Traverse City, one of the country's premier vacation destinations, boasts sugar-sand beaches, blue waters and, once a year, a four-week horse show series. Stadium Jumping, Inc., the equestrian production company that has taken over the reins at what was, for many years, Horse Shows by the Bay kicked off the much anticipated Great Lakes Equestrian Festival Thursday, ushering in a new era of competition and top tier shows. Many of the horse and rider combinations have arrived already, and put on powerful performances in the Grand Prix ring for the opening day.
David Beisel was the first to tackle Michel Vailancourt's $3,000 1.40m Open Jumper track, and one of only three to jump double-clear. Aboard the little 10-year-old stallion Ammeretto, owned by Equine Holdings, LLC of Traverse City, Beisel set a time that would prove untouchable, leading the class from beginning to end.
"I was just trying to let him go out, have some fun, and let some wind out of his sails without getting too crazy," Beisel explained. "I wanted to let him stretch his legs. I could have gone without the bucking to the last combination, though," Beisel laughed. "Hopefully it is a good warm-up for the $50,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City this Sunday."
Ammeretto is coming off of a fantastic spring and early summer, and today was the first time the stallion jumped in two weeks. Beisel has been riding him for seven years, and refers to his formidable mount as "small but mighty," standing at only 16 hands, but always keeping his eye on the prize.
Beisel's jump-off time of 30.312 seconds proved hard to catch, although Beth Underhill of Ontario, Canada, and Viggo came in only three-tenths of a second behind for the second place. Ryan Genn of Lebanon, Ohio, and Cookie Monster picked up the third place finish with their time of 31.737 seconds.
During the $1,500 1.35m Open Jumpers, Donald Cheska rode Calvigo, owned by Erika Baran of Chicago, Illinois, to the first place finish with a double clear effort completed in a speedy 29.012 seconds. Wilhelm Genn and Bugatti captured the second place with a clean jump-off time of 29.773 seconds, while Theo Genn and Asirea Fortuna stopped the clock in 30.497 seconds for the third.
"Calvigo normally gets worked and warm, but we did nothing with him today, and he was just fresh with the cool weather," Cheska said. "He is a winner. I took him into the 1.35m Jumpers as a way to put some more mileage on him."
Cheska continued, "One thing I am impressed by is that Michel [Vailancourt] is one of the top two or three builders in the world. It really does a lot for the show, and he always does a good job. He is a worker and he always wants each course that he designs to be really good. He puts 100 percent into it. As a rider, it is important to have good builders, and Michel makes you think a lot and pay attention."
The courses continued to impress during the $1,250 1.30m Open Jumper division, where a field of 17 competed. Only five were able to navigate the first round course successfully, but it was Texan Tommy Brawley and Nando KLT who rode to the top of the leaderboard. Their time of 31.941 seconds was more than a second ahead of second place finisher Beth Underhill and Count Me In, who finished in 33.911 seconds. Third place was awarded to Javier Berganza Anderhub and Chantal.
The Great Lakes Equestrian Festival will continue to welcome riders and thrill spectators over the next four weeks of competition. Feature events for this week include the $25,000 Antares Welcome Stake on July 3, as well as the $50,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City on July 5. Hunter riders will also have the opportunity to compete in the $1,00 Pre-Green Hunter Incentive, as well as the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby.
New Management and Strong Competitors Set the Tone for the Inaugural Great Lakes Equestrian Festival
By: Elaine Wessel
Great Lakes Equestrian Festival made its debut today at the Flintfields Horse Park, the prior home of the Horse Shows by the Bay series, with the new Stadium Jumping, Inc. management continuing their reputation for excellence as the new face of the showgrounds. It may be under a new name, but the "destination show," as many have dubbed it, has already garnered favorable reviews from competitors and spectators. In spite of the unseasonably cold weather, a number of challengers came into the hunter ring intending to set the bar high, and started the first day of competition strong with top placings.
Kicking off the hunter classes in the Polk Family Main Hunter Ring, the combined divisions of Green and Regular Confirmation hunters brought a few entries to the table, each hoping to gain the lead in the point standings headed into the second half of the division tomorrow. With a fences and handy round on the agenda for the morning, horses and riders had two chances to prove themselves in front of the judges. Earning the two coveted first place spots was Jennifer Nadalin and Samantha Gajoch's Catango V, followed by David Beisel aboard his own Salem, and Tim Goguen with Boggs Hill Farm's Anytime, both of which earned a second and third between the two classes.
In for the Regular Conformation Hunters, "Tango," as he is called in the barn, began competing in the Conformation Hunters just last year while in Traverse City, earning a tricolor ribbon in his premiere appearance in the division. His rider seemed just as pleased with him today, praising the horse for his easy way of going.
"It's exciting to start the week with a pair of blues," Nadalin reflected. "We will be here for the full four weeks of the series and hope to perform just as well throughout that time."
Although it was only the first day of showing, Nadalin was happy with the show and its new management, speaking of high hopes for the future.
"We come here every year and have loved it in the past, and still love it this year. Somehow it seems to get better and better, with improvements each year," she complimented. "The facilities and set-up are wonderful and my horse loves the footing. We are so thankful that the show was able to continue this year."
In the Second Year Green Working Hunter and PJP Farm High Performance Working Hunter divisions, which were combined to allow for a larger competition base, only a few points separated the top three pairs. Snapchat, owned and ridden by Tommy Brawley, earned second and third positions; Laura Stern and her own Harrison rode their way to a first and third; and Tim Goguen aboard Saddle Ridge LLC's Ransom proved to produce the best rounds, earning them first and second place finishes.
"We have been coming to this show for years, and were actually here the first few years when it was in a hayfield," Goguen commented. He and his stable took a five-year hiatus from the show, but are happy to have returned to the new and improved Flintfields Horse Park. "This is such a great show, and I think next year it will be bigger and better than ever."
Typically riding eight to 12 horses a day, Goguen continued his streak of good rides in the irons aboard two mounts in the Wrenwood farm-sponsored First Year Green Working Hunter classes, his third and fourth horses of the day, all before noon. Thwarting the efforts of the other exhibitors, he and Capella topped the judges' cards with two first place finishes. Rookie, Goguen's other ride, also put in a strong performance, headed into tomorrow's second half of the division with a second and third under his belt.
"I was happy with the way my horses went today," Goguen noted. Unlike Catango V, Goguen's horses had a slightly different reaction to the footing, although you wouldn't it based off their strong showings this morning. "Most of these horses haven't jumped on sand in a long time, which caused them to be a bit funny today. It gives them a different push, and they aren't quite used to it. It took some of them a round or so to understand the different dynamic the sand provides."
Goguen and Boggs Hill Farm, the Lexington and Wellington-based stable he co-owns with his wife Kelly, will stick around the showgrounds for the first two weeks, after which they will head to Lexington, KY, for the North American Junior Young Rider Championships taking place at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Hot on the tail of the leader and hoping to surpass him in points tomorrow, Hillary Johnson and Copper Fox LLC's grey gelding Moonwalk navigated their way around Dean Battaglia's course well enough to garner a second and third place finish, tied for points with Goguen and Rookie, owned by Belhaven Stables LLC.
Great Lakes Equestrian Festival continues tomorrow with the second day of competition. The Professional Hunter divisions will wrap up with the crowning of the champions in the Main Ring, followed by the beginning of the Junior Hunter divisions. For more information on the show, please visit www.greatlakesequestrianfestival.com.