February 14, 2014--Hunter competition took over the International Arena during Week 6 of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF). The country's best hunter riders and horses will compete throughout Week 6 for a qualifying spot in the week's feature event, the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular on Saturday evening.
FTI WEF week six, sponsored by Salamander Hotels & Resorts, runs February 12-16, 2014. The week features the coveted World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) competition, with hunters taking to the International Arena at PBIEC for their daily classes, weekly championships, and a chance to compete in Saturday night's $100,000 USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular.
The $100,000 USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular will be livestreamed on Chronicle TV at the following link on Saturday, February 15, at 7 pm here: http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/2014-wchr-hunter-spectacular-live.
Friday night's $84,000 Salamander Hotels and Resorts Valentine's Grand Prix CSI 3* at The Stadium will also be livestreamed at this link: http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/2014-salamander-grand-prix-live.
As the hunters are featured on the main showgrounds at PBIEC, the highlight jumper competitions will be held on the adjacent showgrounds at The Stadium at PBIEC. Exciting jumper classes will be held on the beautiful grass derby field at The Stadium, including the $34,000 Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, and the $50,000 Equestrian Sotheby's Jumper Derby at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. A special $84,000 Salamander Hotels and Resorts Valentine's Grand Prix CSI 3* will also be held in the International Ring at The Stadium at PBIEC at 7 p.m. on Friday night as part of the "Friday Night Stars" series. Anyone who wants to purchase a VIP table for Friday night's grand prix should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday brought the first round of hunter division champion awards, with Scott Stewart and Quest topping the Equine Tack & Nutritionals First Year Green Working Hunter division. Quest, a seven-year-old Warmblood owned by Stephanie Danhakl, won two over fences classes with Stewart and was third under saddle. The pair was also fifth in the handy round. Reserve champion for the division was Scripted, an eight-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Glefke & Kensel LLC and ridden by Kelley Farmer. Farmer piloted Scripted to first and third over fences out of 37 entries for the division. Stewart and Quest were also presented with the Music Row Perpetual Trophy, donated by Susan Stanley, for their victory in the division.
The expansive International Arena and its surrounding stadium seating could be a lot for any green horse to handle even without the towering palm tree additions, but Quest took it all in stride on Thursday morning. "He was awesome. I was a little worried because he schooled a little bit fresh today and it was tough out there with everything blowing around, but not in a bad way. He felt perfect the whole time, so I was really happy with him," Stewart commented.
Stewart actually owned the gelding up until a few months ago, after buying Quest as a three-year-old with Ken Berkley. Since then, Quest hasn't seen much of the show ring, showing only once last year at Capital Challenge. Despite being a little inexperienced, Stewart aimed the gelding at WCHR competition during the FTI WEF and also hoped his owner could debut with him in the FarmVet Amateur-Owner 18-35 3'3" Hunter division the same week. Danhakl and Quest are also off to a good start, wining an over fences class on the first day of competition.
"That was our goal in mind to hope to peak for Hunter Week and for Stephanie to show him this week, so that turned out great," Stewart smiled.
Peaking in time for WCHR competition is on the mind of every competitor, and Stewart acknowledged that each horse needs a different plan, whether it means showing them early on and giving them time off, or doing a week of prep-work leading up to "Hunter Week."
"Quest is better the less he does," Stewart explained. "He's really brave, always. He's usually better the first time in the ring."
That's lucky for Stewart, since the annual trip south to Wellington from Flemington, NJ, where Stewart's River's Edge Farm is based, seems to make Quest uncharacteristically feisty. "He's always been pretty mature, but for some reason, each year when he comes to Florida he gets a little wild! He's naturally a very quiet horse. This is only his third show of the season because he was a little bit too fresh to get going well [and keep focused in the ring]," Stewart commented.
Earlier in the day, Stewart swept the Perfect Products High Performance Hunter division with Everly and Golden Rule. Everly, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Dr. Betsee Parker, was champion of the division after finishing third and first over fences and winning the under saddle to wrap up the division. Stewart rode Golden Rule to reserve champion with third, first, and third place finishes over fences. Stewart was presented with the Peterbilt Special Perpetual Trophy, donated by Leslie Clarke, for his win with Everly.
Up until August, Everly could be seen jumping around 1.50m show jumping courses with Irish show jumper Shane Sweetnam. Stewart and Parker purchased the mare in August and were able to easily transition her into the ideal High Performance Hunter mount for Stewart.
"She started off really well. We've had it pretty easy," Stewart smiled. "We showed her the next week [after we bought her] in Kentucky. I was already there for USEF Pony Finals [Lexington, Ky.], so I got to ride her every day. It was pretty simple. It was just getting her to realize she could be quiet. She's such a naturally good jumper, there's nothing really to train her to do!" Stewart remarked.
Keeping Everly relaxed has continued to be Stewart's focus with the mare, which is why he is unsure of whether she'll be showing under the lights Saturday evening for the Hunter Spectacular. "I'm worried that she might get a little bit lit up under the lights. I might let her wait [until next year]. I don't know if that atmosphere might give her flashbacks to her old jumper days! I don't want to get her upset, so I'm going to wait and see until tomorrow," Stewart explained.
Stewart picked up his third championship of the day in the Shapley's Green Conformation Hunter division, this time with Lucador. Stewart was presented with the Wrenwood Farm Perpetual Trophy after winning four of the six classes for the division aboard Lucador, including wins in the model and under saddle. Lucador is a six-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Dr. Betsee Parker.
The reserve champion for the division was also a familiar face; Kelley Farmer collected reserve honors with Scripted, an eight-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Glefke & Kensel LLC. The pair won the stake round over fences in addition to placing second and fourth in the model and under saddle, respectively.
Stewart and Farmer continued to trade off division championships, with Farmer topping the Shapley's Regular Conformation Hunter division with Quotable. The pair won two over fences classes and the model as well as placing second under saddle and eighth in the handy round. Quotable, a nine-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Glefke & Kensel LLC, and Farmer were presented with the Montoga Perpetual Trophy for their victory. The reserve champion for the division was Scott Stewart with Showman. The pair were second in the model, first under saddle, and second, eighth, and second over fences.
Quotable was already familiar with the International Arena after contesting the Hunter Spectacular last year with Farmer. The gelding has been wildly successful with Farmer over the past year, and Farmer couldn't be more grateful for their success. "Every time, he's been a winner. He's done nothing but win for us!" Farmer expressed.
While Quotable is quite a handsome dark bay now, Farmer revealed he wasn't always so polished looking. Nevertheless, Lane Change Farm knew they had something special on their hands.
"It was funny, when we got him, he was not hugely fat and was sort of that liver chestnut [color]...or really [the color] of this dirt!" Farmer laughed, gesturing to the arena footing. "He walked off that truck though, and we thought, 'God he's going to be a pretty horse!'"
Havens Schatt conquered the Equine Tack & Nutritionals Second Year Green Working Hunter division, winning champion with Balin, an eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Ainsley Sadlo. Balin and Schatt were first, second, and eighth over fences and fourth under saddle. Schatt was also reserve champion with Bacardi, an eight-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Caroline Moran. The pair were sixth, first, and sixth over fences and finished fifth under saddle. For her win with Balin, Schatt was presented with the Pin Oak Farm Perpetual Trophy.
Balin is a star in his own right, but sharing a barn with a horse like Bacardi, who Schatt has piloted to multiple division championships over the last year, has kept Balin out of the limelight despite multiple wins in the Green Conformation divisions at last year's FTI WEF. "Balin is great. It's hard to be in the same barn as Bacardi. Everybody's all about Bacardi!" Schatt laughed. "But Balin has always held his own."
She continued, "Balin has always had to catch up to Bacardi in two ways. He only had one year of Pre-Green, where Bacardi did two. Bacardi's never really done amateur [divisions] all the time, whereas Balin has always had to do both. Balin is just one you can always count on, no matter where you go."
Balin will get the chance to step into the spotlight on Saturday night. Schatt has decided to leave Bacardi in the barn and let Balin shine. It's exciting for every rider to qualify for the Saturday evening Hunter Spectacular, but Schatt was especially pleased with Balin's performance after she asked owner Sadlo to let her show the gelding during FTI WEF 6.
"I had to beg her to let me show him here. She lives in Atlanta, and she was supposed to fly down yesterday. With the ice and everything, they'd already cancelled her flight on Monday. So she was like 'I can't come, so what if we just wait and show him Week 7?' So I had to be like 'Please? It's Hunter Week!'" Schatt recounted.
Schatt continued, "She was ecstatic when I called her and told her. It was nice that it worked out!"
Schatt, like all the professional riders qualified thus far, is also looking forward to increased prize money for this year's Hunter Spectacular. At an impressive $100,000, it's on par with USHJA International Derby Finals (Lexington, Ky.)
"I think it's great for the hunters. Any time we can get more money going is good, especially for this kind of class. It's only open to champion and reserves, and it's a special thing and a special night," Schatt commented.
The Performance Hunter divisions wrapped up competition on Thursday evening. The CWD Performance 3'6" Hunter division was split due to the number of entries, ultimately pinning two division champions. Come Monday, owned by Davlyn Farms, Inc., and ridden by Tara Metzner, were champions of Section A after winning the under saddle and placing fourth, first, and third over fences. The reserve champion was Fonteyn, ridden by Hayley Barnhill and owned by John & Stephanie Ingram. Barnhll and Fonteyn were third under saddle and first and second over fences.
Section B champion was By The Way, owned by Ruth Kanner and ridden by Jeff Gogul. Gogul rode By The Way to fourth under saddle and two blue ribbon over fences rounds. The Section B reserve champion was Illusion, ridden by Tara Metzner and owned by Dogwood Hill, LLC. Metzner and Illusion were third, second, and fourth over fences.
The Amberway/Kraft KT1 Peformance Hunter 3'3" division was also split, awarding tricolor honors in Section A to Caliber, owned by Laura Karet and ridden by Hayley Barnhill. Barnhill piloted Caliber to a first place finish under saddle and fourth and third place ribbons over fences. The reserve champion for Section A was Smiles, ridden by Havens Schatt and owned by Bruce Duchossios. Schatt and Smiles won the under saddle and were second in two over fences rounds.
The Section B division champion was Rookie, owned by Belhaven Stables, LLC. Tim Goguen was in the irons and rode Rookie to second under saddle and first, second, and third over fences. The reserve champion in Section B was Endeavor, ridden by Christopher Payne and owned by Hunt Tosh. Payne and Endeavor were third under saddle before jumping to first, third, second, and third place finishes.
WCHR competition will continue on Friday in the International Arena with championships for the Amateur-Owner 3'3" Hunter divisions and the start of the Amateur-Owner 3'6" Hunters and junior hunter divisions.