Zionsville, IN - Kelley Farmer and Taken stole the show on the Grand Prix Field at the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show held on the grounds of Wild Air Farms. Not only is Taken a pro when it comes to the Derby, he took his owner, Jessica Stitt of Elburn, IL, to the championship win in the Amateur 3'3" class in Traverse City, MI, just one week ago.
"He's the coolest thing I've ever owned," Stitt said with a big grin. "He loves his job and he loves his life. He's the sweetest horse in the barn, but he knows when it's time to work. He is the most self-assured and wonderful horse."
Farmer piloted the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood imported from Holland to a win in the first round while taking two higher options to earn points. The course, designed by Phil DeVita, started with a birch bark oxer with a right turn over a wagon wheel vertical. Then up a ramp to a vertical at the top of the course with a high/low option to earn more points. After a left turn and a cross on the diagonal was an oxer to oxer stone wall combination with two strides in between. After a right turn, a solid wood snake fence with a high/low option was followed by a trek up a small bank with a pillar vertical. After a dogleg, a sawn-log oxer offered another high/low option and then a cross on the diagonal to a gray stone pillar oxer was followed by a gallop to an oxer with plank walls and birch standards for another high/low option.
"The course is beautiful," Farmer said. "Look at the field. The jumps are beautiful and Phil built an amazing course. The high options were plenty big and I am a big fan of working on a grass field."
After the first round with 21 entries, Taken and Farmer came out on top with a score of 188 and the dynamic duo and 11 other horse/rider partners earned the right to advance to the Round Two Handy Hunters including Caroline Weeden and The Spy (174), Lisa Goldman and Ariano (173), Kelley Farmer and Bases Loaded (172), Caroline Weeden and Lucky Times (166), Holly Orlando and Vox (162), Ashton Alexander and On Top (159), Holly Orlando and Spoken For (147), Erin McCabe and Castlewellan (145), Lizzie Van Der Walde and App For That (141), Freddie Vazquez and Quintero's Silhouette (140), and Rachel Porter and Rio (122).
Flags snapped in the wind and fluffy clouds dotted the blue sky as the Handy Round began. The course for the handy started with a natural straight birch fence to a wagon wheel vertical. After a turn to the right, the rider had a high/low option and then a rollback left to an oxer over to oxer combo with two strides in the middle. Then was a right turn to a solid wood snake fence with another high/low option. A small bank to a vertical was followed by a high/low option with birch standards and then a left turn to a trot fence followed by log oxers, and finally, left to a stone oxer with stone pillars.
Farmer had a determined look on her face as she and Taken took the high options and made sharp rollbacks to earn bonus points from the judges, Rob Bielefeld and Mike Rosser. "Come on little buddy," trainer Larry Glefke yelled from the side as the duo rounded the turn to the final jump. "Bring it on home."
And bring it on home they did. Farmer and Taken earned a 195 in the second round to come out on top with a 383%. Other top winners were second place for Caroline Weeden riding The Spy owned by Ila Lemonis of Lake Forest, IL, (174/193/367%), third place for Lisa Goldman and Ariano, owned by Brooke Saltzman of Hawthorn, Woods, IL, (173/181.5/354.5%), and fourth place for Caroline Weeden and Lucky Times, owned by Emma Heise of Northfield, IL, (166/182/348%).
Farmer also rode three other horses in the Derby but in the end, she and Taken were the victors, to his owner's delight. "The horse is honest," Stitt explained. When he wants to win, he's going to win." Stitt added that her horse has an attitude with a apt barn name of "Ali." "He's the Muhammad Ali of the horse barn, she said." Glefke added, "He thinks he's the greatest."
"He's a ham," Farmer said of Taken. "He's so spoiled−he'll only go in a rubber bit. He is not a bit spooky. You know, a few of us get lucky enough to ride a once in a lifetime horse and I do. I am so blessed."
Photos: Kelley Farmer and Taken win both rounds to take the USHJA International Hunter Derby; Caroline Weeden and The Spy didn't have to sneak into second--they won it handily