Wellington, Fla.—March 23
Tori Colvin got her mother, Brigid, quite a nice birthday present. To celebrate the day, the 14-year-old won her first major equitation class, the George Morris Excellence in Equitation Exhibition.
Tori has multiple prestigious hunter titles to her name, and she’s already won her first grand prix. So, the equitation ring is next for her to conquer. And now that she’s added equitation guru Missy Clark to her list of trainers along with Scott Stewart and Ken Berkely, she’s well on her way.
Tori has a very fluid style to her riding that’s a far cry from a posed and perfect equitation seat. She acknowledges that while she has a wonderful natural feel for a horse’s stride and jump, she needs work on the details. “I don’t have the best position, but I try hard to improve it. I work on my leg, and my hands, and my back. Basically, my whole body!” Tori said.
Judges George Morris, Kirsten Coe, McLain Ward and Kent Farrington saw through Tori’s position flaws to reward her elegant, forward riding. Her average score of 90.5 in he first round put her into fifth going into the second round. Scores of 90 and above were not uncommon in the class, as the judges were impressed with the overall quality of the riding. The cut-off score to return for the 12-rider second round was an 85. Because two riders had scored an 85 average, 13 came back to jump again.
The class is run in a format where trainers are excluded from interaction with the riders; riders walk the course and school their horses all on their own.
Charlotte Jacobs achieved the top score of Round 1 with an average of 95. Colvin put the pressure on the leaders in Round 2, riding VIP Z to a lovely trip. The second-round course was challenging. Judges asked the riders to perform a simple change of lead in the straight six-stride line between jumps 2 and 3. Quite a few riders didn’t get the transition down to halt or walk early enough and so couldn't re-establish a good canter to jump 3. Riders also were required to perform a flying change on a specific turn, so if their horses had landed on the inside lead at the jump before, they had to change to the counter lead. There was also a long hand gallop across the ring to a vertical that asked the riders to be daring, but not careless.
Meredith Darst had scored an average of 90.5 in Round 1 to stand in fourth, but in Round 2, her horse took exception to a vertical at Fence 2 and stopped twice, eliminating her. Schaefer Raposa, in third after Round 1 with a 92 average score, turned in another lovely trip in Round 2, which the judges rewarded with scores averaging 89. Michael Hughes stood second with 92.5 in Round 1, and rode a polished Round 2 but his hand gallop was a bit sedate. The judges settled on an 88 average.
Jacobs returned on top, but she had a few small mistakes. She got a bit deep to Fence 3 after performing her simple lead change in the line and her horse, Stallone VDL, pulled the rail. She earned an 85 average. That dropped her total score to fifth place. Going into the final test, where the top four riders traded horses and rode Round 2 again, minus the simple change and mandatory flying change.
Tori stood on top after Round 2 with a total of 186 from the two rounds, with Raposa, who won the 2011 Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, was behind her with a 181 total score. Hughes and Catherine Tyree, who had turned in a brilliant Round 2 score of 92, joined them.
None of the top four had any major mistakes in the horse switch rounds. Tyree pulled a rail at the first fence on Hughes’ horse, but pulled off a polished round after that. Tori had a bit of an awkward trot jump, but rode Raposa’s horse like she’d showed it every day. In the end, the judges kept Tori on top, put Raposa second, Tyree third and Hughes fourth.
“[Tori] has a really nice feel and a very good eye and she was very supple. She made no real mistakes,” said judge McLain Ward. “She had a pretty significant lead going into the last round and she didn’t make any major errors. She kept it together throughout all three rounds.”
Tori has been riding VIP Z for three years, and took the reins when the chestnut gelding was brand new to the equitation classes. “He’s gotten so much better. Last year, we did this class and he was so green and it didn’t go so well,” Tori said.
In contrast, Raposa’s ride was a jumper who transitioned to equitation horse recently. “[Trainer Andre Dignelli] just recently bought him,” Raposa said. “He’s got a big stride and he’s bright but not spooky. When I feel his canter going into, I always think ‘He’s going to do it for me.’
“I was a little nervous; I’d only showed him twice and showing out here [in the Internationale Arena], I thought ‘Uh oh, what if he thinks he’s back in the jumpers.’ But when I picked up the canter, I knew he was going to be perfect.”