Devon, Pa. - Friday night at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair was all about speed, and only one athlete had all the answers during the $25,000 Open Jumper Devon Speed Challenge sponsored by the World Equestrian Center. Haley Gassel and Quite Dark 2 were the only duo able to master the speed track and leave all the fences intact to capture the winning prize.
"This is unbelievable," the young rider said, smiling. "People dream of just coming to Devon, and people dream of just getting a Devon blue. For me, to win a grand prix at Devon, it boggles my mind. That wasn't even in my wildest dreams!"
Kelvin Bywater designed a very technical course for the 1.40m faults converted speed class. Featuring multiple inside options and areas to make up time, competitors had to carefully navigate the course to have the fastest time, while also leaving the obstacles intact.
Three athletes secured Gassel's time, but it came at the expense of rails coming down. The first was Laura Chapot with ISHD Dual Star, who would claim fourth place with a time of 67.607 seconds after the added fault conversion. She was only 2/1000ths of a second slower than Great Britain's Amanda Derbyshire aboard Goldbreaker, who clocked a time of 67.605 seconds for third place.
The only other rider with a better time was newly minted Longines FEI World Ranked Number One Rider, McLain Ward. It looked like he had the ride of the night on HH Best Buy, and while they were faster than Gassel across the ring, the faults added to their time would mean they broke the beam at 67.279 seconds for second place.
Gassel had both the speed and the accuracy with Quite Dark 2 that it took to win the Friday night highlight event. The pair left all the fences intact as they dashed across the finish line in 65.500 seconds for the Devon blue ribbon, as well as bragging rights over Ward.
"That is unbelievable," expressed Gassel about her victory over the world's best. "That will never happen again, that is a bucket list right there! He was really nice about it, though. He put in a really good round and it just wasn't in his favor tonight."
This is only Gassel's second year competing at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, and it's her first year competing in the Open Jumpers with Quite Dark 2, who she has been riding for three years.
"It was a really fun course," said Gassel. "That course fit my horse to a T. He is really great at the spin back turns. He's massive, he's 17.3 hands, so for him to be able to do those spin back turns is unreal. When I first got him, everyone said he's too big, he'll never be able to go fast, spin fast, he'll never be able to win like that and he's proved all of them wrong."
Gassel continued, "Our relationship has developed so much. He trusts me, I trust him. He's just gotten better, faster, stronger. I do my best to try to keep him the best shape possible so he can jump tonight and jump tomorrow. He's been a great horse."
The Amateur Owner Jumpers will compete on Saturday afternoon in the $20,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Amateur Owner Jumper Classic as they try and earn the division's championship title and the Leading Amateur Owner Jumper Award. The final show jumping event will be the $50,000 Idle Dice Open Jumper Stake, sponsored by Harvest Seasonal Grill and Wine Bar.
The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair is the longest running and largest outdoor multi-breed competition in the United States. With the grandeur of Philadelphia's prestigious Main Line setting the stage, the event features a world-class field that annually ranks among the most prominent internationally. The event also includes the Country Fair that offers world-class shopping, rides and games for kids, multiple dining options and special entertainment events.
For more information about the Devon Horse Show please visit www.DevonHorseShow.net.