Upper Marlboro, Md.—Oct. 8
When Scott Stewart read the instructions for how to ride Nabisco, he felt a bit of apprehension. In the World Championship Hunter Rider Pro Final at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, the top four riders compete head-to-head on completely unfamiliar horses, and Nabisco was the opposite of Stewart’s normal rides.
“Actually, it made me a little nervous because the instructions to ride him were a little bit the opposite way I ride, and I didn’t know if I could do it,” Stewart said. “And I just really listened to them on how to ride him, and it really worked. But I was actually quite nervous for that round.”
“Biscuit,” an 8-year-old Zangersheide gelding, is owned by Michigan-based amateur Elise Iafrate, who competed him in the amateur-owner hunter, 36 and over, division at Capital Challenge.
“He’s a big-strided horse, and he was a little bit tired. He was doing the amateurs as well [this week] I believe,” Stewart said. “He was probably a bit lazy, but he’s very nice and has a huge stride. You had to give him a little bit of room at the jump and not completely let go of his mouth, which most of the time I’m trying to let go. It was a different feel for me.”
Despite his hesitation, Stewart took home his seventh title out of 21 appearances in the class—the most of any rider.
Riders qualified for the Pro Final based on cumulative points earned at WCHR horse shows throughout the year. The format has changed over the years, and in its current iteration, the competitors bring forward their scores from Wednesday night’s WCHR Pro Challenge. All six riders completed a handy round on a horse of their choosing, and the top four based on the two-round score advance to the clean-slate “play-off” rounds. In the final four, each rider takes a turn on four donated horses, and the rider with the highest total score takes home the victory.
For much of the evening, it looked as though WCHR Pro Challenge winner John French would earn the top spot. After earning a 95 on Wednesday with Babylon, he tacked up Ocean Road for the handy round and kept it conservative for an 87 and a 182 total to have him solidly in the top spot heading into the play-off.
“He was really good,” French said of Ocean Road. “I don’t normally ride him; he does the junior hunters. I’ve shown him once or twice in a class before, so it was nice of [the Marnell family] to give me the opportunity to ride tonight because my only other horse [Babylon], I didn’t want to keep riding him around any more rounds. I thought I should quit while I was ahead.”
French is known for his catch-riding skills and he showed them off by holding the lead after the third rotation with Stewart a point behind. French was the first in for the final round and earned his lowest score of the evening, so he had to wait and see if it was enough to pull out the win.
Stewart was the last in aboard Nabisco, but his reservations proved unfounded. He earned a 93.33—his highest of the evening—for a total of 368.99 to French’s 363.66 to take the win.
When asked what it meant to win his seventh title in 21 appearances, Stewart joked, “It means I’m pretty old.
“It also means I’m really lucky and fortunate to be doing this at this level and competing against these great riders and having nice horses to show, so I’m very grateful for that,” he continued.
One of those is Catch Me, the horse Stewart rode in both the Challenge class and the handy. Stewart has a long history of success with Gochman Sport Horse LLC’s 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Casiro I—Wonne I) in the WCHR classes, but he doesn’t get to show “Snoopy” all that often anymore, as he has a regular job showing in the junior hunters with Mimi Gochman.
“He’s a great horse to ride,” Stewart said. “He hasn’t really done that many types of handies before, so I was really pleased. It was really one of the funnest rounds I’ve had, and he was great. But the Gochmans let me use him here because Mimi’s at the [Platinum Peformance USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final—East (New Jersey)], so it was a good prep to get him into the ring as well before [the Pennsylvania National] next week. He’s a phenomenal horse, so I appreciate having him.”
Though Jimmy Torano is well-known on the circuit, this was his first time competing in the class, and he finished in third. Tori Colvin was fourth, and Amanda Steege and Geoffrey Hesslink were fifth and sixth respectively, but they did not compete in the final four.
Get full results here.
Want more Capital Challenge? You can get loads more news, analysis and photos in the Nov. 8 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine. What are you missing if you don’t subscribe?