Aimee Hanson is Fast and Furious at Bay Area Summer Festival

Aimee Hanson is thrilled to log her first grand prix win Photo: Sheri Scott
Aimee Hanson is thrilled to log her first grand prix win Photo: Sheri Scott

Twenty-five horse-and-rider combinations took on John Manning’s course in the BayFest Grand Prix at this year’s Bay Area Summer Festival (June 25-29). Only five would make it to the jump off. Only one could win, and every rider pulled out all the stops to be that one. In his first time designing courses at Woodside, John optimized the grand prix field like no one has. Riders and spectators alike loved how he incorporated the natural elements of the ring into his courses, yet made them appropriately inviting and challenging for all the different levels of horses and riders in the ring. "I had never been to Woodside before and when I saw the ring for the first time I was impressed,” he commented. “I see so many rectangular boxes, and this ring has everything you could want."

Lane Clarke, first to compete, piloted One Time (Mickey Hayden, owner) to a spectacular clear round right off the bat. Rider after rider tried to join him for a jump off, but rails fell all over the course. There were many four fault rounds, but no one went clear until Lane returned on his second horse, MH Wardance (WH Warbucks, owner). Just in case the other riders missed it the first time, Lane showed everyone just how to ride John Manning's course.

Not to be outdone, Jill Humphrey, winner of the Welcome Stake, joined Lane in the jump off after piloting Zubliem (Alicia Foster, owner) to a fault-free round. Jeff Fields did not want to be left out of the fun, and Already (KEW farms, owner) helped him leave all the rails in the cups. Right on his heels, young professional Aimee Hanson and her Coya made it five for the jump off.

The jump off included the CWD vertical right in front of the VIP Carousel Club, followed by four strides up the ramp to the LEG oxer, then a right turn down the bank in a double drop. Riders then had a choice to approach the plank vertical in a steady five or take a chance and gallop up in four. Coming home, the riders could take the daring eight strides to the last oxer.

Lane led off with One Time, and they left every rail in place and stopped the clock in 44.008. Although One Time was fast across the ground and in the turns, the horse's exuberant jumping style created some hang time that left room for the other four riders. Jill went next, and despite a valiant effort, she and Zubliem could not quite match Lane's time and settled in behind him with a 44.839 in the time column.

Jeff Fields was in it to win it, and his blazing time of 38.319 nearly got him his goal, but two rails relegated him to the fifth spot. Aimee Hanson followed, and she and Coya blazed around the course taking every chance, cutting every turn, and galloping home in eight strides and stopping the clock in a time of 40.385. “I was supposed to go last, but I moved up in the order not thinking I had a chance to win a class like this with the competition I had,” Aimee shared. “My plan was just to get the canter to fence one and make a really efficient turn, then get a good rhythm and have a clean and efficient round to get the miles. I was actually really relaxed going in since I didn’t have any expectations of winning. I didn’t think I was as fast as I was, but my horse was just amazing. It was pretty awesome. I could just tell my horse wanted to jump clean, so I knew going into it if there were any problems they would be mine.”

Lane, last to go thanks to the other riders moving up to allow him time to get his second horse ready, knew the scores going in. He took every chance he could with MH Wardance and looked to be on pace to catch Aimee. However, he steadied for the nine strides in the last line and finished with a time of 41.168 for second.

“I thought Lane had me beat, so it wasn’t until he crossed the timer that I realized I’d won,” Aimee said. “This was my first grand prix win, and it was really surreal. I definitely surprised myself. More importantly, I was amazed with my horse. I’ve been training professionally since 2003, and I finally have a horse I can show competitively at this level. Macella O’Neill and Charlie White had her before and they have been a great support since I’ve had her. I really appreciate them.”

The last time Aimee showed at Woodside was several years ago, and she had nothing but praise for the improvements to the facility. “Since I was last there, the changes to the facility are amazing. All my horses were great and really enjoyed the facility. I thought the natural obstacles in the Grand Prix Ring were great. We need more of that at shows. It was a really well-run show, and I’ll definitely be back.”

It’s the first trip to Woodside for Lane, as well as his boss, Mickey Hayden. “I really enjoyed the show,” Lane commented. “I thought the course design by John Madden was great. The courses were tough enough so people made mistakes and it wasn’t boring, but not so hard no one went clean. I liked that he used all the natural obstacles in every class, with an option so you could decide whether to use it. I brought my young horses, and it was great that some of them got to do their first open water. It was also the first bank for all of them, and they got to do it a bunch of times. The footing in the jumper rings was also really nice. The BayFest Grand Prix had a good crowd that was a lot of fun, and we really felt the excitement in the ring, especially with the music. Our clients had a good time, too. The show had a good variety of low and medium classes for them, so it was a really good experience. It was also really nice to be able to go over to the cross country course for a little trail ride and let the horses get out a bit and look at the spooky jumps.” Lane also has some other excitement in his life: he was married last year and is expecting his first child this fall.

Cruella De Vil and her pack of dalmations invade the Grand Prix Arena Photo: Sheri Scott
Cruella De Vil and her pack of dalmations invade the Grand Prix Arena Photo: Sheri Scott

Before the main event, some younger riders had the chance to show off their creativity in the annual stick horse contest. There were Baskin Robbins gift certificates as well as some special prizes, and the riders from Van Vleck Sporthorses received the Current Events Award for their salute to the Soccer World Cup. The grand prize went to Cruella de Vil (AKA trainer Jen Kallam, who played the part quite convincingly) and her pack of Dalmation dogs, stick horses, and children.

Children had another chance to shine in the new $1,000 Millennium Farm Pony Hunter Derby, which debuted at Woodside Circuit Opener. “The pony derby was so much fun and a good opportunity to give the kids something different and challenging,” said Jill Hamilton of Millennium Farm. “The show and Regi the back gate person made it really special. I think classes like this help the young riders develop all of the skills they will need for medal finals, junior hunters, etc., plus it’s nice for the pony riders to have something just for them.”

Jill was doubly pleased when Millenium Farm student Madeline Park won two weeks in a row on Helicon Miles of Smiles. “Madeline has been with us since she started riding five years ago,” Jill explained. “She works hard and is happy to ride whatever pony we put her on. She’s just a great kid.” Second place in the class went to Madeline’s barn mate Isabel Coxe on Raggedy Ann.

Twelve-year-old Madeline was thrilled to have won. “I have always loved watching the horse derbies, so I was really excited to try one myself,” she said. “The challenge of doing a derby course at a show was also something I wanted to try. The first week, I went last, so the pressure was really on. My heart was racing and I really wanted to do well. When I feel pressure, I can get ahead of myself which is not good for my riding. Sometimes when I am nervous before a round, I get worried about if my pony is too tired or has too much energy or if he might be afraid of a certain jump. I feel like I have gotten over a lot of those feelings because Jill and Nancy have taught me to focus on riding in the moment and to focus on what is in my control. That advice has helped me not be as nervous and it has helped me ride better.”

Priscilla Trees and Coquette nab the win in the ,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby Photo: Sheri Scott
Priscilla Trees and Coquette nab the win in the ,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby Photo: Sheri Scott

Madeline, who will be entering seventh grade at Castilleja School this fall, has come a long way in her years at Millenium Farm. “Jill and Nancy always tell us to focus on certain goals, not the ribbons, which helps me think about the right things to improve my riding,” she explained. “Miles and I have only been together since May, so I have been working on trusting him. He is great at finding distances if I let him, so I have been trying to just ride forward and straight and let him find the good distances.”

At the other end of the hunter ring spectrum, the $2500 USHJA National 3'0" Hunter Derby proved to be a popular class yet again. Priscilla Trees is a derby veteran, and she showed her prowess this week when she took top honors with Coquette (Copper Hill Farm, owner). “Coquette has only been in the states since January and this was her fifth show,” Priscilla commented. “She has been showing in the pre-greens and was champion both weeks at Woodside. This was only her second derby, the first being the week before. I had no thought of winning; I was just hoping for a smooth round and a good experience for her. Although my groom Lolo said he knew she was going to win, and he was so excited when she did, but I didn’t believe him until it was announced because I hadn’t heard the scores.”

Priscilla and Coquette put in a smooth first round and used all four of the higher option jumps, but a hard rub put them in fourth place going into the handy round. Benson Carroll led on Instagram (Madeline Fithian, owner), followed by Diane Yeager on Regal (Susan Dorsey, owner). “Going into the handy round, I had no thought of beating them because they are both flawless riders,” Priscilla recounted. “I did all the inside turns and high options. Coquette was wonderful! I was so, so proud of her because she jumped great and was super brave to the spooky trot jump that stumped a few seasoned horses. I couldn’t be happier with her. She is super fun to ride and I just had so much fun with her on course. I thought the course (Brian Post, designer) was really well designed, and I’m really enjoying the change to doing the derby in the morning.” Diane landed in second place, while Kate Gilhuly and Fine Design (Millenium Farm, owner) were third.

In the equitation ring, Tylor Nowell (Nina Alario, trainer) distinguished herself in the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Medal Class and claimed the blue ribbon, followed by Abby Jorgensen (Tammy Blanchette, trainer). “I haven't been able to compete in a Talent Search class since Thermal because my horse has been off, so I was really hoping for a good ribbon to get some points,” Tylor recalled. “After jumping my first grand prix the night before, the jumps looked small, so I just focused on having a nice smooth round. I also paid a lot of attention to making sure I got the best jump out of my horse that I could. Doing the grand prix was a pretty crazy experience. It's always been my goal to jump my first grand prix by the time I was 16. I'm 15 now (showing as 14), so it's exciting to get to cross that off my list. It was definitely scary and unlike anything I've ever done before.”

The Talent Search class includes a challenging flat phase, where Tylor had the opportunity to show off her excellent basics. “In the flat phase, I worked to get seen by the judge and made sure that the passes I made were smart and showed off the things I'm best at. I have a solid, quiet leg and body position through my extensions and have good, correct hands. Those things allow me to keep my horse in a soft, supple frame without my horse or myself appearing stiff.” Tylor is looking forward to competing in her first Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Final this fall.

There’s one more week of showing at Woodside for the year, and it’s under way with the Golden Gate Classic (July 2-6). However, riders will still have a chance to earn points for the Maui Trainer Incentive, win a bonus check in the LEGIS Hunter Rider Bonus, or the perpetual trophy for the Carousel Hunter Derby at Nor Cal Medal Finals (Oct 8-12) in Sacramento. In Southern California, horse showing will continue at LAEC with Gold Coast July (July 18-20).

For more information on Bay Area Summer Festival, including complete results, visit the LEG website.