Lexington, KY - August 21, 2011 - The final day of the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show was welcomed with a cool breeze and a cloudless sky. The $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Classic witnessed talented horse and rider combinations showcasing their skills in an attempt to impress the judges and claim the winning title in the Stonelea Ring. Erynn Ballard and Dunkirk led the class from start to finish and eventually the victory gallop after earning a total score of 179. Kelly Arani and Stars Go Blue finished second, falling seven points behind Ballard and Dunkirk, while Annie Karsotis piloted North Shore to the third place award.
Today's courses were designed by Patrick Rhodes and simulated riding through hunt country with all of the fences set to 3' with four 3'5'' high options and four handy options. Erynn Ballard and Dunkirk, owned by Bur Oak, LLC of Lexington, KY, took the lead in the first round of the Classic, scoring an 83 with four bonus options for an 87 total. Although they were the last to return during the handy round, the duo did not hold back. After choosing the higher option oxer soon after the first fence, they completed a consistent and smooth round, receiving scores of 88 with four bonus points for a score of 92. Their two-round total of 179 points earned the pair the blue ribbon prize.
Prior to entering the Stonelea for the handy course, Ballard had to race to the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix in the Rolex Stadium. After completing the jump-off, Ballard rose to the occasion and entered the ring with her first mount of the class, Fergie. Although the duo did not complete the handy round they desired, Ballard believed it was because of Fergie becoming slightly "star struck" as a greener horse. "It's hard to do two things at once, but doing what I do, I have to be able to do both," Ballard explained. "It becomes very psychological for me. I have to be able to transition. I think that going into the handy with Fergie first definitely helped me to expose her to a new experience as well as prepare myself for my ride with Dunkirk."
Since the introduction of the National Derby in 2010, the program has continued to grow and experience success. "When I was a junior I was more of a jumper and equitation rider, I didn't really become a hunter until I became a professional. It's something that I had to learn how to do well. I keep practicing, and these Hunter Classics are definitely a huge help for both myself and the horse," described Ballard. "I never miss a horse show, and I never miss a day. This horse show has been extremely busy and high pressured with the Derby Finals and the two Grand Prix events, but this class was too good of a thing to pass up, it gives opportunities for those young horses who want to work their way up to the Derby Finals."
According to the USHJA, the popularity of the International Hunter Derby Program prompted them to develop a separate series of competitions modeled after the Derby but geared toward the up and coming horses and riders. The National Hunter Classic Program was launched in 2010 to provide both horses and riders a place to gain experience in Derby competition at a lower height and difficulty level.
Dunkirk is currently owned by Cappy Petersen who bought the gelding in 2010 at the end of the Florida shows. Petersen lives in Kentucky, and Ballard spends the winters with her, working on developing Dunkirk and making him into an Amateur-Owner horse for Petersen. "This is the first time I have actually met up with her since we bought him, and even the travelling and developing of a green horse becomes a balancing act. It was just a decision that we made today to show him in the USHJA Hunter Classic. It is a different experience and different exposure. He is a young horse that we are making up," said Ballard.
The duo impressed the judges today with their seemingly flawless handy round. "I thought that Dunkirk really rose to the occasion. Granted, he has a little more experience than my greener mount, Fergie, since he shows in the Amateur-Owner classes. He went in the ring and knew that he wanted to win today. He tried really hard in both rounds to be the winner," Ballard continued. "I think that being able to complete the handy round on my greener mount, first, definitely helped me to be more prepared when I finally went into the ring for the handy round with Dunkirk. I felt my way around, and when you get to finish with a horse already higher up in the standings, it makes you feel more confident."
Kelly Arani, of Dover, MA, navigated Stars Go Blue to two solid rounds, following only seven points behind Ballard and winning the second place prize. After earning a score of 79 with four optional points added, Arani ended with a score of 83, claiming the fourth place position in the first round. The team returned and executed a smooth handy round to come from behind and earn a score of 85 with four bonus options accumulating a score of 89, bringing their two round total to 172 points and garnering the second place prize.
"During the first round I was going down the bending seven and I thought I was closer than I was, so we were long out," Arani admitted. "We didn't get the score I was hoping for, but I was very happy that I was able to come back and redeem myself in the handy round."
Arani started riding Stars Go Blue during the Winter Circuit in Florida two years ago. The duo has been able to form a great bond as well as really grow with one another over the past couple of years. "I did him in the Children's classes for a while, but now I show him in the Junior Hunters. So as far as doing the USHJA Classic, it is a fun thing to do that is not as difficult as the 3'6", so we have been doing those to continue to learn and prepare. He is perfect because he has helped me learn and move up to the Junior Hunters."
The duo has been practicing with Leslie Emerson to execute smoother turns in the handy rounds. "I have been working on the handy rounds a lot, and today I think it showed," explained Arani. "I was able to make him land on all his leads, get to the next jump, and keep the gallop the entire time. I think my pace and 'handiness' helped my score. Since he loves to gallop he is perfect for the classics, we really have a lot of fun out there."
"We are from Massachusetts, but my aunt, Leslie Emerson, has a farm here in Kentucky. I love the show grounds. It is kind of like home away from home for us. It is definitely one of my favorite places to show," Arani concluded.
The third place award went to Annie Karsotis, of Richardson, TX, aboard North Shore. During the first round, they earned a score of 80 plus four bonus points resulting in an 84, and an 80 in the handy with four bonus points, concluding in another 84, taking third place in the handy and solidifying third place for both trips with a combined score of 168.
Courtney Trott, of Birmingham, MI, and Carlotta received the fourth place award, earning scores of 78 and 82 during the first two rounds to finish with a total of 160. The fifth place honors went to Lucy Loper of Ridgefield, OH, and Show Me Mo resulting in an overall score of 155.5. Allie Braeutigan and Cosmic Charley, owned by Madeline Stuchell of Morgantown, WV, secured sixth place with a total score of 154.
Earlier in the day, the Junior Hunter divisions showed in the Stonelea Ring completing their second day of competition. Reaching the conclusion of the divisions, Victoria Colvin took home the Small 15 & Under Junior Hunter Championship aboard Sanzibar, owned by Karen Long Dwight and Barbara Ridder Irwin of New Vernon, NJ, while Vivian Yowan and Whatever, owned by Boggs Hill of Wellington, FL, took reserve championship honors. Victoria Colvin also claimed the championship award and reserve championship honors in the Large 15 & Under Junior Hunter Division aboard Way Cool, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker of Midleburg, VA, and Touchdown, owned by Becky Gochman of New York, NY, respectively. Small Affair, owned by Iwasaki and Reilly of Pacific Palisades, CA, piloted by Olivia Esse, claimed the Large 16-17 Junior Hunter Championship award, and Shawn Casady and Vida Blue, owned by Elm Rock LLC of Bronxville, NY, earned the reserve honors. The final awards of morning went to Olivia Esse winning the Small 16-17 Junior Hunter Championship aboard Illusion, and claiming the reserve championship tricolor aboard Clooney, both owned by Oscany Inc. of Los Angeles, CA.
Today the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show concluded. Now, the Kentucky Horse Park will begin preparing for the 2011 National Horse Show, where the top horses and riders will compete at the highest level of the sport.
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows, please visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.
RESULTS: $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Classic
Order Entry # Horse Name Rider Name Score 1 Score 2 Total Score
1 351 Dunkirk and Erynn Ballard 87.000 92.000 179.000%
2 110 Stars Go Blue and Kelly Arani 83.000 89.000 172.000%
3 311 North Shore and Annie Kartsotis 84.000 84.000 168.000%
4 876 Carlotta and Courtney Trott 78.000 82.000 160.000%
5 358 Show Me Mo and Lucy Loper 74.500 81.000 155.500%
6 64 Cosmic Charley & Allie Braeutigan 74.000 80.000 154.000%
7 756 Calentino andNatalie Thornell 73.500 79.000 152.500%
8 32 Fergie and Erynn Ballard 76.000 76.000 152.000%
9 107 Diamond Risk and Kelly Arani 77.000 74.000 151.000%
10 690 Above All and Tia Schurecht 72.000 74.000 146.000%
11 880 Big Fish and Savannah Mannes 75.000 69.000 144.000%
12 239 Small Celebration and John French 86.000 44.000 130.000%
Photo Credit: Erynn Ballard and Dunkirk won the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Classic at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Photo By: Kendall Bierer/PMG.