Wellington, Fla.—March 21
Most riders without hunter derby experience wouldn’t stand much of a chance in a international derby with a serious start list, especially if they only have one hunter in the barn. But most riders aren’t Peter Wylde.
The team gold medalist from the Athens Olympic Games topped the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at The Ridge at Wellington aboard Smoking Gun. It was the first hunter derby of his career.
Wylde's been looking forward to his derby debut on that gray since they paired up last May, and he picked an ambitious class for their first. Plenty of top competitors flocked to The Ridge for a day dedicated to derbies, with a $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby kicking off the competition, and an international class in the afternoon. The international derby was held on two adjoining grass fields connected by a pair of grass bridges, and one side of the field was adjacent to a canal.
In response to the start list, Rob Carey built an appropriately tough course. The option jumps stretched up high enough that only two pairs in each round (Unspoken/Kelley Farmer and Edeling van de Croon/Sarah Scheiring in Round 1 and Wylde/ Smoking Gun and Point Being/Farmer) attempted all four high options fences.
More than half the riders took only low options in Round 1, unsurprising as two verticals came down regularly, and nine of the 34 starters on course had major errors. Kate Conover and On Q (a regular ride for Farmer) parted ways at the third fence on course, an oxer. On Q got a bit stuck in the boxes around that jump, but he walked off the course easily, and Conover came back to ride Taken to third.
Point Being just competed in his first U.S. show two weeks ago, but he marched around the derby field looking like a seasoned campaigner. He showed off knees-to-nose style finish second, within 3 points off the lead. Farmer won the handy on So To Speak to finish fourth as well.
Wylde’s been working to get Smoking Gun light on the aids with lots of dressage training, and that came in handy in Round 2, when riders didn’t have much time between a hand gallop fence and trot jump.
“I caught a forward one to the hand gallop, then he just melted back into the trot for that inside turn,” said Wylde. “At the time I thought, ‘Wow! He did that great!’”
Wylde saw the big jumps and tough course as an advantage for the 10-year-old German-bred (In Extenso x Sandro Hit).
“That horse is so scopey, he can jump anything,” said Wylde who’s based in Millbrook, N.Y. “It’s fun to do it. For me it’s not a big deal. ‘Oh, it’s 4'6"? I’m used to that!’
“The course—being next to the water and going over the bridges—was spooky enough,” he continued. “I think a few people early in the class tried the high options and the horses were a little like ‘whoa!’ so they decided to play it safe.”
Wylde’s been focusing on jumpers since he came back to the United States in December 2012 after a 12-year stint in Europe. But when he got stateside he was itching to get one special hunter back in his string. So he called up his very first owner, Kate Hunt, and pitched the idea. They waited months until the right one came along.
“He’s a brilliant rider, and it’s just poetry to watch. He brings out the best in every horse,” said Hunt.
Wylde and Smoking Gun will be back next week for the $50,000 class at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival.
“It’s really interesting and fun,” said Wylde of the derbies. “It’s a great marketing tool and is attractive for a lot of reasons. Owners love it, it showcases great hunters, and the night classes and the [USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship] are a great incentive. I think there’s a lot of true hunter fans out there, and finally there’s something to really look forward to.”