The Hunt was on in the American Hunter Jumper Foundation's World Championship Hunter Rider Pro Finals
RELEASE: October 6, 2009
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Diana DeRosa
Photo by Diana DeRosa (Hunt Tosh and Fine Kiss)
Hunt Tosh went into the first round of the 15th Annual Professional World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Finals for the 2009 American Hunter Jumper Foundation (AHJF) Professional WCHR title, as if it belonged to him. He negotiated the highest mark in the first round and never looked back. Four rounds later he won the highest honor for a professional rider for his very first attempt in this prestigious class, which took place on October 2 at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD.
The 2009 WCHR Professional Finals was sponsored by Stillwell-Hansen, Inc., presented by John R. Ingram Fund and the Ingram Family, produced by the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation (AHJF) and hosted at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.
The riders were escorted into the arena in a carriage. It was a very impressive opening to the evening and set the stage for the night, which began with a buffet dinner in the concourse and was followed by presentations of special awards and then the class of the six finalists: Hunt Tosh, Peter Pletcher, Ken Berkley, Scott Stewart, Kelley Farmer and John French.
During the class the crowd was electric as they cheered, applauded and whistled after each round. By the ingate as riders handed off horses they offered tips to the next riders and cheered on their opponents. As co-manager Billy Glass maneuvered past the ingate near the end of the class he spied Ken passing along pointers to Hunt and rooting him on as he negotiated his final round. “That was special,” Glass later commented. “Even though Ken at that point knew he had no shot at victory he was there for his competitors.”
The atmosphere was one of camaraderie and may the best man (or woman) win. After the class and the awarding of prizes and ribbons the night continued with a dessert social and press conference in the dining area. It was a chance for both media and spectators to hear about the class in the words of the riders.
“Everything about this class is great from the atmosphere at the ingate to the fans cheering as you complete your round. There is a special feeling about this night. Everyone gets a little more energized and the adrenalin kicks in,” commented Tosh.
As a first time competitor, Tosh was amazingly calm as he talked about how lucky he’s been and how well his horses have been going. Having grown up in a horse family, being on a horse is just part of his daily routine and winning was just an extension of that. And it is the elegance and finesse of the hunters that captivates him most.
Sure the win was about how well he rode, but it was also his support staff. “My wife Mandy was watching and passing along tips and that really helps,” he continued.
After four rounds Tosh of Cummings, GA, claimed the victory with a score of 366.82 ahead of three-time winner Scott Stewart of Flemington, NJ (354.64) after an initial three rounds of six riders was paired down to three. In third was Kelley Farmer of Keswick, VA (351.99). Finishing fourth (after three rounds) was Peter Pletcher of Magnolia, TX (262.66), fifth was John French of San Juan Bautista, CA (257.65), and sixth was Ken Berkley of Flemington, NJ (246.33).
Whether you finished first or sixth in this class was no indication of the caliber of the riders who have all proven their breadth. “This year at the Capital Challenge, Ken finished first in seven classes,” commented Glass. “Every rider who qualifies for the Pro Finals is at the top of his or her game, and whether first or sixth you are truly seeing the nation’s finest pro hunter riders.”
“This is not an easy class to qualify for,” added AHJF Executive Director Michele Perla. “These riders have to be extremely skilled to make it into the top six. They all deserve our applause and appreciation and anyone watching that night was lucky to have the chance to witness such incredible hunter talent all competing in one class on one night and the crowd showed their appreciation and enthusiasm.”
The six riders who qualified for the Finals were both veterans and newbies. Pletcher and Steward are both three-time winners and French has won twice. Although Farmer has never won the class she did ride in it before. Farmer was also the winner of the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular earlier in the year. For Tosh and Berkely, this was their very first time competing.
In the Pro Finals, each rider must supply one horse and ride that horse first. The competitors then alternate on the other horses. Some top hunters were shown including:
—Rio Fino W, seven-year-old 17.2-hand Warmblood gelding, owned by Wendy Hofmeister, trained by Tammy Provost. This is only his fourth horse show in the hunters and is currently showing in the Working and Junior Hunter Divisions.
—Illusion, 15.2-hand bay Warmblood gelding, owned by The Dotson Family and trained by James Hagman and Marla Amormino and is currently showing in the Small Junior Hunter Division.
—Fine Kiss, eight-year-old, 15.3 h, Warmblood mare, owned by Mr & Mrs. Ernest Oare, trained by Bucky Reynolds and currently showing in the Amateur-Owner division with Betty Oare.
—Lazy Sunday, nine-year-old 16.1-hand grey gelding by Zangersheide, owned by Lindsey Wolf and trained by Ben Guanciale and Kim Stewart. The winner of the 2008 USHJA Hunter Derby in Palm Beach.
—Camira, 10-year-old 17-hand bay mare owned by Melanie Barnes, Austin, TX.
—Lone Star, nine-year-old 16.3-hand bay Warmblood gelding, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Wheeler, was the winner of the China Blue Working Hunter Award and High Score of the horse show (92) co-winner of the award with Rumba.
When asked why they chose the horses they did the riders echoed each other. “I like to choose a horse that I know is not going to be spooky and is going to jump everything every time,” commented Pletcher, as the other riders nodded in agreement.
The riders were allowed to briefly warm up on their horse but for all subsequent rides they had to go directly to the 3’6” course in the ring. And while the fences were the same for the first three courses, the order in which they were jumped changed each time. For the fourth round, the course was changed to a demanding Handy Hunter class and only the top three competed. This course was their chance to impress the judges.
Going for the Win
In the first round, Tosh took the early lead (93) followed by Farmer (88.33). In third was Stewart (87.66), then Berkeley (85.33), French (82.33) and Pletcher (84.33). In the second round Tosh maintained his domination of the class after his second-round score of 90.16 was combined with his first-round score (183.16). Farmer was second (176.33), Steward was third (173.32), Pletcher fourth (171.66), French fifth (167.99), and Berkeley sixth (167.33).
The third round was critical as it would determine what three riders went into the final round. After the third round Tosh continued on top (272.49) followed by Stewart (264.98) for second, and Farmer in third (263.99).
Stewart as the first to go in the Handy Hunter set the pace with a brilliant round, galloping a u-turn to the first fence out of the gate, turning corners with elegance, carefully and precisely negotiating a trot fence and showing a change of pace for the gallop between fences with boldness and accuracy. They scored 89.66 for the round and 354.64 for a four-round total.
Tosh went next and was even more impressive negotiating the tests with a hidden ease that made his smooth round appear almost too easy, but that came out because of the soft skill of his riding, scoring 94.33 for a total of 366.82. Last to go was Farmer who put in a strong performance as well (88/351.99) but Tosh’s lead was so far ahead of the others that announcer Ken Kraus laughed when he said that Farmer would have to score an impossible 107 to overtake Tosh’s lead. Tosh had won his first Pro Finals.
At the Capital Challenge the Professional Championship honors were part of an overall World Championship Hunter Rider Awards Program, which included junior, professional, amateur-owner, adult amateur, children’s and pony hunter riders. The program was established by the AHJF to recognize and reward excellence among hunter riders. In order to qualify, a rider’s top four WCHR shows plus their performance at the Capital Challenge determined the ultimate champions.
A number of special awards were given out as well. Louise Serio of Kennett Square, PA, was the winner of the Old Springhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. The Jeffery Katz Memorial Award went to Small Affair, ridden by Californian John French, and owned by Iwasaki and Reilly, who won the Rox Dene Award. The China Blue Farm Working Hunter Challenge went to Lone Star, ridden by Hunt Tosh and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Wheeler. Amanda Steege, Bedminster, NJ, won the Winter’s Run Sportsmanship Award.
This was the 15th year that the AHJF had hosted the World Championship Hunter Rider Professional Finals. The winner not only received the trophy but also $3,000 for the Pletcher Pro Incentive Award and the All The Way Trophy donated by Elizabeth Busch Burke and Lysa Burke Horkan. The Far West Farm Perpetual Trophy donated by the Karazzisis family for the horse that earned the highest cumulative total was won by Fine Kiss (264.99). In addition, the winner received a sponsorship from the AHJF, which designates money to be used specifically to ensure coverage of both the championship and of Ferrell as its winner. Press Link PR, an equine focused PR firm, handles that sponsorship.
For those interested in seeing the Finals in action, visit www.equestriansport.tvhttp://presslinkpr.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=155844
. For complete results, visit www.capitalchallenge.org