Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

Takacs And French Relive Fond Memories At Washington


Two old friends share leading riding titles.


Their friendship started more than 22 years ago. He was a young professional and she was a junior. They
met over a horse named Ice Palace, and after a whirl-wind fall tour in 1985 that culminated in a blue ribbon at the Washington International, they eventually went their separate ways.
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Two old friends share leading riding titles.

Their friendship started more than 22 years ago. He was a young professional and she was a junior. They
met over a horse named Ice Palace, and after a whirl-wind fall tour in 1985 that culminated in a blue ribbon at the Washington International, they eventually went their separate ways.

Now, 22 years later, John French and Maria Takacs met again at the Washington International, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Oct. 9-14, and this time they celebrated impressive victories together.

“John is such a good friend. After he earned the leading hunter rider award, he stayed all through my class to cheer me on,” said Takacs. “And I ended up leading amateur rider, so it was really fun.”

Takacs, 39, Rumson, N.J., met French when she was a junior and rode with Gary Kunsman at Four Seasons Farm. French, originally from Maryland, showed horses for Kunsman and got the ride on Takacs’ Ice Palace in the regular working division.

“In 1985 John won the handy hunter stake class at Washington on my horse,” she recalled. “It was his first major win as a pro. He beat Rodney Jenkins and Katie Monahan Prudent. It was really special.”

Over the years, Takacs has enjoyed catching up with French when their paths have crossed, and she’s even kept a photograph from her high school homecoming when she was homecoming queen and French escorted her to the football game (see p. 60).

“John’s such a nice friend,” she said. “It was really special this year at Washington for both of us. The whole experience just brought back great memories.”

Dreams Realized
For Takacs, earning the amateur-owner, 36 and over, championship and grand amateur-owner title aboard Mombo is the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication to riding. She’s qualified for indoors since her junior years, has knocked at the door during her younger amateur years, but had never earned tricolor honors until Mombo came along.

But Takacs wasn’t taking all of the credit.

“I owe it all to my trainers, Jennifer and Rolf Bauersachs,” she said. “I have a family, two small children, and they found me the perfect amateur horse. It’s truly a great team. Rolf finds the horse, and Jenn trains him and rides him in the regular workings.”

Takacs, who spent 12 years working for Morgan Stanley in New York City, is now a stay-at-home-mom for her two children, ages 41⁄2 and 21⁄2. She also relies on her mom, Billie LaReddola, to watch the children during the few long-distance horse shows she attends.

McNeil Goes For Broke At Washington

Virginia McNeil hasn’t let a few broken bones stop her from winning in the show ring.

In the past three years she’s suffered a broken back at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) and a broken ankle at Lake Placid (N.Y.), both of which required extensive rehabilitation and time off from riding.

Determination brought McNeil back to the ring on her horse Flying Dutchman, though, and together they won the $10,000 WIHS Adult
Amateur Jumper Championship under the watchful eye of trainer Carolyn Desfor.

McNeil, Chester Springs, Pa., made it her goal to qualify for the class this year, and going in she knew her horse was on target.

“He felt fantastic; I owe the victory completely to him,” she said. “”He enjoys the sport the way I do—he’s willing to take the extra chance, and I’m willing to take the extra chance.”

Watching the children’s jumpers go before her class gave McNeil an
idea of what she needed to do to win.

A tight rollback in the middle of the course caused problems for many riders, but not McNeil.

“I took the jump before the rollback off to the left to give me room to turn,” she explained. “After that, it was a matter of racing down the last line to the finish.”

The 12 other qualifiers couldn’t match McNeil’s time of 30.35 seconds.

McNeil has owned the Dutch Warmblood, by Indoctro, for three years and considers her partnership with him “a real team.” An avid foxhunter, she tries to separate the two sports, saying, “My trainer usually tells me not to go fast like I do foxhunting, but tonight she said it was OK!”

Desfor added, “I usually tell her she can’t go fast because she has three kids at home, but tonight she went for it.”

Kara Douglas also believed she had an advantage aboard her horse, The Patriot, going into the $10,000 WIHS Adult Amateur Hunter Championship. But it wasn’t his speed.

“He’s a Thoroughbred, and I think it’s easier to make the turns on Thoroughbreds indoors,” she said with a laugh.

The three-judge panel awarded Douglas an 84 in each round, giving her 168 points for the win. Douglas fought her nerves going back to her second round, however.

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“I was glad I was in second place going back,” she said. “I’ve only shown here once before, and that was in 2005 when I was 12th in this class.”

Cheryl Rubenstein rode Riesling to an 85 in the first round and took the lead. She scored a 78 in the second round, though, and dropped to fifth.

Douglas got The Patriot in 2001 after trainer Jack Stedding found him on the track. Douglas was riding with Sandy Ferrell at the time and described the past six years as a “long haul” with the gelding.

Douglas, Freeland, Md., now rides with Mary Lisa Leffler and Patty Foster of Rolling Acres Show Stables in Brookeville, Md.

“He [The Patriot] lives at my house, and my sister, Laura, and I take care of him,” she said. “I trailer him to Mary Lisa’s for lessons.”

Douglas, 23, attends Towson State University in Baltimore (Md.) and usually shows about twice a month. Her sister began riding him as well, showing him for the first time at Vermont this summer.

“He’s great to show now and has a really loveable personality,” she said. “He’s really friendly and will put his head in your lap.”

Beth Johnson

“I’ve been at this a long time,” she said. “Last year I was champion at [the Pennsylvania National], and I was so fortunate. I’ve had this dream since I was a junior rider. I’ve been to Washington so many times and have never won a class. This year I was thinking it could be my year. I’ve worked my whole life for this. It’s so exciting.”

French, Redwood City, Calif., has also worked hard to reach the top of the professional divisions. This year at Washington it was hard to get a jog in front of him as he earned the first year green championship and green conformation reserve championship aboard Stephanie Danhakl’s Scout, won top ribbons on Janie Andrews’ Andiamo in the second years and regular workings and earned the regular working reserve championship aboard Joan Haseltine’s Wesley.

To top off his accomplishments, French and Wesley placed second in the $15,000 High Performance Hunter Classic. Wesley started the year in the pre-green hunter division and ended his year on a much higher note.

“He’s really stepped up to the plate,” said French of the 8-year-old warmblood. “He’s come up the ranks really quickly.”

French drew upon his early experiences foxhunting with Green Spring Valley and Elkridge-Harford and wasn’t fazed by the natural fences and galloping courses of the High Performance Classic. He believes these classes will be great for the sport.

“I think [this class] makes better riders too,” he said. “It’s not people getting on really nice horses and just sitting there. I think it’s a step up. For juniors and for their riding, it’s much better than doing outside, diagonal, outside.”

Wetherill Rises To The Top

After the two rounds of the $15,000 High Performance Hunter Classic at Washington on Oct. 13, French and junior Cortie Wetherill finished with identical scores.

And although French was deemed the winner that day by virtue of the standard tie-breaking formula, after careful review the show officials realized three days later, on Oct. 16, the formula they’d used was incorrect.

Both scores from the judges in position No. 1 should have been used to break the tie, not just the score from Round 1. So, by virtue of his stellar performance in the second handy hunter round, which received a 95 from judges Scott Williamson and Fran Dotoli, Wetherill’s name will now be moved to the top of the class.

“This [change] is great,” said Wetherill smiling.

Wetherill, 17, said he went into the second round intending to throw down the gauntlet aboard his junior hunter, Take Away. They stood third after the first round.

Black Ice Heats Up The President’s Cup

Some spectators may have believed that the barrel racing that took place prior to the $100,000 Gerald R. Ford President’s Cup could have been a prophecy for Jill Henselwood. Taking every risk possible, she turned in the fastest jump-off round for the victory aboard Black Ice.

When asked to describe her blazing jump-off, Henselwood laughed and said, “It was like barrel racing over jumps.”

Henselwood was one of six riders to advance to the jump-off in a field of 23 in the hotly contested World Cup qualifier. The course, designed by Richard Jeffery, provided many difficulties, especially when riders faced the last line, beginning with a liverpool oxer to a double combination and ending with a toe-to-toe oxer.

Even though Henselwood believes the course was fair to the horses, she said, “Richard built more than athletes expected, especially with the back stretch.”

Ken Berkley, the 11th in the order, was the first to ride clear and show the way aboard Carlos Boy. Then the riders began to figure out how to master the final line, with Brianne Goutal riding Onira, Schuyler Riley aboard Cincinnati Kid, Todd Minikus riding Olinda and Karen Cudmore on Southern Pride jumping clear rounds thereafter.

“It was an extreme control test,” Henselwood said. “The course was set so that you must gallop in the beginning and then balance at the end.”

She continued, “It’s typical of modern sport today. Course designers favor a test that is to open the horse and keep the time allowed very short.”

Most riders shaved the turns in the jump-off, but it was Henselwood who rode like she had nothing to lose. “I didn’t leave anything at the turns,” she noted.

The only other horse to come close was Minikus’ Olinda, who was second in 32.37 seconds. Goutal and Onira followed closely behind, third in 32.92 seconds.

Henselwood, Oxford Mills, Ont., bought the Dutch Warmblood gelding (by Indoctro) as a 5-year-old in the Netherlands for owner Stacie Ryan, Ogdensburg, N.Y. Black Ice, now 13, also competes with Ryan in the level 5 and 6 classes.

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Henselwood credited her success on Black Ice and her other mount, Special Ed, to her mentor, Ian Miller. With both horses she’s had more grand prix wins this past year than in her entire career.

“I’ve been keeping my horses rested; if one is showing the other is resting, and that formula has worked all year,” she said.

This marks Henselwood’s first victory at Washington.

“It is a historical competition, one you are very proud to have on your resume,” she said. “This sport takes me to unusual places, and I just want to take momentum into an Olympic berth.”

Beth Johnson

“When I walked the course with [trainer] John Brennan, I decided to do all the inside turns we could,” he said. “It was risky. It could have gone either way. But my horse was really good, and the hand gallop to the last jump sealed it.”

Their scores of 95, 94 and 98 in the handy gave them a two-round total of 178.66.

French chose to ride a less demanding handy round aboard Wesley, but their scores of 86, 91 and 98 were still good enough for a 178.66 and ultimately second place.

Wetherill, a freshman at Rollins College (Fla.), is keeping his life balanced with help from the team at North Run and sports psychologist Margie Sugarman while he finishes his last junior year. He intends to ride during college but will focus on jumpers. For Wetherill, winning the High Performance Classic is a great way to conclude his junior hunter career.
 
“I thought the class was really cool,” he said. “It was a lot different than the typical hunter course. I really liked the snake split-rail fence. The courses were really well done.”

Even though Take Away, 12, an Olden-burg, had never contested a class over such natural obstacles as were used in the Classic, Wetherill was confident in his horse, a veteran junior and regular working hunter.

“He’s a special horse. I can totally trust him,” he said. “You get him to the fence and drop him and he just springs up over the fences. His jump is unbelievable. He’s a lot of fun.”

The Classic attracted nine starters who qualified for the invitational by virtue of their performances in their respective divisions during the week.

French qualified two mounts but chose not to start Scout, his first year green hunter champion, after an offer was made for the horse after he finished showing.
 
Jennifer Alfano, Buffalo, N.Y., who won the inaugural High Performance Hunter Classic, the $10,000 Brookwood Farm Grand Hunter Classic in Chicago in June, also qualified two mounts. She placed third aboard Sting, the green conformation hunter champion, but was knocked out of contention with Rock Star, the second year green reserve champion, when he tripped in the handy round.

The courses featured logs, natural rails, a split-rail fence and ample brush. As under High Performance Hunter guidelines, the ground lines were minimal and the lines were opened up to encourage the riders to gallop.

The second round, a handy course, featured several options for inside turns, a trot jump and a gallop to the final split-rail fence. The judges also had the opportunity to award bonus points for handiness, and many riders used this feature to move up the rankings.

Dynamic Memories

Glen Senk lost one of his best friends on June 30 when his hunter Dynamic was euthanized after suffering injuries in a trailering accident. Although he was heartbroken over losing a favorite horse, Senk traveled on to Lake Placid (N.Y.) a few days later to show his other horses, True and Laredo.

It was there that he discovered Highland Park was for sale, the 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood that his trainer, Scott Stewart, had piloted to the grand hunter championship at Devon (Pa.) for owner Laura Lee Montross.

“It was fate. It was meant to be,” said Senk. “I saw him, tried him and bought him one week to the day that Dynamic had died. I’m a spiritual person, and I knew this horse had come into my life for a reason.”

So it was with gratitude and some bittersweet memories that Senk sat in the stands and watched Highland Park and Stewart capture yet another grand hunter championship, this time at Washington. The partnership also earned the regular conformation hunter championship.

“I’m just always happy when they come home safe and happy,” said Senk. “I know Scott won’t say this, because he loves to win, but I’m the happiest when they go in there and have a good time. The grand championship is just the icing on the cake.”

Tricia Booker

Teamwork Helps Weinberg Succeed

Tracey Weinberg barely had time to change clothes and walk the course for her amateur-owner jumper classes, yet she juggled her role as businesswoman and rider with ease to win the $10,000 Amateur-Owner Ambassador’s Cup and the amateur-owner jumper championship.

“I was very worried to be able to do both,” she said. “This was my first year to take on marketing and showing, and it was pretty much 24 hours around the clock.”

Weinberg is the president of Weinberg Harris & Associates, which provided the marketing, public relations and promotions for the show. Throughout the week she struggled to find time for her horse, Larone, which she believes resulted in her third-and sixth-placed ribbons days earlier.

Avoiding the pressroom and keeping her cell phone turned off, Weinberg focused her attention to Larone and the course for the Ambassador’s Cup. “The rail on Thursday was my mistake, and I told my team today I needed two hours to myself,” she said.

Hillary Dobbs and VDL Lotus Excel went first of six in the jump-off and set the pace at 29.64 seconds.

Weinberg returned two horses later and posted a faster time by a mere .05 seconds, clocking in at 29.59 seconds. She edged Dobbs after completing a nearly impossible rollback.

“My advantage is my horse’s turn; I can’t make up time in long runs, but I know how to ride off a small stride,” she said. “Hillary’s horse has a big lopey stride, so I beat her with my turns.”

Weinberg has owned Larone for two years and rides with Joe Fargis, Middleburg, Va. She describes Larone as “truly the best horse I’ve ever had; he rises to the occasion every single time.”
 
While many people would find the dual roles Weinberg played stressful, she couldn’t be more thrilled.

“I wanted to do this show. There are so many wonderful people who have given sponsorship dollars, and it makes me happy to participate in a show they’ve supported,” she said.                       

Beth Johnson

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