Gulfport, MS- March 9, 2012- The Gulf Coast Winter Classics recently showcased the hunters in the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, and Grand Bay, AL based Holly Shepherd had a “Triompf” victory for owner Sarah Patterson. However, this year’s event featured an unusual twist; the beautiful and technical Derby course was based on the design submission from 13 year-old Sarah Clifton Yandell of Memphis, TN.
Showtime Jump Company, LLC’s owner Allen Rheinheimer is best known for his intricate, often fierce course designs for hunters and jumpers alike, and he also has a big weak spot. Kids! “I find it fascinating to watch kids grow and learn from aspects of anything they are involved with and to discover what it takes to make things work.” Rheinheimer shared. By the time he arrived Gulfport for the Gulf Coast Winter Classics, Rheinheimer had developed an intriguing concept to engage and educate the younger generation of equestrians, by soliciting for course designs to be used in the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.
“I came up with the idea in Pensacola while working on courses for the jumper arena; my three kids, Alec (11), Callie (8), and Emma (6) would help with the courses. As I designed them many times my kids would design courses as well and ask me to look theirs over and or use them.” Rheinheimer said.
The contest was open to competitors between the ages of 6 to 17 years old. Rheinheimer supplied each would be designer with a diagram that provided the huge grass arena’s measurements, the general guidelines needed for a Derby layout and a week to create their courses. “I wanted to have the chance to be that kid who got to work with the designers and find out what it was like to design, build and manage a course, and I got my wish!” winner Sarah Clifton Yandell said.
Ten finalists gave their all to impress the judging panel, which consisted of three professional designers- Rheinheimer, Patrick Rodes and Paul Jewel. “They were all very good and interesting designs with great imagination. It was really hard to come to a decision, but we felt Sarah-Clifton’s [Yandell] course was the most complete and had all the elements that are interesting in the format used for the Derbies.” Rheinheimer said.
Yandell, who rides at Spring Mill Farms in Eads, TN with owner Dave Pellegrini and trainers Michael Tokaruk and Emily Hertz, felt she was up for the design task because, “Dave has always made sure the courses at home were challenging but fun. I got to thinking about the riders that would be in an International Hunter Derby and I wanted to challenge them. I spent a lot of time on the courses and learned about what is legal in a hunter course and what isn’t.”
Yandell is appreciative of the unique education Rheinheimer’s contest provided, “I learned that designers have to do much more than set up jumps in the field. A lot of time goes into planning, measuring and working with the show’s schedule. After I won, the designers asked me to come to the show office right away and get started putting my courses into the computer program specially made for course designers. They introduced me to the exhibitors and people who were involved in the class. Mr. Rheinheimer and Mr. Rodes were so nice to me and included me in every part of the process.”
Sleeping on Wednesday evening was nearly impossible as Yandell counted the hours down for the next phase – making her design into a reality on the grass field. A normally eager and focused competitor, Yandell found herself watching clocks on Thursday as the two o’clock build time seemed to take “forever to arrive”. But when the time came Yandell was every bit as hands on in the course build as Rheinheimer, Rodes, and Jewel, by four o’clock she was a bit awestruck by the reality of it all.
“We went out in the field during the walk through for the exhibitors. We measured heights and put finishing touches on the fluff. They asked me about everything, right down to what kind of brush and if I wanted flowers on my jumps, what colors did I want to use. They included me in every part of the decision making. I couldn’t believe the course when it was done!” Yandell said.
For her efforts Rheinheimer, owner of Showtime Jump Company, LLC generously gifted Yandell with her choice of any obstacle on the Derby course. Just as she did with the course work, Yandell put in some serious considerations before deciding on a log jump, but feels the greater reward was the experience itself. “They [Rheinheimer, Rodes, and Jewel] were really nice to me and made me feel like I was an important part of the team. I will never forget having the opportunity to learn more about the other side of riding a hunter course and how much fun I had!” Yandell said.
Should a similar circumstance be offered at events in the future, Yandell clearly would jump at the chance again, “I had the best time ever!” Bob Bell, co-chair of the Gulf Classics, added, “This was more than a fun contest for the kids, it was a great learning experience for them and us. We all need to give more of our time to teaching and encouraging our youth about the many facets of this sport because they are its future.” Bell is looking at Classic Company events now to see where and how best to create more learning opportunities.
The 2012 Gulf Coast Winter Classics continues with world class Hunter Jumper Competition and hospitality through March 18th at the Harrison County Equestrian Center in Gulfport, MS.
The Classic Company is a USHJA Members Choice Award winner, known for producing quality, exhibitor friendly, international-level hunter/jumper horse shows throughout the Southeast US. For additional information on any of the 2012 events please call the office at 843-768-5503 or visit them on the web at www.classiccompany.com and for great hotel or condo rates contact www.equestriantravel.com.
Photo: 13 year-old Sarah Clifton Yandell of Memphis, TN.