Loyalty Rewarded at Woodside Fall Finale

“When Linda McRae (Show Secretary) asked me to come to the 3'0" Hunter Derby I told her I had dinner plans,” said trainer Rene Rios, “but then she insisted I come.” Rene was really glad he did. The Woodside Fall Finale (Sep 30-Oct 3), as the final show of the seven show series, made a special presentation during the $2,500 USHJA Hunter Derby to four very special trainers. “We realized that during this year four trainers had come to all seven shows, and we wanted to recognize them,” said Linda.

Much to their curiosity and then delight, Rene, Peter Breakwell, KC Kelley, and Millennium Farm trainers Jill Hamilton and Nancy Thomas were invited into the ring. When they were handed bouquets of flowers and $1,000 gift certificates provided by show sponsor Equitex, they were elated. “It was a big surprise and very, very nice,” said Peter in his usual understated manner. “My clients really like these shows,” added Rene, “and my business has grown because of them.” Jill Hamilton was equally touched by the show’s gesture. “I had no idea why we were being called into the ring and then when Linda handed us the gift certificate, it meant so much.”

Reaching out to the trainers and exhibitors is a trademark of the Woodside shows. “We offer a wide variety of classes for all levels of horses and riders,” continued Linda “and we really try to also be friendly and listen to our customers. Equitex, Carousel Saddlery, and Jake’s Place are all sponsors, so it was nice to be able to offer something special to the four trainers who gave us so much support all year.”

And the rewards did not stop there. In a tight race to the finish, it came down to the final classes of the final day to determine which hard working professional would win a week-long stay at the beautiful Marriott Ocean Club on Maui. While the contest seemed to be a neck-to-neck race between Beverly Jovais and Buddy and Vanessa Brown, Laura Gerst proved to be the dark horse and overtook them in the homestretch by a nose.

“I was so excited!” Laura said of her surprise win. “I hadn’t even looked at the points, but it means a lot to me to have won this, and it means a lot that the show management rewards us professionals. It makes me want to support the shows even more. These are good shows, and I usually bring 15-20 people.”

Laura’s come-from-behind victory was largely due to her clients earning a whopping 226 points at the Fall Finale, which was a double point show. Her students did well, earning numerous tri-colors and blues. “I’m proud of all of my people,” she said, and it’s no wonder. For some of them, it was their first show ever. For Elizabeth Everitt, it was her first show back after breaking her wrist this summer. She placed in the top three of all of her classes, which were quite large, aboard her Commemorate. Her achievements were topped with a reserve championship in the Low Adult Hunter section.

Diane Doolittle is the consummate amateur, balancing riding with being a mother and working a full-time job. At the Fall Finale, she was undefeated in her classes and champion of the 1.10m Zone 10 Adult Amateur Jumpers. Gillian Mihanovic competed at her second show on her new horse, Summer Dream, and not only won the Short Stirrup Equitation Over Fences, but placed in several other classes and was named reserve champion in the Short Stirrup section. Finally, but just one more entry in a long list of achievements for Laura’s barn, Laura’s own daughter, six-year-old Natalie Gerst, won her first class ever in the Opportunity Walk-Trot Over Poles Hunter Under Saddle. She also earned several other ribbons in the walk-trot section. She has been riding for less than a year.

While Laura made some family memories with Natalie in the Opportunity section, the husband and wife team of Mariano and Nina Alario of Estancia Farms earned their own rewards in the big classes of the weekend. Mariano took the top spot in the $7,500 Woodside Fall Jumper Classic aboard Must De Lovverie (Rohan Nutrition, owner), while his student Sarah Haggberg rode Perlano (Bon Cheval Stables/Sarah Haggberg, owner) to a sixth place finish.

“I’m very proud of both of them,” Nina said of Mariano and Must De Lovverie. “The horse is owned by Mariano’s brother-in-law, and Mariano has been working very hard with him. This was the best this horse has ever jumped.” As for Mariano’s strategy in the four-horse jump off, she added, “He knew he had to go fast enough to put some pressure on, while still going clear. He did just the right amount of both. He always goes in there and goes for it, going as fast as he can while leaving the jumps up to put some pressure on the other riders.”

Katie Harris (Kelly Van Vleck, trainer) also made a strong showing in this class on her own entries, placing second on Urvine, third on Parrandero and seventh with Vivaldie.

While Mariano brings a wealth of experience in the jumper ring from his native Argentina, Nina concentrates her energies on the hunter and equitation rings. She piloted Content, a horse she recently leased from Kirsten Strain for Claire Cella to ride, to the top prize in the $2,500 USHJA 3’ Hunter Derby. In fact, it was a great show in general for Content, having won the Children’s Hunter 14-17 Champion and several firsts with Claire and Modified Low Hunter Champion and more blues with Nina.

“It was really exciting,” Nina recalled. “I don’t often get the opportunity to go in and just try to win a class for myself; I’m usually prepping the horse for the client. Content was amazing—he really stepped up to the plate and was brave and relaxed. He’s new to our program, but every question or challenge we ask of him, he impresses us with how he responds.” Nina enjoys the derby style classes for the new challenges they offer. “It’s a great change from the every day questions that are asked in the hunter ring and is a good crossover into the equitation classes. This one was a good challenge with being late in the day and including jumps we’re not used to seeing, like hay bales and hedges. It’s a good educational experience, because you have to change your ride accordingly.”

Content wasn’t the only horse under the guidance of the Alarios that was in the ribbons. Olivier (Madeline Fithian, owner) earned some of his own with Nina in the irons, including Training Hunter Champion, while Tolstoy (Mackenzie Baker, owner) made a good showing in jumper and equitation classes with Mia Beckham.

The Woodside shows will be back in session in April 2011 with more chances to win a week’s stay in Maui or other great prizes. Southern California jumping fans still have more to look forward to this season at the LAEC, with the Gold Coast 7 show October 21-24, the National Preview November 10-14, and the season highlight, the L. A. National Horse Show November 17-21. The Hansen Dam series returns from hiatus October 29-30 for the Verdugo Hills League Preview and the Verdugo Hills Finale November 6-7.

Photos: Four trainers are rewarded for their loyalty to the Woodside shows Photo by Sheri Scott
Sheri Scott Team Windy Hill: Paul Bennett, Laura Gerst and Matt Sereni LEG Up News file photo