Stephanie Danhakl Sweeps Grand Amateur-Owner Champion Awards at Capital Challenge Horse Show

Stephanie Danhakl swept the Grand Amateur-Owner Hunter Championships with her horses Golden Rule and Enough Said.
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Stephanie Danhakl swept the Grand Amateur-Owner Hunter Championships with her horses Golden Rule and Enough Said.

October 3, 2014--Adult and Amateur-Owner riders were center stage today at The Capital Challenge Horse Show, presented by The Gochman Family. Four divisions of amateur-owner hunters and three of adult amateur hunters competed. Stephanie Danhakl swept the Grand Amateur-Owner Hunter Championships with her horses Golden Rule and Enough Said. Rachel Howell and Swingtown won the Grand Adult Amateur Hunter Championship. In the evening session, Hope Batchelor was fastest on Orlando to win the $10,000 Children's/Adult Jumper Challenge. 

Stephanie Danhakl and Golden Rule | Photo Copyright Shawn McMillen Photography

Stephanie Danhakl and Golden Rule | Photo Copyright Shawn McMillen Photography

Thursday was Stephanie Danhakl's day at Capital Challenge. The rider from Pacific Palisades, Calif, who is currently in graduate school in Philadelphia, piloted Golden Rule and Enough Said to top honors.

Golden Rule was the Amateur-Owner 18-35 3'6” champion, sponsored by The Hallman Family and MerryLegs South LLC, and with their top ribbons of two firsts and a sixth over fences and second under saddle, they also garnered the Grand Amateur-Owner 3'6” Championship and Best Amateur Rider title. Danhakl was presented with the Dr. Harold M.S. Smith Trophy, donated by Dr. Suzanne Smith and Dr. Peter Craig for the grand championship. For the Best Amateur-Owner Rider Award, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Ernest M. Oare, Danhakl was presented with The So Many Ways Challenge Trophy, donated by Karen Kramer.

Winnetoe, ridden and owned by Montana Coady was the reserve champion. They placed first and fourth over fences and were sixth under saddle.

Danhakl and Golden Rule, an ex-grand prix horse from Europe, have been paired together for six months. The 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding has a large stride, and Danhakl adjusts her ride to take that into account. “I'm usually having to shorten around the ends of the ring because then I get down the lines too soon,” she acknowledged. “He likes to go really slow and jump slowly. He sort of knows that he has to collect his stride between jumps. He's sort of an old pro.”

The pair “clicked right away”, and trainer Scott Stewart competes with him in the High Performance Hunter division. They were worried at first that the 3'6” height for the amateur division would not be enough to impress Golden Rule. “But he's proven us wrong,” Danhakl pointed out. “He tries over every jump, no matter the size. He has a ton of scope. Sometimes Scott makes me jump really big oxers in the schooling ring and it scares me, but he always just flies over them with ease. It's a great feeling.”

Danhakl rode Enough Said to the Amateur-Owner 18-35 3'3” Hunter championship, sponsored by Doug and Missy Smith. They won two over fences classes and were second in the under saddle. The reserve champions, Classified and Samantha Schaefer, placed third, third, and fourth over fences and fifth in the under saddle.

For their top ribbons, Danhakl and Enough Said, an eight-year-old Warmblood gelding, were awarded the Grand Amateur-Owner 3'3” Hunter Championship, sponsored by The Oberkircher Family and Southfields Farm LLC, and Danhakl won the Best Amateur-Owner 3'3” Rider title.

Going from the diminutive Enough Said to the large Golden Rule takes some adjustment for Danhakl. “I sort of have to change my frame of mind. They're very different to ride. They both suit my style of riding though, because neither requires a lot of hand or leg. They have their own motors, which is the type of horse I like to ride.”

Although Enough Said is a Pre-Green horse, Danhakl said that he has always been mature with a good brain. “He's such a blast to ride, so he makes it very easy. He's sort of just on auto-pilot all the time. He's like a little wind-up toy,” she described. “You just get him going the right pace, and he does the rest. He has a big stride, he's very careful, so he doesn't usually hit the jumps. Even though he's small, he has a lot of scope and stride.”

Danhakl last won at Capital Challenge as a junior rider in 2004. After a break from riding, she started competing again two years ago. “Over the last year, I've felt like I've gotten back to how I was riding as a junior. I took a seven year break in between,” she explained. “I have great trainers in Scott and Ken, and they've helped me get back on track with my riding and become more consistent. I have a lot more confidence going into the ring than a year or two ago.”

She said it's “sort of a dream” to win again at Capital Challenge. “It's been a great year for me. I have some amazing horses, so I'm very lucky,” she remarked. “I had a slight hope that I'd be champion in one division, but I didn't think that I would be champion in both. I was just trying to be consistent and focus on each round as I went into the ring, and not focus on the points or being champion or not. It was more about trying to ride well. That's the strategy; to focus on riding and put the rest to the back of my mind.”

Another rider to return to Capital Challenge and win after a hiatus from riding is Caroline Moran of Wellington, Fla. She rode Bacardi, her eight-year-old KWPN gelding by Casco, to the championship in the Amateur-Owner 36 & Over 3'3” Hunter division, sponsored by Woodland Way, Inc., Wood Run Farm, and The Tredennick Family. They were fourth yesterday but returned today with a bang, winning both classes. The reserve champion was Summer Catch ridden by Dawn Fogel, who was second, second, and fourth over fences.

Moran last competed at Capital Challenge seven years ago and had success with top horses such as St. Nick, Prince Charming, Glass Castle, and Just Jack. “This is very exciting,” she said. “Not only for being out of the ring for so long, but to do it on him because he loves this horse show. I was a little bit nervous yesterday. I was riding a little bit defensive. In the handy, he really relaxed and I was very happy to end on that note.”

She continued, “It's nice to be back in the ring. I only do a couple horse shows a year. I've allowed myself to do other things outside of horse shows. It's nice to do well here. There are great horses and riders here. When I saw there were 40 in my division, I thought, 'Wow!' They're really good riders and horses, so I was extremely happy.”

Bacardi lives in Kentucky with trainer Havens Schatt, who competed him in the Performance 3'6” Hunters, so Moran only rides him at horse shows. This year, that has only been at three events: Blowing Rock, Middleburg Classic, and Capital Challenge. “I'm a little out of practice, so I'm thrilled with what he did here,” she said with a smile. “I haven't been riding him in between, which is difficult. It's hard to get your rhythm again. But he's a great horse. Once you get the rhythm with him, there's no other feeling like it.”

Terming Bacardi as “super comfortable,” Moran said, “When you canter around, it's like cantering around on a sofa. It's the most incredible feeling over the jump because he's so high and lofty, but he doesn't jump you loose. When he's relaxed and you can go forward, it's such an easy ride.”

John Ingram of Nashville, TN, and Airport 48, owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC, received two firsts and a second over fences to claim the Amateur-Owner 36 & Over 3'6” Hunter championship, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Ernest M. Oare. Katie Robinson rode Tradewind for Deeridge Farms to the reserve championship after placing first, second, and third over fences.

The Ingram family originally purchased Airport 48, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding, to be an equitation horse for their daughter Martha. When she wasn't ready to ride him, rider Hayley Barnhill tried him in hunter derby classes, where they had great success. Ingram took over the ride recently, and they were champions at Hampton Classic Horse Show.

“He was an ex-grand prix horse. He's pretty, and he jumped pretty good. Almost on a lark, we decided to let Hayley have a go with him in the derbies and he was fantastic. I just started riding him because he looked like a lot of fun, and he is. I would say he's the best damn equitation horse I ever bought!” Ingram laughed.

“Airport gives you a very confident ride,” Ingram said. “He's a little bit uphill. He's brave. It's pretty joyful. I think the fact that he could be a really great equitation horse makes him very versatile and able to do lots of things. He can answer anything in the hunter or equitation divisions.”

Ingram thanked trainer Tom Wright as well as Barnhill, Tori Hardison, Mitchell Robinson, and those that help get he and Airport to the ring. “It takes a village, and we have one,” he noted.

Ingram has won a reserve championship at Capital Challenge before with Hush, but this is his first top tricolor ribbon. “I've never gotten over the final hurdle to champion, and Katie (Robinson) sure made it difficult. She's an excellent rider and has great horses. It's particularly gratifying when you can eke out over good people, and there are a lot of them here. It's incredibly gratifying to win here.”

The Amateur-Owner 3'3” EMO Trip of the Show was a 91 from Stallone and Samantha Schaefer. Katie Robinson and Tradewind had the 3'6” EMO Trip of the Show with an 89. Becky Gochman's Sambalino was posthumously honored with the Grey Slipper Award.