July 30, 2016 - It was only in June that Courtney Calcagnini and Bowie made headlines, winning the $30,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Country Heir Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky. Consistent contenders in the hunter derby program, Calcagnini showcased Bowie's talent once again during the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF), proving that they should never be considered the "underdog." On Saturday afternoon, Calcagnini and Bowie captured the victory during the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, sponsored by the Gochman Family.
The nerves were high for Calcagnini for the classic round of the event, "Bowie is a very big-strided, very scopey horse and it's so easy for him, but I was actually pretty nervous in the first round. I was thinking that the jumps were really big, and I was worried about it. He just does it, and he could go bigger."
The 10-year-old Warmblood gelding has proven himself across the nation, yet on Saturday he exceeded all expectations, as he traversed Tom Hern's hunter derby course, jumping each fence beautifully to earn the high scores of 91 and 93 during the handy round. The pair earned additional handy scores of 8 from both judging panels and took all high fence options to top the leader board with an impressive second-round score of 208 points. Combined with the classic round score of 186.5 points, Calcagnini and Bowie moved from the reserve position to take over the lead with a final cumulative score of 394.5 points.
Hern tested the riders with a challenging handy course that featured large natural obstacles. Due to the size and shape of the Grand Prix Ring at the Flintfields Horse Park, Hern believed he could build a track reminiscent of the approaching 2016 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships. He used high options, inside turns and a long hand gallop to test the horse and rider combinations. He designed with balance for each level of exhibitor, opting for both tight and broad turns, as well as a split where riders could choose to take a left and hand gallop to the final birch oxer, or turn right and take the smaller oxer set near the in-gate.
"They really made me look good by the way they rode the course out there," Hern said. "If you're going to jump big, I want you to have to work for it. Not all venues are capable of [having high options that are that high], but at this venue, I knew we were capable of it. I always try to come up with a theme if I can. For this derby I wanted a garden theme where there were elements that were reminiscent of the woods. In a sand arena, it can be a challenge, but this horse show provides you with everything you could ask for. There are a lot of people behind this, aside from just me."
Calcaginini and Kelley Farmer entered into the handy phase with only a two-and-a-half-point differential separating them in the rankings. Though Farmer led the way with Point Being, Calcagnini was hot on her heels with Bowie. A rider error would put Bowie in the lead, with Farmer's second mount of the class, Nina Moore's Kodachrome, finishing second. The pair closed out the competition with scores of 92 and 90 with 9 and 10 points added for their handiness on the course. Farmer also opted for all four high options, to land the second place with a final total of 390.5 points.
Calcagnini watched Pletcher and Farmer tackle the handy round before entering the ring, and she knew she would have to take a direct and smooth approach. She immediately jumped the opening vertical with a right hand turn from the in-gate, and was faced with a hard approach, but she knew she could get inside to the second obstacle.
"I am not as slick as these guys," Calcagnini said. "I knew I just had to gallop around and keep going because I knew I'd be in and out of there, so I just wanted to be really smooth and carry a little bit more pace."
She opted for a wider turn to the third fence, still following the inside track, but not slicing the turn as much as her fellow contenders. Calcagnini was able to transition easily for the trot jump, and the fences flowed nicely with the plan she followed. When she landed from the penultimate obstacle, she picked up the hand gallop, turned left and aimed Bowie at the final oxer, which he jumped with ease.
Calcagnini smiled, "My horse, he's special and he takes care of me. Bowie is perfect, so it definitely was the horse [that made us stand out]. He is a scopey wonderful horse, and Cody Williams has flown in to help me at this show, and at the last few derbies. He has been a major help, he always makes me go faster, I'm always too slow [laughs]."
Taking the second place finish was an emotional moment for Farmer, as the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival is only her second show with Kodachrome, whose saddle was once filled by the late Russell Frey, who only passed away in May 2016.
"This was a really emotional decision for all of us," Farmer said forlornly. "After Russell passed, time had to settle, and Nina, myself and Larry all discussed what Russell would have wanted that horse to do, and what that horse was supposed to do. Russell believed in [Kodachrome], and we all knew he was a really good horse-he finished out Florida winning [the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby]-and after the appropriate time, Nina chose for him to go back to the ring. Russell believed in that horse, and he was right. I just want to do Russell proud by doing the right thing."
Peter Pletcher aboard Quirino, owned by Audrey Giles-Gates, rounded out the top three with a cumulative score of 380.5 points. He came back in the fourth position; however, his handy score of 202 points would push the duo into the third place.
"My horse Rino is a super amazing athlete, he can try anything, and the course today I thought was probably more challenging than a lot of the classes that we've had," Pletcher said. "I think that, before a derby final, it was a great class to be able to compete in. I knew in the second round that there were some definite hard option inside turns, and with that horse he will give it his all and try, so I thought I'd put a little pressure on him to do all the inside turns. It was good, he gave it his all and that is all you can ask for."
Daisy Farish and Golden Eye were awarded the fourth place with 357 points, while Sophie Michaels captured the fifth place with Carlo. The sixth place was awarded to Emily Perez for her score of 337.75 points with Charisma.
Saturday afternoon's pre-International Derby festivities included a $4,000 Groom's Class, presented by Meadow View Farm and The Johnson Family. Due to popularity, the class was split into two sections. First place in section one went to Jenny Priebe and Quite Lady, who is owned and ridden by Maria Yzerman in the Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers. The section two winner was Jesus Carrera and Sorrento, owned by Copper Fox LLC and ridden by Hillary Johnson in the Conformation Hunters.
Priebe was happy to see her hard work recognized. "It's really fun, I used to horse show all the time and this is a way for me to keep in the show world but not showing anymore. I love taking care of her, she's wonderful."
When asked her secret to keeping Quite Lady looking show ring ready Priebe credited "lots and lots of currying and adding vinegar to her rinse water."
The fourth week of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival concludes Sunday with the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, as well as the highlight event of the finale week, the $50,000 Flintfields Farm Grand Prix, sponsored by Meijer.