Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Vlamenco Dances To A Winning Tune At HITS Arizona Desert Finals

Janet Hischer sets the pace and stays on top to conclude the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit.

March 16 was a day of firsts for Janet Hischer and Vlamenco. They were first in the order of go, first in the jump-off, and first in the victory gallop for the $25,000 Grand Prix at the Arizona Desert Finals on March 13-16, the sixth show in the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit in Tucson, Ariz.


Janet Hischer sets the pace and stays on top to conclude the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit.

March 16 was a day of firsts for Janet Hischer and Vlamenco. They were first in the order of go, first in the jump-off, and first in the victory gallop for the $25,000 Grand Prix at the Arizona Desert Finals on March 13-16, the sixth show in the HITS Arizona Winter Circuit in Tucson, Ariz.

Hischer didn’t go all-out on Vlamenco. She had another horse to ride in the seven-horse jump-off and just wanted to set the pace. “I just wanted to go clear and fast enough,” she said. “So I made a couple of inside turns and let the rest chase me. Vlamenco isn’t as fast as [Oki Dokie] is so I thought that if somebody beat our time I could always go faster on her.”

Faster proved to be not much of a problem, but clean was more of a challenge. Natasha Merback on Van Schijndel’s Cindy made an exceptional turn and shaved almost 3 seconds off Vlamenco’s time before pulling a rail. When Hischer came back sixth on Oki Dokie, Vlamenco was still in first place.

Hischer hadn’t ridden Oki Dokie much since the mare got out of quarantine 21/2 weeks before the show. Since she was already first, she decided to go for time. The result was 4 faults and fifth place. “I just have to know her,” she said. “She’s cool. She’s fast and she’s careful.”

Hischer owns both horses with a partner from Holland, Peter Bulthis. Vlamenco, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood, had shown in Europe as an 8-year-old.

“When I got him, I took him right into grand prix,” she said of the 17.2-hand gelding. “He’s big, scopey, and powerful. He can jump a house. I’m teaching him to go forward and come back, to be more suited for a lady.”

If there were a circuit award for the grand prix, it would go to Merback on Van Schijndel’s Cindy; week 1 of the circuit was Merback’s first grand prix. She finished third on Cindy and second on Samar; during the six weeks, she made the jump-off five times. Cindy had two seconds and two thirds and Merback won $23,000 with placings as well on Samar.

“Cindy—at 17.1 hands—has a bigger stride so I have to ride her at a smaller pace,” Merback said. “Samar is 16.2; he has a short, fast step and is compact. For him, the combinations with wide oxers are difficult. We work on getting across. I need to have more going forward with less taking back. We need to have more flowing rounds and are working on consistency. We have to work on jump-offs; I have to have more control and better turns.”

Merback has ridden with Nick Karazissis Jr. and Mike Edrick for five years.

A Family That Shows Together Wins Together

Fortunately, the Fraze family lives in Tucson; otherwise all their circuit awards would have made packing difficult. Despite having arthroscopic knee surgery the week before the circuit began, Jane Fraze won the amateur-owner hunter, 36 and over, circuit championship on her reliable Mandarin.

With trainer Peter Lombardo, Archie Cox’s assistant, in the irons, Chapman won the regular working hunter circuit award and was reserve regular conformation circuit champion to Mandarin.

For the third consecutive year, Fraze’s daughter, Michelle Senner, steered Beautiful Day to the circuit title
in the high adult amateur jumper division.

For mother and daughter, showing together adds to the pleasure of winning championships. “I get to watch my mom and cheer her on,” Senner said. “I give her hugs if she’s not doing well. I feel lucky to have family with me.”


Senner bought Beautiful Day, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred, from Ira Schulman. He came from a slaughter horse auction.

“Ira is great at finding the right horse for the right rider,” she said. “I traded him for a horse that didn’t want to go into the in-gate. I just wanted a horse to show on—he exceeded all of my expectations.”

They have a relaxed training regime, trail riding and only jumping two days at home before any horse show.

“He’s happy to come to the horse show,” she said. “It’s so different from what he does the rest of the time. We’ve had so much rain this year, the washes are running. When we trail ride, he jumps them; that’s our open water jump. I try to jump as few classes as I can. He has a great work ethic.”

Beautiful Day is a different horse when he enters the show ring. “Outside the arena, he’s like a short-stirrup horse,” she said. “I can ride him on the buckle, but in the ring he lights up. He’s very, very consistent and fast in the air. We win a class almost every week. He’s a lifetime horse for me.”

In 2007, Senner won her second consecutive Arizona Hunter Jumper Association year-end high adult amateur jumper championship. “It was really special to me to win this year,” she said. “My dad [Mark Fraze] donated the G’Day perpetual trophy in honor of his great adult jumper. Riding is something we do with the family; it’s something you don’t see much any more. If we didn’t have horses, we might not see as much of each other.”

Success for the Fraze family took many years. They started trail riding when they first came to Arizona in the ’90s. Jane and Mark showed jumpers while daughters Erin and Michelle rode hunters.

Arizona Desert Tidbits

  • Susanna Stroh’s Unlimited grew up quite a bit and captured the second year green hunter circuit championship with Kris Nixon aboard. “He had very limited showing when we got him a year ago,” Nixon said of the 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood. “He’d only done one show before and had a lot of learning to do. This year, he came out with a bang. He likes jumping a little higher. He has a beautiful jump. We are starting to get excited about what he might look like at four-foot. Susanna wants to start riding him a little. The original plan was for her to show him as an amateur hunter but he was a little greener than we thought.”
  • Trainer Kathy Johnson’s students made a clean sweep of the equitation circuit awards. Sybil Rose won the equitation, 14-15, on Rendezvous, a 10-year-old Westphalian. Amelia Drumm won the equitation, 12-13, and the children’s hunter, 13 and under, circuit championships on Over The Rainbow, a 13-year-old Appaloosa mare that she’s had for three years. And fellow student Julia Finn was the 11 and under, equitation circuit champion on Who’s That, a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding.

“When we started, my mom and I both really struggled,” Senner said. “We weren’t the riders to beat. We had to go through a lot. My sister Erin was always a star. I’m really proud of mom this year; she had knee surgery and it really hurts her to ride.”

Senner rides with Willoway Farms’ Kathy Johnson.

“Kathy knows how to win,” she said. “She teaches all her riders to really ride. She knows how to keep horses happy and how to keep riders happy. If you promote good riding then the ribbons just come.”

Enough Said Says It All

Meghan Felts rode Enough Said and Woodstock to the circuit championship and reserve in the adult amateur hunter, 18-35, division. She also won the circuit title in the adult equitation, 18-35, division, though she was using the equitation division as a warm-up for showing in the hunter classes.

Enough Said is a 6-year-old Westphalian mare Felts’ aunt and trainer Mary Ann Funk imported in October. “I’ve only ridden her a little at home,” Felts said. “We’ve had an awful winter in Kansas and no indoor arena. My other horse sold the second week we were here so I decided to show her instead.


“She has a lot of scope. You go down the line and leave wherever you want.  She’s very adjustable and falling right into being a hunter. The nice thing about her is I got to work on myself instead of working with a green horse.”

Felts will be going home without Enough Said, however, since she sold her to Emma Willski, 11, who hopes to show in the children’s and junior divisions with her.

Woodstock, the reserve circuit champion, was a catch-ride for Felts. Brandie Holloway owns Woodstock, who Funk found in Europe last year. “Brandy had a baby and I wanted another horse to show,” said Felts. “The biggest thing is keeping him straight and making sure he slows down enough. He’s a huge-strided horse; he’ll move on to the amateurs or juniors.”

Funk’s daughter, Abby, won the small pony hunter circuit award on Buzz Off, a warmblood pony that Tammy Provost imported.

“Abby is riding the pony because they needed somebody small,” Funk said. “She rides a lot of ponies—four or five every day of the week. We work on the basics of equitation. She has to change her position for different ponies. Buzz Off is automatic. He’s very brave, with a beautiful jump.”

According to Abby, she causes any problems they have on the course.

“Every show, in one class I always have one big mistake,” she said. “At this show, he was slow over the first jump so I had to hurry to make the line. But then, I didn’t slow him down enough for the next fence. It’s a privilege to ride him. He’s a really good pony. He listens and does what I ask him to do. When he does something wrong, it’s always because of me and not him.”

Showing All Over

The Thatcher family showed in multiple locations and just kept winning. Michael Dennehy rode Kelsey Thatcher’s Gianni, a 9-year-old Polish Warmblood, to the circuit championship in the first year green division.

“He’s the sweetest thing,” Dennehy said. “He’s wonderful to work with. Maddie Thatcher, who’s only 11, hacked him around the showgrounds. He’s a beautiful horse, beautiful mover and jumper. He’s a little green; he hasn’t been to a lot of shows but he’s maturing and starting to go like a high quality horse.”

After winning the first year tricolor the first two weeks in Arizona, the Sundance Welcome and Kachina Classic, Gianni had wrapped up the circuit title. He then went to Thermal, Calif., for weeks 4, 5 and 6 of the HITS Desert Circuit, where he and Dennehy earned ribbons. Gianni then traveled to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., where Kelsey showed him to ribbons in the large junior hunter, 15 and under, division.

Meanwhile, Maddie won Arizona’s pony jumper circuit championship on Bally Mac, one of three ponies she showed. Week 1 of Arizona, the Sundance Welcome, she rode Hillcrest Blue Cwilt to the medium pony hunter championship and Silver Steps to the small pony title. After two weeks in Arizona, they moved to the HITS Desert Circuit, where in week 7 Silver Steps was small pony champion and “Blue” was medium pony reserve champion.

“Our approach with Maddie is get her correct,” Dennehy said. “Bally Mac is straightforward. He’s a lovely pony, very honest. Her sister Kelsey showed him last year and took him to Devon [Pa.] where they got ribbons.”

Priscilla Dance




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