Washington, D.C. – The 2015 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) continued with its second day of competition Wednesday featuring the presentation of championship honors in the professional and amateur-owner hunter divisions at Verizon Center in downtown Washington D.C. Representing the west coast, rider and trainer John French (CA) dominated the professional divisions, while Becky Gochman (NY) and Daryl Portela (FL) reigned supreme over the amateur-owner championships. WIHS competition continues through Sunday, October 25.
John French, of San Jose, CA, had unprecedented success in this year’s WIHS competition. French capped off his time in the nation’s capital with three championships, three reserve championships, two Grand Hunter Championships, and the 2015 WIHS Leading Hunter Rider title. French guided Laura Wasserman’s Boss to the overall WIHS Grand Hunter Championship, and also won the WIHS Grand Green Working Hunter Championship riding Lee Kellogg Sadrian’s Sochi. He received a special $5,000 bonus for the Leading Hunter Rider Award, sponsored by Dr. Betsee Parker, and was also presented The Robert Coluccio Leading Hunter Rider Perpetual Trophy. Laura Wasserman earned the Leading Hunter Owner Award.
John French in his presentation for Leading Hunter Rider with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan, Dr. Betsee Parker, and Archie CoxJohn French in his presentation for Leading Hunter Rider with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan, Dr. Betsee Parker, and Archie Cox
“I do not think I have ever had an indoor show like this. To win this many championships and be reserve this many times as well; it means a lot,” French expressed. “This is where I grew up. As a kid, WIHS was the biggest show you could go to. We did not go to the Garden; it was too far away. WIHS, you could come and watch. It is my favorite show. I love being in the city; I love the whole atmosphere and ambiance about showing in the city.”
French had one of the greatest shows of his career, impressively winning classes and tricolors with five different horses. He acknowledged Archie Cox as the trainer of Wasserman’s Boss and Fine Design, as well as Montana Coady’s Ranger. French brought Sochi and Center Court for his own clients.
“It is not often that you have that many good ones,” he admitted. “I had five horses and they all won classes. A lot has to do with Archie. He does a great job. Some of the horses are his, and live at his barn, but Sochi and Center Court are with me at my barn. I just think that it is nice that I get to ride these horses a lot here. Every morning I get to ride them throughout the circuit. At home, a lot of times I just get on a horse and go in a class. For indoors, I get to spend three weeks between Capital Challenge, Harrisburg and Washington getting a real feel for each horse, what it needs and how I need to ride it better. I can put myself in the right mindset for the horse.”
“There are things that you tell yourself before you go in the ring. You get a routine, and a lot of times when you are riding so many horses, you do not have the time to do that. I love indoor shows, and shows with one ring, where you can really focus on your horses and watch instead of running ring to ring. You get a feel for the ring, and a feel for the horse. You do not have so many distractions with other things going on. The competition is good, so you have to rise to the competition. You always ride better when you really have to work at it. I like having the challenge.”
On the way to his leading rider title, French began the day with a championship win in the High Performance Working Hunter division, sponsored by Jacqueline B. Mars. He and Hiller Farms LLC’s Center Court accepted The “NOT ALWAYS” Challenge Trophy, donated by Miss Peggy Steinman. The pair placed first, first, and third over fences, and finished second under saddle. Kelley Farmer and Kensel LLC’s Mindful finished in reserve, placing first, second and third over fences, as well as third under saddle.
Mindful and Farmer were also presented the special Protocol Trophy, sponsored by Platinum Performance, for the second year in a row. The trophy is awarded to the overall High Point High Performance Working Hunter from the Devon Horse Show, Pennsylvania National Horse Show, and Washington International Horse Show.
In the Regular Conformation Hunters, Scott Stewart and Dr. Betsee Parker’s Lucador earned championship honors to be presented with The Mary Farren Perpetual Trophy. The pair finished first and sixth over fences, then topped the under saddle class to secure their championship. French and Laura Wasserman’s Fine Design earned reserve honors, placing first and second over fences, and second under saddle.
The Second Year Green Working Hunters were next to present championship honors. Stewart took another tricolor in that division, finishing third, second, and third over fences, and taking a win under saddle with Dr. Betsee Parker’s Cameo. French rode Montana Coady's Ranger to the reserve championship, placing first and second over fences, as well as second under saddle.
Competition continued with the Green Conformation Hunter championship, sponsored by The Ingram Family, in which French and Laura Wasserman’s Boss took their first title. The pair earned the Valiant Hark Memorial Challenge Trophy, donated by Mrs. Stephen J. Clark, with two wins and a third place finish over fences, as well as a win under saddle. Stewart and Stephanie Danhakl’s First Light finished in reserve, placing first, second and fourth over fences, and second under saddle.
The First Year Green Working Hunter division was the final deciding factor for this year’s grand championship honors. French solidified his lead by taking the division championship aboard Sochi, with two wins and a third place finish over fences. French also took reserve honors in that division with Boss, placing second, second and fourth over fences, as well as second under saddle.
Sochi was then presented the overall WIHS Grand Green Working Hunter Championship and the Claire Lang Miller Challenge Trophy, as well as the Windy Acres Challenge Trophy for the best Green Working Hunter stake round with a score of 89. Boss was awarded the overall WIHS Grand Hunter Championship and the Rave Review Challenge Trophy, donated by Stoney Hill. French received one final award for the EQUUS Foundation Best Professional Performance of the Day with Boss.
Boss is a nine-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Samba Hit II. Describing the ride, French explained, “With Boss, I have to think about riding a little taller and not let him get too low. Some horses I can relax and lean into the jumps more, but with him I have to tell myself to stay tall, relax about the lead changes, and be soft on his mouth.”
“He is so pretty. You have to like that,” French said of what makes Boss special. “He gets 10 bonus points on that. He just goes like a real hunter. He has a great expression; his ears never go back, and he has a beautiful face and neck.”
John French and Boss in their presentation for Grand Champion Hunter with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan, Archie Cox, and groom Alex GarciaJohn French and Boss in their presentation for Grand Champion Hunter with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan, Archie Cox, and groom Alex Garcia
Speaking of Sochi, a six-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Quirado, French noted, “I was really happy with him. Capital Challenge at the end of the week, he was acting sort of weird and he got sick. He had a fever and he lost a lot of weight, so I opted not to take him to Harrisburg. I gave him some time off and hoped that he would be ready to come here. He had off from the end of Capital Challenge until last Saturday. It was great that he was able to show here and it ended like this.”
“He is super brave; he is not a hard horse to prepare,” French added. “I just wanted to make sure that he was feeling better. I did not even do that much to get ready this week. I did not ride him in the ring. I just trusted; I did not want to stress him out and work him too hard. He was a little fresh, but I think the judges liked it because he was jumping so high over the jumps.”
John French and Sochi in their presentation for Grand Champion Green Working Hunter joined by WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan and groom Laura ReganJohn French and Sochi in their presentation for Grand Champion Green Working Hunter joined by WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan and groom Laura Regan
In addition to his grand championship mounts, French had a fantastic week with Center Court, earning the High Performance championship. The young Holsteiner gelding gave French his best score of the show with a 92 in Tuesday night’s handy round. French is now done competing for the fall season and looks forward to returning to California with his top prizes.