Lexington, Ky.–Nov. 1
Many of us can remember a time when all we could think about is the next opportunity to sit on a horse. It’s before our minds become cluttered with thoughts of getting just the right canter and “Was that distance just a little too tight?” and “Did he lean to the left in the air?” And our face shows the utter joy we feel at just being so lucky to sit on the back of a magnificent animal.
This is the way Amanda Steege feels every time she sits on Lafitte De Muze.
“I was joking with some friends of mine that when I ride around on him even when I’m just hacking I have that smiley face with the heart [eyes] emoji,” she said. “I’m that emoji.”
And to anyone who’s watched the 8-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Darco—Everlynchin De La Pomme) it’s easy to see why. He’s got a beautiful way of going with an explosive jump, and he got to show that off in tonight’s $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic. With a two-round score of 175, Steege and Lafitte De Muze took the top spot over Scott Stewart and Private Life (173.5). Maria Rasmussen finished in third on Worthy (172.5).
Thirty horse-and-rider pairs qualified out of the divisions held at 3’6″ and over in the feature class on Friday evening. Modeled after the Peter Wetherill WCHR Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, the class has juniors, professionals and amateurs competing on equal footing at heights of 3’6″, 3’9″ and 4′ in a classic and a handy round.
The handy round garnered a lot of discussion, as course designer Bobby Murphy set four single oxers and gave riders the option to pick which two they wanted to hand gallop.
“I think all of us as riders talked a lot and went back and forth about which two jumps to hand gallop,” said Steege. “That was interesting. I’ve never had a course like that for a class like this where they gave us the option of picking—I don’t think I’ve ever had a handy where I had to hand gallop two jumps, and certainly not of my own choosing. So we had a lot of discussion, my team and I, about which jumps would be the best to hand gallop, and I ended up picking fences 5 and 8 and decided that if I was going to had gallop 8, it was important to go around fence 1 in order to get a good gallop there. So my plan was to go in there and do the best round that I could and show off as much as possible and see where everything fell in the end.
“I was happy with my hand gallop jumps,” she continued. “My boyfriend of 15 years, Tim Delovich, was joking with me. He’s never seen me go that fast on any horse ever, including when I was being run away with.”
Stewart agreed that picking places to gallop seemed to be the main question, so he prioritized that over doing some tighter turns.
“Lucador [who was fourth] is a little more temperamental than Private Life, so I can only push him so much,” said Stewart. “So I think I did the same hand gallop jumps as Amanda. I was hoping to be able to hand gallop to fence 1, but I don’t think the rest of the course would have worked out for him, so I sort of just went with him. He let me actually gallop more than I thought I could at the ones I did do, so really happy with him. Private Life, I didn’t get to see Amanda go; I heard she had good scores, so I knew I’d just have to go for it, and I was really happy with him.”
While Steege and Stewart finished in the top three in last year’s inaugural class (Stewart won on Lucador and Steege was third with Zara), it was Rasmussen’s first time competing in this class. Her mount, Worthy, an 8-year-old Holsteiner by Cannavaros, qualified out of the 3’6″ greens, and she’s preparing him to become a junior hunter mount for Sydney Hamel since they purchased him in June.
“I had a lot of fun,” Rasmussen said. “My strategy was to just go and see how it felt. I was going to hand gallop jump 1 because I knew that would make the judges sit up and watch because my horse would get there and jump high, and then I turned at the top of the ring and started galloping to jump 2, and I just kind of kept going, and I galloped jump 5, and I was like OK now it’s time to slow down. It was just fun. He had a great time, and I had a great time.
“You have a little bit more camaraderie in these classes, so it’s fun to watch everybody go and have the excitement of everybody trying to be quick and handy and jump well and clean, and it’s a little bit more excitement and fun than anything else,” she continued.
Don’t miss all the Chronicle’s online coverage, with behind-the-scenes stories, lovely photos and more! Follow the Chronicle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @Chronofhorse and check out the Nov. 18 issue of the magazine full analysis of the competition.