Wellington, FL - While hunters take center stage on the main show grounds for World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week, the international jumpers get a fresh change of scenery competing in both the Global International Ring and the Derby Field at The Stadium through Sunday. The feature "Saturday Night Lights" event will be the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherhill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular on Saturday, February 20, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Stephanie Danhakl wrote the perfect ending to a comeback story for her nine-year-old Warmblood gelding Quest in the culmination of the Osphos® 3'3" Amateur-Owner Hunter 18-35 division Friday. After much success with Danhakl's trainer Scott Stewart in First Year competition in 2014, Quest suffered a rare complication involving the veins in his hooves that required over a year of rest to completely regrow healthy hoof.
This week marked the two-year anniversary of his First Year championship at WEF with Stewart, and he celebrated it by carrying Danhakl to first and second over fences, fourth under saddle and a win in the handy on a score of 91 for champion in the 3'3" Amateur-Owner Division.
"I have to credit my vet Haynes Stevens for getting Quest back to full health," said Danhakl. "After his First Year Championship his feet started getting sore, and we didn't really know what was wrong. Haynes was the only one who could figure out how to bring him back." After over a year off, Quest returned in style and has been back in the show ring with Danhakl for the past few months.
"I'm happy to have him back - he's an amazing horse," she said. "He was phenomenal both yesterday and today. I never have to worry about him spooking, and I was confident about him showing in the International Arena. I really look forward to this week with the focus on the hunters. There is a lot of excitement in the air, and it is nice to be able to gallop around and really let out his stride."
Danhakl admits that her division is a competitive one with a lot of junior riders moving up into amateur competition, but she is happy to be kept on her toes. Scoring first and third over fences and second under saddle, Vivian Yowan piloted Anytime, owned by Saddle Ridge, LLC, to reserve champion behind Danhakl.
In the Karina Brez Jewelry 3'3" Amateur-Owner 36 and Over Division, Daryl Portela and Winner, owned by Isalou, Inc., claimed champion after jumping to reserve honors during Week 5. Portela and Winner were first and fifth over fences, second in the handy, and third under saddle to clinch the tricolor. "I had a great week," said Portela. "It's a tough division with a lot of good horses and a lot of good riders, but I feel very comfortable with [Winner]."
Portela has had the ride on the 13-year-old Warmblood gelding for four years after her trainer Jimmy Torano imported him. "He didn't have much of a personality and had never done the hunters when I got him," she said, "but I started him right away. He developed a great personality and became very comfortable." For Portela, having a chance to shine in the International Arena is a rare treat. "We never get to show in here. It's a long way around, but it's so exciting," she said.
Reserve champion honors in the Amateur-Owner 36 and Over 3'3" division was awarded to Lynn Seithel and her own Walk the Moon after a third place finish over fences and a blue ribbon in the handy.
The UHealth Ear Institute 3'3" Junior Hunter Division saw stiff competition during WCHR week and was split into two sections with Lili Halterman and her own Genuine taking champion in Section A and Mimi Gochman earning champion in Section B aboard Papyrus for owner David Gochman.
Seventeen-year-old Halterman is savoring her final season as a junior competitor at WEF and admits that earning champion during WCHR week was a special bonus. "This season was most about having fun and enjoying being on my horses," she said. "I really enjoy big rings, but this ring especially."
Halterman and Genuine collected two first place finishes over fences, a second-place ribbon in the handy, and a win under saddle to secure champion honors. "He has always been great," said Halterman of her 17-year-old Oldenburg gelding. "He always steps up and acts like a babysitter for me, and I have won a lot with him because of that." Halterman also earned reserve champion honors in Section A on her own Cussini with a win in the handy, as well as second and sixth over fences.
Taking the Section B Championship, Gochman rode Papyrus to third over fences, adding to his second over fences and wins in the handy and under saddle earlier in the week with Emma Kurtz in the irons. Gochman, 11, showed in the International Arena at WEF for the first time this week and did it on a new mount. Papyrus, a nine-year-old German Warmblood gelding is one of the youngest and most green horses Gochman has sat on. She only started riding him at the beginning of the winter season.
"I have to be a lot more gentle with him - he is always really cautious so I try to be really soft, which is new to me," said Gochman. "He took care of me out there today, and it was really a treat. It was fun to have the experience, but also to do well in the big ring. I'm proud that I could keep it together with a new, green horse."
Mimi's sister Sophie Gochman collected reserve champion in Section B with Last Man Darling, owned by David Gochman. She won Friday's over fences class after Emma Kurtz piloted Last Man Darling to fourth over fences and second under saddle earlier in the week.
Week six of the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival continues on Saturday with more hunter and jumper action on both sides of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
For more information and full results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.