “We didn’t really expect him to turn out to be as nice of a hunter as he has been. You just never know!”

Evans admitted Nick isn’t the flashiest mover, but his jumping ability makes up for any lack of flair on the flat.

“He’s game for anything,” she said. “Denise and I have worked on getting him to be able to adjust from going forward and having a big, flowing stride and galloping in the jumper ring, to just loping along and being calm in the hunter ring. He can be packaged really easily in the equitation. He’s the most collectable horse—he’s tons of fun.”

Nick had limited show experience when Evans started riding him in the summer of 2006, and she was just moving up from a medium pony.

“I’d mostly done ponies before, so he brought me up to the higher levels,” she said. “And I had to train him a lot, because when we got him he was scared of everything, especially at the in-gate. He’s gotten a lot better, and he can do everything calmly. Denise and I worked hard on him, so it’s great that he turned out so special.”

“He’s taught her a ton, especially about patience, because he’s very sensitive,” Youell said. “He’s the kind of horse you can have confidence in—you know you’re going to get from one side of the jump to the other no matter what you do.”

Nick lives at Youell’s barn but occasionally gets to spend a few days at the Evans’ farm in Kirkland, Wash., for some rest, relaxation and grass. Evans’ mother, Mary Rouche-Evans, is an FEI-level dressage rider, and her older sister Hannah, 16, shows in the jumpers and equitation.

“We kind of got the gene from Mom,” Evans said. “We always had ponies at our house growing up. We always rode bareback in the back yard and played around.”

“Their mom is helpful with some insight from her dressage perspective, and I have some dressage and eventing background,” Youell said. “They have a pretty well-rounded foundation because they have exposure to a bunch of different ideas.”

Hannah, who also rode in the Thunderbird derby, and Jocelyn plan to travel to California for the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-West, where Nick will put on his equitation horse persona. Jocelyn looks forward to finding out just how good Nick is.

“We thought he’d be able to do the 1.20-meter classes pretty well, but not higher,” she recalled. “But now we’re thinking that he could do the 1.30-meter classes, which would be really fun.”

Cheryl Keith and Wallabee finished second behind Jocelyn and Nick in the Thunderbird hunter derby, and they can also go toe-to-toe with the winning pair in the multi-tasking department. Keith, who also rode Wallabee in the regular working hunter division, and the horse showed in the adult amateur jumper division with owner Jolene Benham.

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Just Once A Year

Katie Kraft and Maja show in only one hunter class each year, and they make it count. Last year, they were fourth in the Thunderbird hunter derby, but this year they claimed third.

“She’s a 1.40-meter jumper,” Kraft explained. “She’s a really pretty mare, and she jumps with the best knees, so I figured it would be fun. She was great last year, so I wanted to do it again.”

Kraft and Maja, an 11-year-old Danish Warmblood, usually compete in the high amateur-owner division, and they were second and third in high amateur jumper classes at the Thunderbird WCHR Summer Classic. Kraft relished the opportunity to show off Maja’s style in the derby.

“It’s fun with her, because you get to do all the natural jumps,” she said. “It’s a great test. You get to jump some cool jumps you wouldn’t normally see. You have to have a brave horse, and luckily Maja is brave and very consistent. She’s very quiet. She’s competitive, and she has the cutest little knees and she does whatever you tell her to. She’s very willing.”

Maja’s only flaw was a little bit of exuberance after her third-placed finish.

“I got bucked off in the victory gallop!” Kraft said, laughing. “She got excited and was celebrating. It was very out of character for her, but funny.”

Kraft, 20, rides Maja for her trainer, Lynn Macyk of Caledonia Stables. Macyk imported the mare from Ireland last May.

“I’m lucky! Her son already had a whole bunch to ride, so she’s just letting me ride her,” Kraft said. “She’s the nicest, sweetest mare—she’s truly a gem.”

In 2007, Kraft, of Edmonton, Alta., placed seventh in the CET Medal Finals on her own horse, Silken Thomas. She now shows Thomas in the 1.30-meter jumper division.

“Maja has really helped me learn to be better on my own horse,” Kraft said. “I already reached my goal this year, which was to have a clean round in a 1.40-meter class. I’d like to continue to improve on Maja and like to see how far Silken Thomas can go.”

Kraft is starting her fourth year studying psychology at the University of Alberta this fall.

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