Jacksonville, FL - September 21, 2012 - The long-awaited first-ever Southeast Medal Finals got underway today with much fanfare. Organizers Bob Bell, from Classic Company and James Lala from James Lala's Wellington Quarantine have attended to every aspect of the show to make it special and memorable. A field of 27 talented young riders competed to kick off the show bright and early at 8:00 a.m. in the USEF Pessoa Hunt Seat Medal.
he first course of the show was a challenging mix of lines and turns. Starting with a very forward outside line in six strides, the track turned to the left to a single birick oxer near the in gate to a roll back to another brick single oxer. Then, the course took a long gallop and a right turn to a two-stride combination of natural wood verticals to a left turn to another natural vertical followed by a right-hand turn to a white oxer at the far end of the ring and a bending line to the last combination, an oxer to a vertical.
"This new venue is superb," said Course Designer, Alan Rheinheimer. "It's huge, there's a lot of opportunity to set the riders up for the Maclay Regionals. All the courses I'll give them a little in each course of what I might ask of them on Sunday. The judges and I talked it over and discussed what we'd like to see. It was a good test for them.
Four talented riders were called back for a second round workout to determine the final placing: Maggie Savoie aboard her own Ksenyio, Ashley Foster and Raindance, owned by Meridian Farm, Geoffrey Hesslink and Don Steward's Afrojack, Haley Waters and El Campeon's Danish owned by by Terrapin Hill Farm.
The workout was announced only twice. It included cantering three of the original fences of the course, then trotting a fence, picking up a counter canter and taking the out fence of the original outside line. Three of the competitors, Savoie, Foster, and Waters, chose to pick up the counter canter and follow a track that turned the opposite way to the fence. All had trouble sustaining the counter canter while turning.
Last to go, Hesslink completed his trot fence, cantered away and made a downward transition to a trot weaved through the middle of the arena to find a straight line to the final jump. He established his counter canter, and held it. That choice won him the class.
"I saw all three other people try to go inside and move up and all three of them lost the counter canter. I was on top, to I thought I'd take the safe route and go around and get the right lead canter," shared Hesslink. Hesslink received the judges' nod for first place, Foster was second, Waters, third and Savoie was fourth. "Afrojack is a big black gelding−he's awesome. I've showed him all summer. My best show with him was Devon- he's just been awesome," said Hesslink, who has been riding with Don Stewart and Bibby Hill for seven years.
In the ASPCA Maclay class, riders were challenged with another course that wound and turned with "s" turns. Course designer Allen Rheinheimer asked the rider to stay on the track and keep up the pace. Starting with a single natural vertical, the track turned to the right and then to the far end of the arena to a white oxer to a right to a two-stride combination of natural verticals ,then a brick oxer and a right rollback to another brick oxer, then a tricky oxer to vertical two-stride to a single natural vertical to another brick oxer.
Twelve riders were called back for the flat portion of the class. Once again, it was Geoffrey Hesslink who won the judges' approval.
"I rode a different horse, but I'm usually good on the flat," said Hesslink about his Maclay win. "This is Carlos 365. I have only ridden him a few times before. He has a smaller stride but he's really good. I thought the Maclay class was a little harder than the Medal. But I think I still did pretty well and he was so good."
According to Don Stewart, "The second horse Geoffrey rode, Carlos 365 was just third in the regionals in St Louis. He is a very high-class horse. Then, the medal he won on a young horse of mine, he's an 8-year-old that I just got this spring. He's doing quite well, since he really hasn't had a lesson since the middle of August."
In the Southeast Three Foot Equitation Classic, the course tripped up some riders but those with pace seemed to end up on top. It was Liza Finsness from Wellington who piloted her own Fedelio to the top spot with a score of 89. Hasbrouck Donovan earned the red ribbon ridding Drake, owned by Stewart and DerbyPie LLC and Donald.
"The first class I didn't open him up enough−so we added," confided Finsness. "So, this round I got him a lot more open and it was so much better. Fidelio, we call him Shack, he's just the best horse in the world. I've had him for three years. He will do anything for me−he's great. Finsness trains with Alan Korotkin.
"I was pleased with the courses today," said Rheinheimer "They served their purpose and I think the riders got a lot out of them. Now they've seen some of the efforts we'll present on tomorrow night and Sunday morning. They should be well set up."
In jumper action today at Southeast Medal Finals, Cynthia Screnci earned the win aboard Kasmir in the first leg of the Zone 4 $10,000 Children/Adult Jumper Championship.
Photos: Geoffrey Hesslink; Habrouck Donovan, Liza Finsness and Kabisa Baughen; Liza Finsness and Fidelio.