Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

Special Ed Soars To The Win At USGPL Finals

Henselwood and Special Ed win their second consecutive USGPL Invitational Grand Prix.

If traveling around the world took its toll on some Olympic horses, Special Ed was not one of them. He blazed around the $100,000 USGPL Invitational Grand Prix at HITS Culpeper, posting two clear rounds for a repeat win with Jill Henselwood.
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Henselwood and Special Ed win their second consecutive USGPL Invitational Grand Prix.

If traveling around the world took its toll on some Olympic horses, Special Ed was not one of them. He blazed around the $100,000 USGPL Invitational Grand Prix at HITS Culpeper, posting two clear rounds for a repeat win with Jill Henselwood.

Some of the best riders in the East vied for the top check, Sept. 28 in Culpeper, Va., after qualifying throughout the year. The field of 26 competed in reverse order of the USGPL standings over a course designed by Olaf Petersen.

“[Olaf] builds beautiful courses that don’t go against the horse—the questions are for the riders. I enjoy solving them,” said Henselwood, a member of Canada’s silver-medal Olympic team. “I’ve jumped all over the world the past two years, and he’s as good as you find. To have him here is such an education for everybody.”

The course knocked many top contenders out of the ribbons. The jump-off, in particular, was long and galloping and introduced a few new fences. It started over a lofty oxer by the judges that caused trouble all afternoon and finished with a long gallop to the precarious final vertical.

Second of 10 to compete in the jump-off, Henselwood and Special Ed barely held onto the lead with their time of 45.35 seconds. Tracy Magness, Baltimore, Md., finished in the second slot with a clear round and a time of 45.93.

“I left the door open a little because I was early in the jump-off,” said Henselwood. “I went around some stuff on the way to the triple bar. That’s where I could’ve been caught if other people shaved off the track.”

Michelle Spadone, Patty Stovel and Robin Sweely also finished double clear but couldn’t catch Henselwood. Derek Petersen claimed the fastest time of 43.49 aboard Jordan Coyne’s Lazaro, but 4 faults at the skinny put him in sixth place.

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Tracy Fenney, of Flower Mound, Texas, won more than $100,000 competing in HITS grand prix classes this year and was favored for the win with MTM Centano but settled for seventh after dropping a rail at the last fence.

Building A Partnership

Henselwood, 45, considered the finals a good way to put the fun back into jumping for “Eddie” after a grueling tour of international competition. The Olympic Games, in particular, centered around jumping clear, while Eddie’s favorite part of classes are the jump-offs.

Henselwood knew that her horse loved Culpeper, so they made the 11-hour drive from her Juniper Farms in Oxford Mills, Ont., specifically for the finals.

“I’m so fortunate to have a horse as fast as he is and who loves the sport like he does. He’s a consummate athlete,” she said.

USGPL Finals Tidbits

•    Peter Pletcher rode to the win in the $10,000 Pre-Green Hunter Classic aboard Eva Bisso and Far Niente Equine LLC’s Portofino. The classic was held in the grand prix ring over a course of long, galloping lines and a combination of hunter and jumper fences. Bisso’s 6-year-old Hanoverian gelding by All The Gold took the top honors with scores of 84 and 86.

•    Laura Bowery, Southampton, N.Y., took home the blue in the $25,000 Devoucoux Wild Card Grand Prix with J. Dimenna and Equuleus Farms’ Indy Star II. Posting a double-clear performance and a time of 41.54 seconds, Bowery and Indy Star topped the field of 26 competitors, many of whom competed in Sunday’s USGPL Finals.

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•    The Shalano Style Of Riding Award, presented to the junior jumper rider who best exemplified the American style of equitation and the respectful, workmanlike manner of a true sportsman, was awarded to Kylie Wright of Sparks, Md. Wright trains with Evan Coluccio and competed in the high junior jumpers with her horse, Charlie Brown.

Henselwood and Eddie picked up Olympic team silver and won the Pan American Games individual gold in 2007, but the 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Argentinus—Grannus mare) didn’t go through the normal channels to achieve show jumping stardom. He came to Henselwood almost seven years ago as a failed dressage horse with a lot of spook.

“He’s lovely to ride, but he doesn’t miss a trick. If you threw a coin on the sand and it glinted while you cantered by, he would move off that coin 100 percent of the time. He never misses anything,” said Henselwood. “If there’s a slack in the reins, he’ll move off the flowers, standards, everything. He’s unusually clever.”

Eddie’s keen eye and lightning-fast speed transformed him into a winner in the grand prix ring, but not without a lot of work and trust, or as Henselwood described it, “special education.”

“It took a lot of time to build the partnership and the confidence,” said Henselwood. “[Eddie] is a good, kind horse with a huge heart, and he wants to do everything right. It’s just a matter of walking him through the steps so he’s sure of what he’s doing. Competence is confidence—it’s the one thing I always go back to with him.”

Ultimately, what gives Henselwood an edge over her competitors is her horse’s speed. Where some riders have to slow down and balance to maintain a clear round, she can keep galloping.

“My horse is just fast,” she said. “All you have to do is get the track right, and you can keep going. He watches like  radar and measures the jump really well.”

After her victory gallop, Henselwood was all smiles. She felt like she achieved her goal of making sure that Eddie was still having fun. Although, she admitted, the winning paycheck wasn’t so bad either.

“To have a horse as gifted as him is a bit of a fairy tale. It’s like a Disney story,” she said.

Alexandra Beckstett

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