Go back a dozen years, and the hunter ring was ruled by a plain bay mare named Strapless. She galloped fast, jumped hard and won everywhere.
There were no hunter derbies on show schedules. The headline class for the hunters was the AHJF Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, held under the lights on the then-grass International Ring at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Fla.
And Strapless won it four years in a row, with two different riders. It was a remarkable streak. Professional rider Emily Williams piloted her to the blue in 2001, ’02 and ’03, while owner and amateur rider Clara Lindner rode her to the top of the class in 2004.
Here’s Willams and Strapless’s second round from that 2003 victory—a round that earned score of 95,96 and 97.
“She was truly the horse of a lifetime,” Williams said. “Those night classes, I swear, she knew and loved them.
“The first year we did that class, Clara and I both qualified on her and we made the decision to have me do it with her,” Williams recalled. “Then the next year, Clara gave us the chance to try and win it twice, which we did. After three times, I said, ‘We’re not tempting fate; it’s your turn now!’
“I swear she knew it was important. She’d go in and shake her head on the opening circle, and I’d know she was going to be good,” Williams continued. “Emilie Hamilton, who groomed her, called it her dipsy doodle. If she did that, I knew it was on and I could count on her. She would give 110 percent.
“She was always a bit spooky, especially when the Lindners first got her. I’d be the first person hand-walking in the ring in the morning and the last person to leave. I’d let her see every jump,” Williams continued.
In the video, Williams and Strapless carry quite a bit of pace; it’s not a sedate, boring hunter round. “She liked to stand off of the jumps on her own. She studied the jumps a lot,” Williams remembered. “She wasn’t the largest-strided horse I ever sat on, so you had to believe she was going to do it. You couldn’t tell her, ‘We’ve got to go,’ because she’d be like, ‘Mm, no, maybe not.’ It had to be her idea. What was so great about her was that I could really gallop and she would always hold herself off the jumps.”
When Williams was given the ride on Strapless by Tom Wright, the trainer for the Lindner family who owns the mare, she was a brand-new professional in her early 20s, having won the Pessoa/USEF Medal and ASPCA Maclay Finals in 1999. “She did so much for me. She’s an incredible horse,” Williams said.
Strapless was known for her dynamic jump, leaving the ground with a lot of power. “She gave you an incredible feeling. She’d almost prop a little bit at the base of the jump and then I literally would hold onto the braids, she’d come up through the withers so much,” Williams said. “It was just explosive. And she’d jump the last jump higher than the first jump. She was a special horse, just a freak of nature.”
Williams misses the Strapless days of a vibrant pace on course. “I love to watch somebody gallop,” she said. “Strapless created that because you had to gallop a little bit with her, and it made it exciting to watch. I think that’s what people loved about her. I like to watch and ride exciting rounds, and to have hunters ridden with pace, and it seems to me like that’s being forgotten a bit. I’d love to see that brought back into the sport more.”
Strapless, who has had two foals, is now retired at a farm in in Wellington, Fla. Williams goes and visits her when she’s in town. One of Strapless’s foals, Boundless, is showing in the baby green division this year with Hayley Barnhill.
Williams is in the process of putting her career back on track after her years post-Strapless got a bit complicated. Her mother, Lynne, passed away in 2001. “When I lost my mother, I definitely got off the beaten path for a while,” she said. “But I’m rebuilding now.”
Williams is in the process of getting back to professional riding. “It’s my passion. I got distracted for a while, but I think the sport is very forgiving,” she said. “I’ve been able to put some stuff behind me and I’m still young enough, so I’m looking to build for the future.”
Check out the Chronicle’s coverage of Strapless’s wins in 2001, ’02 and ’03…