Ocala, FL: It was a picturesque evening under the lights of the Ocala Horse Properties Stadium for the return of the HITS Equitation Championship. High school senior Sunny Drescher, of Hinesburg, Vermont, and her own Sting proved that determination and drive pay off, moving up five spots from the 2014 event, to take home the blue ribbon and top honors.
After ten weeks of qualifying opportunities throughout the HITS Ocala Winter Show Circuit, thirty-one juniors took their chance at the technical course, set at 3’6”, designed by Buddy Brown of Menlo Park, California. Testing not only their competence in the ring, but also their efforts in the schooling area, competitors were judged by two sets of officials who evaluated their abilities as rising horsemen.
“At the riders meeting, Buddy Brown, gave us his expectations as riders. He told us what he wanted to see from us, which I thought was really helpful,” said Drescher. “I loved the course for Round One. I thought it rode really well and it was fun to ride. There were parts that were tricky but if you did it well, you were rewarded for that.”
Leading the class with a first round score of 184, Drescher went into Round Two feeling confident in her craft and she referenced her fifth place finish in the 2014 HITS Equitation Championship and knew she was ready for the challenge.
“My horse went so well in the first round. I was thrilled with how he stepped up to the plate in the ring. He was super under of the lights and I was hoping to find some momentum going into the second round,” said Drescher.
“Last year, in the first round, I had the best ride of my life, except I failed to trot the trot jump. [This year] I knew I was capable of putting in good rounds, I just needed to focus and make sure I got all the pieces done,” she continued. “Last year was a confidence booster, but it was also a motivator to work harder to get my testing better, so that I could come back and be better."
Although riders were not permitted to discuss strategy or technique with their trainers throughout the evening, they found support in one another and used that as fuel for success.
“All of the riders walk together, we watch each other go, and we all root for one another. It feels like a team sport because we’re all helping each other out,” said Drescher. “Even though we didn’t have trainers last night, I couldn’t have done it without Annie Dotoli and Aster Pieters’ support over the years.”
Ashton Alexander of Ocala, Florida, and Ullrich, owned by Don Stewart, went home with second place honors and scores of 181 and 174.5, for a total of 355.5. Catherine Apostol of Wycoff, New Jersey, and her own Courage followed, with scores of 172 and 172.5, for a combined total of 344.5 and third place. Fourth place went to Kennedy Knapic of Smithtown, New York, riding her own Zedulon, to scores of 171 and 172, totaling 343. Rounding out the top five was Rhian Murphy of Charlotte, Vermont, and his Finnigan with scores of 183 and 159, for a total of 342.
Competition continues in the Ocala Horse Properties today at 1pm with the $25,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix and on Monday, March 23 at 6pm with the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix. For a complete schedule of events and information, visit HitsShows.com.
HITS Equitation Championship
Place Horse Owner Rider Rd. 1 Rd. 2 Total
1 Sting Sunny Drescher Sunny Drescher 184 177.5 361.5
2 Ullrich Donald Stewart Ashton Alexander 181 174.5 355.5
3 Courage Catherine Apostol Catherine Apostol 172 172.5 344.5
4 Zedulon Kennedy Knapic Kennedy Knapic 171 172 343
5 Finnigan Rhian Murphy Rhian Murphy 183 159 342
6 Fitz Fairfield Farms LLC Meghan Flanagan 157 170 327
7 Crimea River Donald Stewart Carly Hoft 152 162 314
8 Crimson Z Fiona Steinmetz Fiona Steinmetz 161 150 311
9 Acado Nevergreen Farm LLC Claudia Payor 167 142 309
10 Fermoso Lisa Kerkorian Katie Eppinger 156 152 308
11 Eamon Dawson Equine Investments, LLC Shannon Hogue 148 88 236
12 Fedelio Liza Finsness Mackenzie Michaels 151.5 65 216.5