Bert Mutch is the first rider to win all three major classes—the Welcome Stake, the USHJA National Hunter Derby, and the Woodside Spring Classic Grand Prix—at any of the Woodside shows, and it was the talk of the show (Apr 30-May 4). “There’s not a lot of us still in today’s show jumping world that do both disciplines at that level,” Bert noted. “I’ve got to thank my dad for giving me all that experience and the background, and all of the people that I worked for over the years who taught me how to be a complete rider and not just specialize in one ring or the other.”
Bert won both the Welcome Stake and the Woodside Spring Classic Grand Prix on W. Natal (Coxe Horses, LLC., owner). “My plan in the grand prix jump off was to be a little conservative to the first turn to the double,” Bert explained. “He has a really big stride and I knew I could leave out one stride to the skinny, and I went on the inside of what was the original jump number one. He rolled back really well. Unfortunately, when I said ‘go’ to the water I didn’t get a lot of gas pedal there and the five was really long. Thank god it’s a plastic water jump and not a concrete one, because I landed right in the middle of it! I’m just glad that pole wasn’t another three inches higher!”
W. Natal hasn’t jumped big fences as he’s been an adult jumper for the last four years. Bert showed the gelding at Woodside Spring Preview (Apr 23-27). “I felt that W. Natal was starting to realize that this height is what he has to jump now,” Bert commented. “I came out of the ring after the first round of the grand prix and said, ‘That’s the easiest he’s jumped this height so far.’”
Daniel Zilla and Venice B (Branscomb Farm LLC, owner) placed second in the grand prix, and Tara Couch (Harley Brown, trainer) placed third in just her second grand prix of her career—the first being at Woodside Spring Preview. “I was very excited to have my first grand prix be at Woodside,” she recalled of the first week. “It is a beautiful venue and very comfortable to be on my home turf. The atmosphere in the grand prix was really different than any class I had ridden in. When I was warming, up my horse was very reactive to the crowd and the clapping, and I was nervous about riding against professionals. My husband gave me a pep talk and told me not to think about who I was riding against, just to think about giving my horse a good ride like any other day.”
Although she was nervous the first week, Tara was a little more prepared for her second grand prix. “My horse just jumped great! My approach to the jump off was just to have fun. I wanted to ride well in the left turn I had struggled with before, and I finally nailed it. I couldn't have been happier with my horse. She is really special and such a trier. I love Anthony D'Ambrosio's courses. He is fair but very technical and doesn't let up. They don't have to be big to be difficult.”
Bert also smoked the competition on Friday evening in the USHJA National Hunter Derby on Cold Smoke (Naomi Rubin, owner). Naomi just purchased the twelve-year-old grey gelding in Thermal in late February, and she usually rides him in the children’s hunter classes. She had never watched Cold Smoke compete before, so she asked Bert to show him in the derby.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bert showed a very famous grey gelding named Holy Smoke, which was champion at Devon, Washington, Madison Square Garden, and many other shows in the Regular Working Hunters. “Quite a few people commented that Cold Smoke looked just like Holy Smoke, and I felt that was a positive omen for the class,” Bert said. “Cold Smoke is a really cool horse, and I thought I could win on him. He was really good in the first round. I was a hair late for the change after the first jump for about half a stride, and that made me a little nervous..”
Bert and Cold Smoke found themselves in third place after the first round with a score of 86. They poured it on in the second round for an even better performance, taking all four higher options to score a 94. “This horse is super handy. He does equitation as well as he does the hunters. In the handy round, I was able to put a little pressure on Stephen Pellett and Morgan Thomas by making all the inside turns. The inside turn away from the in gate and back to the little box was pretty spooky that time of evening. My horse does trot jumps really well, so I was able to do the little inside turn to the trot jump and then turn right back on the last jump in six strides. The horse was just super handy and he happened to jump really well.” Their handy round performance put Bert and Cold Smoke at the top of the leader board, leaving Morgan Thomas and Bryant Park (Jessica King, owner) in second place and the previous week’s winner, Stephen Pellet and North Shore (Emily Latchford, owner), in third.
Bert’s wins over the weekend put him in contention for both the LEGIS Hunter Rider Bonus and the $25,000 LEGIS Jumper Rider Bonus. If he wins again with either horse this season, he will be cashing a bonus check at the end of the year.
Bert took a three-year hiatus from horses after moving to California in 2010. He got back into horses last year and is working at Charlebois Farm in Menlo Park.
While Bert ruled in the hunters and jumpers, Sophie Verges (Benson Carroll and David Murdoch, trainers) had success of her own in all three rings. Among her accomplishments were wins in the CPHA Foundation Equitation and WCE Medal classes, second in the $1,000 Junior/Amateur Owner Hunter Classic on Cusiena Q, and an eighth place finish in the large and competitive Woodside Spring Classic Grand Prix on Benlough (Elmwood Farm, owner of both). “I think being able to do well in all three rings comes with a lot of experience over the past few years,” Sophie reflected. “I think the best thing about the American system is that equitation prepares you for show jumping if that’s your goal, and it is for me. Being able to go slow and be balanced early each day in my equitation classes carried over when I did the Welcome Stake and the grand prix.”
Sophie just recently returned to Northern California after living and going to school in Los Angeles for several years. “The last two weeks, I’ve been working with Benson Carroll and David Murdoch. Benson helps me a lot in equitation and hunters, and they both watched me in the jumper ring, which is great. I rode with Benson as a junior and had a lot of success. Then I went to L.A. for school and rode with Leslie Steele for the past three or four years. I wanted to do something different, so I came back up here. I was looking for an excuse to come back home, and David just offered me a job as his assistant and I accepted, so I’m turning professional after this show. I actually had to leave the show for a little while on Sunday to look at an apartment. I signed my lease on Monday and my contract with David on Wednesday, so it’s all happening really fast. I’m really excited. They have a great program and a beautiful facility.”
Sophie also appreciated the niceties of showing at the Horse Park at Woodside. “I haven’t been to a show at Woodside since 2009,” she recalled. “The improvements to the jumper ring are fantastic. Riding in the Grand Prix ring is fun and a different challenge than other rings because it’s not perfectly level or square, so I have to really be balanced. Plus, that ring has really nice natural obstacles you don’t always get to see, like the bank and the grob. I got to do equitation in that ring, too, so it was great for horses to see everything. Woodside is one of my favorite locations. The prize money is always good and they have a nice atmosphere. It was nice to see people I haven’t seen for a few years. There were kids I used to ride against who are now professional and doing well, which was mind boggling but cool.”
Fourteen-year-old Natalie Dean (Jennifer Kallam, trainer) was another rider who held her own in more than one ring, winning the Hudson & Company Medal and PCHA Horsemanship Medal on Van Gogh (Ali Cornish, owner), and the $500 Carousel Hunter Derby and Low Children’s Hunter Reserve Champion on her Tuxedo.
“My major goal for this year was to qualify for some medal finals, and this is the last year I can qualify for the PCHA Horsemanship 14 & Under Medal,” explained the Castilleja High School freshman. “The first time I competed at 3’3” was at the Woodside Spring Preview, so I was thrilled to win that class the second week at the Spring Classic. I am leasing an equitation horse, Van Gogh, and the PCHA Medal class was a great round for us. I am very proud of how we performed in a class of very talented riders.”
Natalie was also happy to celebrate her first derby win, especially since it was on her twelve-year-old paint gelding, Tuxedo. The pair has been together for three years, and she has learned a lot from him. “He took me from the Short Stirrup to the 3’ hunters and equitation, and we won the CPHA Horsemanship Medal Final in 2012,” she explained. “He is super fun to ride and is very fun to show because you can tell he loves it. He perks up and performs his best whenever he gets in the show ring. I decided to enter the $500 Carousel Hunter Derby because it was a good opportunity for me to show Tuxedo in a derby and it was a lot of fun. I showed him in the previous week’s derby, but we got bumped just out of the ribbons so it was great to win this time.” Emilia Boultbee (Jessica Harrell, trainer) placed second in the class aboard her Kagee Scooper.
Thanks to her win in the $500 Carousel Hunter Derby, Natalie has a chance at winning a perpetual trophy at the end of the year if she is the leading rider for LEG’s Northern California series.
For more information about Woodside Spring Classic, including complete results, visit the LEG website.
Horse showing in Woodside continues with Woodside Circuit Opener (Jun 18-22), now expanded to five days to meet exhibitor demand. "For several years, exhibitors have been asking us to expand the spring shows from four days to five, and we were resistant due to the extra cost and riskier weather,” explained show manager Chris Collman. ”But we gave it a try this year, and starting with the Woodside Spring Preview, the exhibitors did what they promised, which was supporting it with everything they could. We had a great week and set a record for entries. So, we are going to do the same for the first summer show. We are going to listen to the exhibitors and trainers and expand the first summer show to five days. I am thrilled that show management, the exhibitors, and trainers are all working together to make successful shows here in Woodside."
In Southern California, Gold Coast May (May 16-18) is up next at LAEC, followed by the ever popular Memorial Day Classic (May 21-25)—now running Wednesday through Sunday so exhibitors can spend Memorial Day with their families. Verdugo Hills May (May 10-11) is at Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, while Colorado riders can look forward to Colorado Springs Spring Preview and Classic (May 8-11 and 15-18).