Traverse City, MI - July 10, 2011 - Overcast skies couldn't dull the excitement at Horse Shows by the Bay this afternoon, as the $30,000 Open Jumper Grand Prix of Traverse City ignited the Grand Prix ring. Brian Shook and Courage 68 took home the top prize, while Erynn Ballard and Robin Walker came in second and third, respectively. A suspenseful jump-off kept fans on the edge of their seats, as Shook, who rode last in the second round, was the only competitor to clear the course twice. This event was the first of four $30,000 Open Jumper Grands Prix that will take place at Flintfields Horse Park this summer.
Horse Shows by the Bay's first 2011 Grand Prix got off to a dramatic start, as the first horse and rider both fell at a particularly challenging oxer. It wasn't until the seventh rider, Robin Walker aboard Ilian-de-Taute, took the course that a clear round was achieved. Despite the much-appreciated lack of rain today, the rails seemed especially slippery on designer Chris Brandt's intimidating course. Nearly all of the riders who entered today's competition accidentally introduced a few rails to the Grand Prix ring's new footing. Nevertheless, the challenge was met with delight by fans, whose "oohs" and "aahs" could be heard as each horse and rider bravely confronted the course.
Erynn Ballard and the appropriately-named Fun 2 Fly sure had fun this afternoon, as they were the second to go clear in the first round. They also had the fastest first round time, breezing through in under 70 seconds, the only pair to do so without incurring faults. Foreshadowing his jump-off success, Brian Shook was the third and final rider to clear the course in the intial round. He and Courage 68 teamed-up to avoid the knockdowns and refusals that thwarted other participants. Of those whose rounds had only one fault, David Jennings and Nandy Fontaine turned in a great first round time of 69.534 seconds, finishing fourth overall. Denise Wilson also did well aboard Casey Jones, finishing with just four faults and a fifth place standing.
By the end of the first round, only Walker, Ballard, and Shook were still in contention for the top prize. Walker went first on Ilian-de-Taute, then Ballard gave it her best shot upon Fun 2 Fly. Both knocked just a single rail, making for a highly suspenseful jump-off. Tense silence surrounded Shook's second round, as he carefully guided Courage 68 over every obstacle, some as high as 1.45 meters. The crowd elated when Shook and his mount passed the final timer, applauding a victory lap well-earned by both horse and rider.
"The first round, he was a bit of a bully," observed Shook, "but when he's like that I know he's going to try to jump clean. I lose a little rideability with that, but he tries so hard that he makes up for it. I've been with Courage 68 for five years now, so we both know each other so well that even if we do get into a bit of trouble out there on the course, one of us can usually catch it." Shook added, "he's a bit tempermental. He's very particular regarding who takes care of him, so with him we try to keep everything consistent. Having worked with him for five years, now I'm practically the only one who rides him, so we've been able to form a really great partnership. And I like that he's a little quirky."
"There's always nerves," Shook said of the pressure of a Grand Prix jump-off. "I think if you don't have nerves you don't have the desire to do well. The one thing about my horse is that he definitely knows when he's clean and when he's coming back. He was so smooth and we were so in-tune in the jump-off today that all of his fussiness just went away. He definitely knows what his job is in the jump-off, so he tries a little harder and becomes a little bit more focused. I don't think he even noticed the crowd today; he's just zoned-in on what his job is. He's quite a competitor."
Shook will be here at Horse Shows by the Bay during all four weeks of competition, and looks forward to viewing the progress of the other horses he has in the circuit. "I love Traverse City," he noted. "We actually bought a house here last summer, so the whole family comes up, and it's a bit of a vacation as well as work. It's kind of a big family event for us. I've never been to a show where they've worked harder on doing the best they can for the exhibitors. They've invested so much in the footing and tried so hard, and it's so appreciated on so many different levels. Alex Rheinheimer is phenomenal."
This $30,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City was complemented by a VIP Sponsor Luncheon, which took place next to the Grand Prix ring, offering those in attendance a perfect view of the exciting jumper events. Craig Rosenberg of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney generously sponsored the luncheon, as well as the valuable gift certificates going to the top finishers. Today's Grand Prix will be followed by three more similar events at Horse Shows by the Bay this July: the Grand Traverse Bay Grand Prix, the Grand Prix of the Great Lakes, and the D-BRAIDER Cherry Capital Classic Grand Prix. All will award an impressive $30,000 in prize money, making these events "must-see" for the many fans who have flocked to beautiful Traverse City this summer.
The multi-series Horse Shows by the Bay will continue to offer riders and fans the ideal horse sports venue throughout the next three weeks. Highlights in Series II, held July 13-17, include a new $10,000 Horse Shows by the Bay Open Hunter Classic, a new $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Classic, and a $30,000 Grand Traverse Bay Grand Prix and VIP Sponsor Luncheon. Series III, which occurs July 20-24, includes a $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, a $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior Amateur-Owner Jumper Prix, and a $30,000 Grand Prix of the Great Lakes and VIP Sponsor Luncheon.
During the fourth and final week of competition, notable events include the $30,000 D-BRAIDER Cherry Capital Classic Grand Prix, as well as a $10,000 Children's/Adult Jumper Prix and VIP Sponsor Luncheon. Over half a million dollars in prize money will be awarded by the conclusion of this month-long celebration of equestrian athletes.
For more information or to view schedules, please visit www.horseshowsbythebay.com or call 231-267-3700.
Photo: Brian Shook and Courage 68 Credit: Robyn Keyster/PMG