Lexington, KY - Ellen Toon captured her first National Horse Show championship in 1994, and now, more than 20 years and many championships later, the thrill of winning at the prestigious year-end show remains.
Toon experienced that thrill again Thursday morning at the CP National Horse Show as she and her own Mirror Image captured the Amateur-Owner 3'6" Over 35 Hunter Championship and the Amateur-Owner 3'6" Hunter Grand Championship.
While Toon is no stranger to the National Horse Show, this is her first time traveling to the indoor final since it made the move to the Kentucky Horse Park, and this week marks her first time ever riding in Kentucky - an experience Toon has very much enjoyed. "As a horse person, it's just so fabulous," Toon said. "It's just so beautiful. This is beyond. The ring is like riding outside; it's so nice."
Mirror Image also seemed to appreciate the spacious Alltech Arena, as the mare turned in consistently beautiful trips, winning both the first over fences round and the under saddle Wednesday and finishing second in the stake round Thursday morning.
"In just one year, she's become such a made horse," Toon said of the mare she purchased roughly a year and a half ago. "She was an experienced jumper, but she didn't know how to be a hunter. I think she just keeps getting better and better. It's amazing how far she's come in such a short time. She came pretty far quickly to be an acceptable hunter, and now she's just fabulous." Toon continued, "She's so much fun to ride. It's indescribable. She's so scopey. She can walk the lines. She doesn't like to touch the jumps. She's not at all spooky, but she's very careful."
The CP National Horse Show Amateur-Owner 3'6" Hunter Grand Championship marked the conclusion to an extremely impressive indoors season for Toon and Mirror Image that included a reserve championship at the Capital Challenge Horse Show and the Amateur-Owner 3'6" Hunter Grand Championship at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.
Stephanie Danhakl's indoor season has panned out very similarly to Toon's, and the results at the CP National Horse Show bore a striking similarity to the results at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, as it was again Danhakl who joined Toon as an Amateur-Owner 3'6" Hunter champion.
Danhakl and Golden Rule kicked off the Amateur-Owner 3'6" 18-35 Hunters, sponsored by Suzanne Thoben Marquard, with a third place finish over fences and a fifth place finish under saddle Wednesday, and the rider came into the competition Thursday determined to improve upon her performance.
"Yesterday I didn't have as good a round as he normally goes, and we didn't get a great ribbon in the hack," Danhakl explained. "I knew that today I had to probably win both in order to be champion, so there was a lot of pressure on for today, but I have so much confidence in him. I think he's the best horse in the world. I knew that if I rode well, he was going to bring me to the blue. I just tried to focus on that today and not be nervous and ride every jump. He went beautifully. I think today was the best he's gone all indoors. He jumped so high over everything and round. It's such an incredible feeling over the jumps on him. I'm so happy to end this way, and I'm really proud of him."
The reserve championships in the Amateur-Owner 3'6" Hunters were awarded to Nicole Hiehle and Lovely Charity in the Amateur-Owner Over 35 Hunters and Darby Toben and Chapman ET in the Amateur-Owner 3'6" 18-35 Hunters.
The Junior 3'3" Hunters also kicked off their divisions Thursday morning with over fences wins going to Alex Trolli on Hey Sailor and Sophia Pilla on CC Cool. Hunter competition continues Friday at the CP National Horse Show with the conclusion of the Junior 3'3" Hunters and the start of the Junior 3'6" Hunters.
For more information about the CP National Horse Show, please visit www.nhs.org.