The 2009 WCHR Hfessional Finals was sponsored by Stillwell-Hansen, Inc., presented by John R. Ingram Fund & the Ingram Family, produced by the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation (AHJF) and hosted at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.
The riders were escorted into the arena in a carriage. It was a very impressive opening to the evening and set the stage for the night, which began with a buffet dinner in the concourse and was followed by presentations of special awards and then the class of the six finalists: Hunt Tosh, Peter Pletcher, Ken Berkley, Scott Stewart, Kelley Farmer and John French.
During the class the crowd was electric as they cheered, applauded and whistled after each round. By the ingate as riders handed off horses they offered tips to the next riders and cheered on their opponents. As co-manager Billy Glass maneuvered past the ingate near the end of the class he spied Ken passing along pointers to Hunt and rooting him on as he negotiated his final round. “That was special,” Billy later commented. “Even though Ken at that point knew he had no shot at victory he was there for his competitors.”
The atmosphere was one of camaraderie and may the best man (or woman) win. After the class and the awarding of prizes and ribbons the night continued with a dessert social and press conference in the dining area. It was a chance for both media and spectators to hear about the class in the words of the riders.
“Everything about this class is great from the atmosphere at the ingate to the fans cheering as you complete your round. There is a special feeling about this night. Everyone gets a little more energized and the adrenalin kicks in,” commented Hunt.
As a first time competitor, Hunt was amazingly calm as he talked about how lucky he’s been and how well his horses have been going. Having grown up in a horse family, being on a horse is just part of his daily routine and winning was just an extension of that. And it is the elegance and finesse of the hunters that captivates him most.
Sure the win was about how well he rode but it was also his support staff. “My wife Mandy was watching and passing along tips and that really helps,” he continued.
After four rounds Hunt, Cummings, GA, claimed the victory with a score of 366.82 ahead of three-time winner Scott Stewart, Flemington, NJ (354.64) after an initial three rounds of six riders was paired down to three. In third was Kelley Farmer, Keswick, VA (351.99). Finishing 4th (after three rounds) was Peter Pletcher, Magnolia, TX (262.66), 5th was John French, San Juan Bautista, CA (257.65), and 6th was Ken Berkley, Flemington, NJ (246.33).
Whether you finished first or sixth in this class was no indication of the caliber of the riders who have all proven their breadth. “This year at the Capital Challenge Ken finished first in seven classes,” commented Billy. “Every rider who qualifies for the Pro Finals is at the top of his or her game, and whether first or sixth you are truly seeing the nation’s finest pro hunter riders.”
“This is not an easy class to qualify for,” added AHJF Executive Director Michele Perla. “These riders have to be extremely skilled to make it into the top six. They all deserve our applause and appreciation and anyone watching that night was lucky to have the chance to witness such incredible hunter talent all competing in one class on one night and the crowd showed their appreciation and enthusiasm.”
The six riders who qualified for the Finals were both veterans and newbies. Peter and Scott are both three-time winners and John won twice. Although Kelley has never won the class she did ride in it before. Kelley was also the winner of the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular earlier in the year. For Hunt and Ken this was their very first time competing.
In the Pro Finals, each rider must supply one horse and ride that horse first. The competitors then alternate on the other horses. Some top hunters were shown including:
RIO FINO W, 7-year-old, 17.2 h, Warmblood gelding, owned by Wendy Hofmeister, trained by Tammy Provost. This is only its fourth horse show in the hunters and is currently showing in the Working and Junior Hunter Divisions.
ILLUSION, 15.2 h, bay, Warmblood gelding, owned by The Dotson Family and trained by James Hagman & Marla Amormino and is currently showing in the Small Junior Hunter Division.
FINE KISS, 8-year-old, 15.3 h, Warmblood mare, owned by Mr & Mrs. Ernest Oare, trained by Bucky Reynolds and currently showing in the Amateur-Owner division with Betty Oare.
LAZY SUNDAY, 9-year-old, 16.1 h, grey gelding by Zangersheide, owned by Lindsey Wolf and trained by Ben Guanciale and Kim Stewart. The winner of the 2008 USHJA Hunter Derby in Palm Beach.
CAMIRA, 10-year-old, 17 h, bay mare, owned by Melanie Barnes, Austin, TX.
LONE STAR, 9-year-old, 16.3 h, bay Warmblood gelding, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Wheeler, was the winner of the China Blue Working Hunter Award and High Score of the horse show (92) co-winner of the award with Rumba.
When asked why they chose the horses they did the riders echoed each other. “I like to choose a horse that I know is not going to be spooky and is going to jump everything every time,” commented Peter as the other riders nodded in agreement.
The riders were allowed to briefly warm-up on their horse but for all subsequent rides they had to go directly to the 3’6” course in the ring. And while the fences were the same for the first three courses, the order in which they were jumped changed each time. For the fourth round, the course was changed to a demanding Handy Hunter class and only the top three (Hunt, Kelley and Scott) competed. This course was their chance to impress the judges.
Going For The Win
In the first round Hunt took the early lead (93) followed by Kelley (88.33). In 3rd was Scott (87.66), then Ken (85.33), John (82.33) and Peter (84.33). In the second round Hunt maintained his domination of the class after his second round score of 90.16 was combined with his first round score (183.16). Kelley was 2nd (176.33), 3rd Scott (173.32), 4th Peter (171.66), 5th John (167.99), and 6th Ken (167.33).
The third round was critical as it would determine what three riders went into the final round. After the third round Hunt continued on top (272.49) followed by Scott (264.98) for 2nd, Kelley in 3rd (263.99).
Scott as the first to go in the Handy Hunter set the pace with a brilliant round, galloping a u-turn to the first fence out of the gate, turning corners with elegance, carefully and precisely negotiating a trot fence and showing a change of pace for the gallop between fences with boldness and accuracy. They scored 89.66 for the round and 354.64 for a four-round total.
Hunt went next and was even more impressive negotiating the tests with a hidden ease that made his smooth round appear almost too easy, but that came out because of the soft skill of his riding, scoring 94.33 for a total of 366.82. Last to go was Kelley who put in a strong performance as well (88/351.99) but Hunt’s lead was so far ahead of the others that announcer Ken Kraus laughed when he said that Kelley would have to score an impossible 107 to overtake Hunt’s lead. Hunt Tosh had won his first Pro Finals.
The Finals Are Loved By The Pros
The 2008 Pro Finals winner was Sandy Ferrell who just missed making it into the 2009 Finals by three points. For Sandy the memory still remains of that night she claimed her crown. “It is a sad day for me because I don’t want to give it up. It’s been an honor, a great feeling,” she commented.
Sandy was so thrilled with her victory that she took her memorabilia and had a shadow box made. “It included my number, the scores that were printed in the Chronicle, a close-up win photo, and the people in the stands with Go Sandy signs. It meant that much to me,” she admitted. “It was a moment in my career that no one can ever take away from me.”
After the class Sandy passed the torch to the winner. In fact it was a tiara that she passed along giving the crowd a good laugh when Hunt as a good sport wore the tiara along with his smile. It was truly a crowning moment.
AHJF President, Keeley Gogul commented, “I think this class is the highlight for a lot of people’s year. The riders are thrilled to qualify for this and it’s an exciting incentive to know that you will compete against the best in front of an actual audience, which is rare for the hunters. In addition, you have to have a great horse to get in the running.”
For the veterans and newcomers this class is the only professional class of the year and so nothing can compare to it for them. Before the class the riders gathered and talked about what was ahead, from preparing the horses to having a support team there to help them remember the courses and switch tack to their new horse.
“I haven’t done this before but it’s going to be a fun class and another credit to my career,” remarked Ken.
“It’s always exciting,” said Peter in his always jovial voice. “It’s a great group of riders and I’m looking forward to competing in it again.”
Hunt agreed that not only were the riders great, “but it is a good group of horses; not one of them is not a hunter of some kind and it is an honor to know I am keeping up with these guys. It’s exciting. We had a good year so here we are.”
John quipped with a smile, “I hope I get lucky!” and although luck was not to be his John was an incredible sport and after the press conference spent some time with a local group of Maryland kids answering their questions and signing posters.
And the lone female Kelley was hoping she would “beat the boys.” Even though she may have been the only female in the class in the picture taking after the class she surrounded herself with the two female Junior Hunter Challenge riders while the five other male qualifiers framed the picture. Kaitlyn Johnston and Ashley Butler were the winners of the Challenge, a grassroots series competition which the AHJF sponsors and the winners get a free trip to the Capital Challenge and two days of hands-on activities such as learning to judge, seeing what grooming is like at an A rated horse show, presenting awards in the arena and more..
The riders have the AHJF and the sponsors to thank for not only the class but the pomp and ceremony, including the carriage ride, rider recognition, buffet dinner, PR campaign surrounding the event, press conference, photo ops and more. The sponsors in unison with the AHJF feel it is important to reward the riders not only with money but also with recognition.
American Hunter-Jumper Foundation
The AHJF is a member-supported non-profit organization formed to further the development of the sport of show hunter competition. Programs of the AHJF include the World Championship Hunter Rider Awards, the AHJF Emergency Relief Fund, AHJF Educational Programs, the AHJF Investment Plan, and the AHJF Junior Hunter Challenge.
The AHJF also sponsors other featured events throughout the year, including the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular of Palm Beach (February 20, 2009).
At the Capital Challenge the Professional Championship honors were part of an overall World Championship Hunter Rider Awards Program, which included junior, professional, amateur-owner, adult amateur, children’s and pony hunter riders. The program was established by the AHJF to recognize and reward excellence among hunter riders. In order to qualify, a rider’s top four WCHR shows plus their performance at the Capital Challenge determined the ultimate champions.
Money, Trophies, Prizes and More
A number of special awards were given out as well. Louise Serio, Kennett Square, PA, was the winner of the Old Springhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. The Jeffery Katz Memorial Award went to Small Affair, ridden by Californian John French, and owned by Iwasaki and Reilly, who won the Rox Dene Award. The China Blue Farm Working Hunter Challenge went to Lone Star, ridden by Hunt Tosh and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Wheeler. Amanda Steege, Bedminster, NJ, won the Winter’s Run Sportsmanship Award.
This was the 15th year that the AHJF had hosted the World Championship Hunter Rider Professional finals. The winner not only received the trophy but also $3000 for the Pletcher Pro Incentive Award and the All The Way Trophy donated by Elizabeth Busch Burke and Lysa Burke Horkan. The Far West Farm Perpetual Trophy donated by The Karazzisis Family for the horse that earned the highest cumulative total was won by Fine Kiss (264.99). In addition the winner received a sponsorship from the AHJF, which designates money to be used specifically to ensure coverage of both the championship and of Ferrell as its winner. Press Link PR, an equine focused PR firm, handles that sponsorship.
A special thanks also goes to Capital Challenge co-managers Oliver Kennedy, Brookville, MD and William Glass, Bokeelia, FL, who invited the AHJF to host its Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, which has been home to these classes ever since.
Billy is proud that there show hosts this prestigious class which happens at a memorable time of the year for him. “This event is special to me because it is my 11th anniversary of my first date with my wife,” he noted before adding, “For the Pro Finals this class is all about good competition and for me personally this is a demonstration of the incredible hunter rider ability at this horse show. Sixth place is as good as first place in my eyes. What truly makes this class unique is the level of competition.”
Concluding the evening was AHJF Executive Director Michele Perla, who commented, “The past year has been unique. After consideration was given to merge the AHJF with the USHJA, it was abandoned earlier this year because of the value that has been placed on this organization by the Board and hunter community. As an organization we now know that we truly have a purpose and a reason for existing. I sense a renewed and energized AHJF and it has been exciting here at Capital Challenge. The support behind the AHJF to continue to grow and support the hunter community has been heartwarming.”
AHJF OLD SPRINGHOUSE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Louise Serio, Kennett Square, PA (Presented to a person who exemplifies great support and lifetime commitment to the sport of hunter and jumper competition.)
JEFFERY KATZ MEMORIAL AWARD: Small Affair, ridden by John French (owned by Iwasaki and Reilly) Total Points: 1869 (Jeffery Katz was a 38-year-old trainer from Chicago who was killed in a car accident in 1999. The award goes to the horse/rider combination that accumulates the most points in the 1st Year Green, 2nd Year Green, or Green Conformation Hunter Divisions at their best four WCHR shows, plus the divisions at the Capital Challenge.)
CHINA BLUE FARM WORKING HUNTER CHALLENGE AWARD: Lone Star, (rider/Hunt Tosh) (owner/Mr. & Mrs. Douglas Wheeler). The owner, rider and trainer each receive a check for $3,500 and the groom receives a check for $500. (1855 points) (Donated by Priscilla Tamkin and China Blue Farm, this award honors the horse and rider combination that accumulates the most points in either of the 4’ hunter divisions at their best four WCHR shows, plus their divisions at the Capital Challenge.)
AHJF JUNIOR HUNTER CHALLENGE: West Region: Kaitlyn Johnston, Arlington, TX; East Region: Ashley Butler, Lawrence, MI. This annual competition provides a goal for junior riders currently competing at the non-recognized level. Horse shows which hold the Challenge class all follow the same set of class specifications and judging criteria. The winners are invited to the Capital Challenge Horse Show as guests of the AHJF. Their agenda includes sitting with a horse show judge to learn how they mark their card, meeting the show vet and farrier and discussing their roles at the show, and spending time in the stables with barn managers to experience all that goes in to prepping horses for the show ring.
WINTER’S RUN SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD: Amanda Steege, Bedminster, NJ (Sponsored by Tricia Bosley in memory of her mother Sylvia Hechter. The boot trophy is one of Sylvia’s treasured Vogel boots which was bronzed and mounted on a walnut base. The purpose of the award is to encourage better sportsmanship throughout the entire horse show community.)
ALABAMA CLAY CONFORMATION HUNTER AWARD: Sambalino (ridden by Ken Berkley) owned by Gina Day, 1765 pts. Awarded to the horse and owner of the WCHR high score conformation horse who has accumulated the most points at their best four WCHR shows plus their divisions at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in the Green and Regular Conformation Hunter divisions.)
ROX DENE AWARD: Iwasaki and Reilly (owner of Small Affair who was ridden by John French to 1869 points) (Donated by Elaine and Chanda Boylen, this award is presented to the Owner of the WCHR High Score Horse ridden by a professional, which has accumulated the most points using the four best WCHR sanctioned shows plus the divisions at the Capital Challenge.)
HEARD A RUMOR AWARD: Dialog L, 18-year-old Rheinlander, by Diamantino out of Pasteurxx, (owned by Bruce Duchossois, trainer Scott Culp, groom Jane Shields. (Donated by Mimi Edwards and presented to a horse that has shown exceptional ability and epitomizes the important partnership of show hunter and hunter rider.
AHJF HUNTER COURSE DESIGNER AWARD: Michael Rheinheimer, Chardon, OH
FINAL RESULTS OF THE WCHR NATIONAL PROGRAM
PROFESSIONAL: 2009 PROFESSIONAL WCHR: 1. Hunt Tosh, Cummings, GA (93 + 90.15 + 89.33 + 94.33 = 366.82), 2. Scott Stewart, Wellington, FL (87.66 + 85.66 + 91 + 89.66 = 354.64), 3. Kelley Farmer, Keswick, VA (88.33 + 88 + 87.66 + 88 = 351.99), 4. Peter Pletcher, Magnolia, TX (84.33 + 87.33 + 91 = 262.66. 5. John French, San Juan Bautista, CA (92.33 + 85.66 + 89.66 = 257.65); 6. Ken Berkley, Flemington, NJ (85.33, 82, 79 = 246.33).
AMATEUR-OWNER: 1. Stacey Arani, Dover, MA, 1542 pts.; 2. Gayle Cox, Adkins, TX, 1454 pts.; 3. Becky Gochman, New York City, NY, 1369 pts.; 4. Ellen Toon, South Salem, NY, 1365 pts.
ADULT AMATEUR: 1. Amy Brubaker, Pasadena, CA, 1934 pts; 2. Gail Horrigan, Camarillo, CA, 1455 pts; 3. Christina Haney, Long Beach, CA, 1378 pts; 4. Jessica Zienkievicz, Round Rock, TX, 1300 pts.
FINAL RESULTS FOR REGIONAL STANDINGS
SOUTHWEST: Professional: John French, San Juan Bautista, CA, 1704 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Nicole Kane, Newport Beach, CA, 1003 pts.; Junior: Nicoletta Von Heidegger, Chatsworth, CA, 1467 pts.; Pony: Pearl Theodosakis, Chatsworth, CA, 1370 pts.; Children’s: Samantha Sommers, Malibu, CA, 1261 pts.; Adult Amateur: Amy Brubaker, Pasadena, CA, 1402 pts.
MIDWEST: Professional: Havens Schatt, Ocala, FL, 1003 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Tracy Scheriff, Wellington, FL, 658 pts.; Junior: Caitlin Ziegler, Milwaukee, WI , 996 pts.; Pony: Meredith Darst, Lebanon, OH, 1491 pts.; Children’s: Lulu Farish, Versailles, KY, 738 pts.; Adult Amateur: Victoria Watters, Cincinnati, OH, 700 pts.
SOUTH CENTRAL: Professional: Courtney Calcagnini, Pilot Point, TX, 1285 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Gayle Cox, Adkins, TX, 1229 pts.; Junior: Caroline Gibson, Magnolia, TX, 1078 pts.; Pony: Peyton Escher TX, 661 pts.; Children’s: Taylor Reid, Pilot Point, TX, 930 pts.; Adult Amateur: Jessica Zienkievicz, Round Rock, TX, 1300 pts.
NORTH EAST: Professional: Cynthia Williams, Mt. Kisco, NY, 1145 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Ellen Toon, South Salem, NY, 851 pts.; Junior: Danielle Cooper, Syosset, NY, 1154 pts.; Pony: Allison Toffolon, Bronxville, NY, 1044 pts.; Children’s: Brianne Link, Sayville, NY, 825 pts.; Adult Amateur: Laura Lee Montross, Bedford Hills, NY, 1130 pts.
SOUTH EAST: Professional: Terry Brown, Canton, GA, 993 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Sarah Ward, Windermere, FL, 920 pts.; Junior: Taylor Ann Adams, Memphis, TN, 1128 pts.; Pony: Elizabeth Butterworth, Grimesland, NC, 930 pts.; Children’s: Lexi Johnson, Bristol, VA, 272 pts.; Adult Amateur: Megan Massaro, Summerfield, FL, 895 pts.
CENTRAL MOUNTAIN: Professional: Kristin Nixon, Arvada, CO, 1235 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Weatherly Stroh, Wolcott, CO, 1182 pts.; Junior: Olivia Chowdry, Golden, CO, 1330 pts.; Children’s: Megan MacPherson, Boulder, CO, 1109 pts.; Pony: Allison Carlson, Naples, FL, 693 pts.; Adult Amateur: Jennifer Wallen, Parker, CO, 804 pts.
NORTH WEST: Professional: Shelley Campf, Canby, OR, 1385 pts.; Amateur Owner: Ellen Wilber, Seattle, WA, 1139 pts.; Pony: Payton Smith, Bothell, WA, 1254 pts.; Children’s: Deisy Jimenez, Woodinville, WA, 1250 pts.; Junior: Max Thompson, Woodinville, WA, 1195 pts.; Adult Amateur: Susan Miner, Bellevue, WA, 1208 pts.
MID ATLANTIC: Professional: Scott Stewart, Wellington, FL, 1457 pts.; Amateur-Owner: Betty Oare, , Warrenton, VA, 825 pts.; Junior: Samantha Schaefer, Westminster, MD, 1140 pts.; Pony: Victoria Colvin, Loxahatchee, FL, 1685 pts.; Children’s: Lindsay Wolf, Potomac, MD, 647 pts.; Adult Amateur: Lindsey Evans-Thomas- Annapolis, MD, 1034 pts.