Posts Tagged by HITS Saugerties
|September 14, 2012||Posted by Amy Vodraska under Hunter Jumper - Competition News|
On Sunday, September 9th, a friend and I took what I call a “horse holiday” and drove up to Saugerties, NY for Championship Sunday at HITS-on-the-Hudson. We were looking forward to seriously indulging our horse addiction by watching some of the country’s best hunter and jumper riders compete in two stellar events, the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix and the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.
We arrived at the HITS campus, were met by HITS staff at the gate, given our credentials, shown to the special parking area (they said it wasn’t VIP but it sure seemed that way to us!) and ferried over to the press tent via golf cart by a very friendly and accommodating HITS staffer. (“You ladies travel far to get her? Want me to swing by the lady’s room?”)
In the press tent the HITS marketing staff made sure we had our Orders of Go, programs, wireless access, and refreshments. I travel for business in a regular basis, and have to say it was a bit like service at an upscale hotel in that respect. I know, the geek side is coming out. What can I say? I’m new to this “reporter” stuff, and getting to wear a press badge, sit in the press tent, learn from the pros, and ask questions while sitting 10 feet away from my idols is a total rush for me.
The $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix is considered by many the premier event for American Hunters. Top juniors, amateurs, and pros come from all over the US to vie for an unprecedented payout. Since the inception of the Pfizer Million in 2010, Tom Struzzieri and the HITS team have been striving to create additional classes that will give riders a significant year-end goal to work towards. To that end, in 2011 they created the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix, and this year, with the intent to offer juniors and amateurs in the hunter world a shot at big money, they created the $250,000 Hunter Prix Final.
The marquee hunter event, the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix, offers 75 qualified riders, 5 invitees and 1 wild card a chance to duke it out over 4 rounds over 3’3″ fences with spreads not to exceed fence height. The fourth and final round was held over a shortened course, complete with handy elements, in the Grand Prix ring amongst the Pfizer Million Grand Prix fences. One by one, riders like John French, Kelly Farmer, Ellen Toon, Jimmy Torano, Hope Glynn, Nick Haness, Tracy Fenney and Joie Gatlin trotted into the ring and negotiated their way around the course. Libby and I could not believe what we were seeing! These riders Do Not Move! They are so smooth it almost looks like they and their horses are on autopilot. I would give my eye teeth to be able to sit so still and give such invisible signals.
The early leader was Amanda Steege, a professional out of Bedminster, NJ, which happens to be my neck of the woods. Steege and her mount, Lisa Arena’s Balou, don’t have the Derby mileage that many of the others in the class do, not that you’d know it. In fact, this was Balou’s first Derby. The pair overcame a bobble in the first round and laid down copybook trips in Rounds 2 and 3 to qualify for the final. They led for most of the class with scores of 91, 91, and 87 until junior phenom Lillie Keenan entered the ring on 2011 $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals champ C Coast Z. In typical fashion the pair floated around the ring, scoring a 90, 92 and 94 to take the lead from Steege. Keenan didn’t hold the lead for very long, as her trainer Patricia Griffith was next in the ring on Lexi Maounis’ Sienna.
Griffith and the chestnut mare cruised around the ring as though they were just taking a walk in the park and not vying for a top-placed check worth $150,000. As they finished, Griffith smiled and patted the mare, who was clearly well pleased with her efforts as well. After a pregnant moment Griffith’s scores were announced: 92, 93 and 93! Griffith’s smile widened into a grin as she realized she’d won.
It was a good day to be in Hunterland, fellow Horse Junkies, especially for Team Heritage Farm. Congratulations to all!
Thanks for reading!
|September 10, 2012||Posted by Amy Vodraska under Cool People, Hunter Jumper - Competition News|
Canadian show jumper Jill Henselwood is quite possibly the nicest person in the sport. Okay, she’s Canadian. They’re all nice, it’s some kind of national rule or something, but Jill is even nicer than your average Canadian.
And she’s funny. If you listen to one of her interviews she’s always ready with a quip, which is usually accompanied by her trademark smile.
Jill is not only one of the nicest show jumpers going, she is one of the best. She trained for years with the legendary Captain Canada himself, Ian Millar, and debuted on the Canadian Equestrian Team in 1991. She was part of the Silver medal winning team at the Beijing Olympics, riding her now-retired champion, Special Ed. She represented Canada at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, and again at the games of the London Olympiad.
Jill was kind enough to give me a moment of her time after the Pfizer $1 Million press conference. I was in full geek mode and asked for her autograph, which she happily gave. I told her how I have always loved watching her ride Special Ed, and that, in my humble opinion, his was one of the best names of all time. You just couldn’t help but smile when you heard Special Ed announced.
Jill laughed, agreeing that she’d also gotten a kick out of Special Ed’s moniker. She recounted how when she got George she’d tried to come up with a catchy name for him, admitting at one point she’d considered “Curious George.” We laughed, and then traded some potential ideas: Boy George, Gorgeous George, Saint George, George Foreman (Wait, there’s too many of them. At least six, as the retired boxer has 5 sons named George.)
It was a nice moment with a very nice lady. Thanks, Jill!
|September 10, 2012||Posted by Amy Vodraska under Hunter Jumper - Competition News|
When he looked out of the window of his home in Brewster, New York, on Saturday night and saw the rain pounding down, McLain Ward was a bit concerned about how the deluge might possibly impact the footing in the stadium at HITS-on-the-Hudson in nearby Saugerties.
It turns out Ward needn’t have worried. Due to ongoing investments in the footing and the extensive efforts of Tom Struzzieri’s ground crew, the effects of Saturday evening’s storm were negligible.
Canadian Olympian Jill Henselwood called the footing a “good trampoline for those horses.” It certainly was for Ward’s Antares F. McLain and the 12 year-old grey Baden-Wurttemberg gelding leaped around Olaf Petersen, Jr.’s course as if on springs, taking the top honors in Sunday’s Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.
The storms over the Hudson River Valley abated overnight and although storm clouds threatened during the latter part of the afternoon, the day began on a sunny note. Equestrian enthusiasts were treated to a day to remember with the running of the HITS $250,000 Hunter Final and the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix preceding the Pfizer $1 Million.
Twenty six of the best hunter riders in the country saddled up to take their turn in the HITS stadium, navigating a 3’3″ hunter course set on a winding track curving around the colorful grand prix obstacles. Amanda Steege, Bedminster, NJ, took the early lead from the fourth spot on Hunter Derby neophyte Balou, and her lead remained until Patricia Griffith entered the ring next to last on Lexi Maounis’ Sienna. Griffith was followed by her Heritage Farm student Lillie Keenan and C Coast Z, winners of last year’s $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. Keenan and her grey gelding put in a fabulous round, but fell just short of Griffith’s mark and had to settle for second. Steege finished in third place.
The afternoon’s marquee event kicked off shortly following the wrap-up in hunterland. McLain Ward and Antares F were early in the order, entering the ring third. Ward set of with purpose and tackled the difficult course, with its imposing 10.6 meter water, with aplomb. Seriously, the man is the epitome of the word “chilly.” Rodrigo Pessoa and Pessoa Show Stables LLC’s Winsom followed Ward and dropped the B element of the triple. Ireland’s Johnathan McCrea was the next to jump and he and Colorado, owned by Candy Tribble and Windsor Show Stables, posted a clear round.
McLain Ward and Antares F
Both the poles and the riders fell fast and furious for the next 26 rounds until Canada’s Jill Henselwood and her Olympic partner George entered the ring. The ebullient George, whom Henselwood calls a “character” cleared the fences with room to spare, seeming to levitate over each obstacle. The pair galloped home, leaving all the rails in their cups, to join Ward and McCrea in the jump-off.
The three-horse jump-off was led off by Ward, who piloted the speedy Antares F around the shortened course at a breakneck pace. McCrea was next to enter the ring, but he and Colorado proved unable to match their previous clear round and lowered the height of two fences. Last to enter was Henselwood, who gamely accepted the challenge set by the speedy Ward. Regrettably, the Canadian pair was unable to match their previous clear as well, dropping one rail and finishing carefully to earn second place money.
By that point it was all over but the presentation of the check. McLain led the victory gallop and joined the other top three finishers at the press conference to pick up his WHOPPING GINORMOUS check from Pfizer Animal Health’s Stuart Meikle.
Congratulations, McLain! Don’t spend it all in one place!
Check back soon as there’s more to come on both mega-events from HITS Championship Weekend! Also, many thanks to Lindsay Yandon and the staff at HITS Horse Shows for all their help!
Thanks for reading!
|September 8, 2012||Posted by Amy Vodraska under Hunter Jumper - Competition News|
I’m getting pretty excited, as on Sunday, September 9th, my friend and I will be heading up to Saugerties, NY to cover the HITS Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix! Whoohoo! A day watching some of the best show jumping riders and their equine partners compete for a bundle of prize money that would choke a hungry billy-goat.
To qualify, riders must compete in at least eight Open Jumper Classes worth $25,000 or more at any HITS shows from September 30, 2011 through September 2, 2012. Additionally, riders may pick up qualifying points at any of two $30,000 RAM Grand Prix held in May 2012 at the Caledon Equestrian Park in Ontario, Canada.
Forty riders have the opportunity to qualify based on their cumulative money won in qualifying classes. Additionally, HITS management has the option to choose five additional riders, and one Wild Card slot will be awarded to the winner of the Wild Card Qualifying Class during the week HITS on the Hudson VIII, September 5-9, 2012. ( Laura Chapot, daughter of legendary US Olympian and former USET chef d’equipe Frank Chapot, who is recovering from surgery to repair a subdural hematoma, won this year’s 30,000 G&C Farm Wild Card Grand Prix to earn her spot in Sunday’s big class.)
Last year’s winner of the Pfizer $1 Million was German rider Andre Thieme with Aragon Rouet (currently the ride of America’s Meg O’Mara). The German rider competently conquered an extremely challenging course , riding two clear rounds to take the win over Duncan McFarlane and the wonderfully named Mr. Whoopy. McLain Ward and Antares F placed third.
It’s going to be a great day of competition at HITS-on-the-Hudson. I’m looking forward to starting off with Rounds 3 & 4 of the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final, then the Pfizer $1 Million, and then possibly finishing up with the concert by former Doobie Brothers frontman, Michael McDonald.
Yep, Championship Sunday at HITS-on-the-Hudson. In the words of Michael McDonald and James Ingram, “Yah Mo Be There!”
(I know, that was bad!)
Thanks for reading!
|September 14, 2011||Posted by Patricia under Hunter Jumper - Competition News|
Melissa Bennington gets to travel from horse show to horse show in her job working for Arenus (the company who gave us the fantastic prizes for the Burghley Horse Trials giveaways). She was in Saugerties, NY for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix weekend and sent us her impressions of this fantastic event.
Thank you Melissa!
All photos by Melissa or Tess Davis.
I must admit that even though I was excited about attending this year’s Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Saugerties, the truth of the matter was that after attending last year, I figured there was no way they would be able to recreate the electrifying atmosphere that was felt at the inaugural event. I am pleased to report that I was not only wrong, but I am already excited about September of 2012!
Working for Arenus, a corporate sponsor of HITS, has given me a great opportunity to experience many of the ‘Horse shows In The Sun’ (and rain, wind, and even snow) traveling to Ocala and Tucson on occasion, but mostly in the quaint village of Saugerties, NY.
The Catskills Region is a nice area, but it’s the show grounds themselves that have the most inviting, hometown feel to them. There are 14 permanent barns and another 13 tents for stabling, 10 show rings and plenty of areas to school, so the property is in no way small. However, there is a sense of community that is felt as you stand near an in-gate or cart along the paths and that was not lost as the crowds grew for Sunday’s history making events.
Both the hunter and jumper fences were set in the Grand Prix Ring and riders were walking the courses, so I decided I would get an up close look at the monstrous jumps. It is rather exciting to be standing among some of the top riders in the country and hear them devise a strategy to tackle the intimidating obstacles.
The first two rounds of the Diamond Mills $500k Hunter Prix were held in the Main Hunter ring on Saturday, so the top 25 would now be coming back to ride in uncommon surroundings. Not only were they going to be in the Grand Prix ring, but the natural brush fences were mixed in with the colorful, elaborate fences for the jumpers. The Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix and the Diamond Mills $500k Hunter Prix provided riders a chance for one of the most lucrative days the horse world has ever seen. Only 3 individuals were lucky enough to be qualified in both classes – Amy Momrow, Tracy Fenney, and Aaron Vale.
Right about the time that the show got under way, the weather began to decline! The rain started to come down rather hard at times, but nonetheless there were some very impressive rides in the third round of the Hunter Prix. I retreated to my golf cart which was parked next to the in-gate that would be using for the Jumpers.
This provided a good, dry view of the ring, but an even better vantage point in that I could also see the Jumper Schooling ring as many horses were hacked or hand grazed before their afternoon class. Kate Conover, Patricia Griffith, Samantha Schaefer, and Nick Haness returned for the final round to determine the top ribbons and some very nice pay checks! There is something about watching a quality hunter round that draws you in to the consistent rhythm that is created.
Samantha Schaefer did just that. Her mount Mahalo’s final trip through the Grand Prix ring was foot perfect from my point of view, and it was great to see a junior rider hold her own against seasoned top professionals like John French, Mary Lisa Leffler, and Patty Stovel.
Overall, I thought the course was pretty straight forward, which meant there was no room for error. It required a rider to keep their horse spot on from the moment they entered the ring until their closing circle. From what I understand, the Hunter Prix will return next year with $250k at stake and HITS will be building a new ring to host the class. I’m excited to see how the bar continues to be raised and new opportunities are offered for Hunters.
Fortunately the rain let up for a very fitting tribute to our service men and women, including the West Point Military Academy Color Guard. I have heard comments made that people thought it was inappropriate for HITS to be holding this event on 9/11, but personally I can’t say that I agree. The 10th Anniversary of the tragic events that took place in our country should certainly be honored, but I saw this show as something that brought people (and horses) from all over the world together.
As the 2pm start of the Grand Prix was approaching, the schooling ring was busy and I tend to split my time between watching warm-ups and the actual class. I think there is a lot to be learned from seeing how horses are prepped before entering the main arena (it is very educational and can also be more entertaining with happy bucks and squeals let out from time to time).
The only scratch of the day was Hugh Graham and Distant Star 3E, who warmed up, but opted to save themselves for another day, leaving 44 horse and rider combinations to try to navigate the course designed by Steve Stephens. Many riders noted how big the jumps were and that the degree of difficulty compared to the International level.
After 18 trips, 8 faults was the best attempt on the board, until Darragh Kenny and Wannahave were able to put in the first 4 fault round. To say he was pleased with his horse would be an understatement! All of the riders seemed to truly appreciate the efforts of their horses, but Darragh stood out when he spoke about his mount Wannahave. He had only compliments for his horse and I even overheard him saying “He is one special horse – can you believe he’s ONLY 8! He’s incredible.” His lead did not last long though, when Duncan McFarlane and Mr Whoppy were able to have a fault free ride and take over the #1 rank.
I was secretly rooting for Callan Solem and VDL Torlando to come away with the victory, since Callan is an Arenus Ambassador and was based for many years right near me in NJ. Her horse, “Dennis” as he’s know around the barn, is also a bit of a Casanova that anyone would fall in love with when they meet him. They put in one of the fastest 12 fault rounds to finish 19th and the always gracious pair, was kind enough to pose for a picture with me.
We saw a total of 17 rides before the lead was challenged, as Andre Thieme and Aragon Rouet went clear to ensure a jumpoff. Starting with the 3rd rider of the day I had videotaped each course, only missing Duncan’s and Andre’s so I was starting to wonder if it may be a jinx. With that in mind, I decided not to tape the fourth to last ride, just in case there was any way to help Todd Minikus from the sidelines.
I am always impressed by Todd’s riding – but I’ve been even more impressed by the fact that he doesn’t just show up to the ring for his class, he demonstrates sportsmanship and promotes the sport. Todd was the first person I noticed that ran in to the ring during Saturday’s $15k Jumper Prix, when a rider fell and the horse was loose.
Then he carefully watched and analyzed almost all of the morning’s Hunter Prix rounds, only stopping to go hop on Pavarotti for a short “pre-Grand Prix” ride. Todd had a rather challenging winter/spring, enduring a broken collarbone then battling Legionnaire’s Disease. Pavarotti is a brave, scopey horse and they were certainly one of the pairs I was rooting for. With only one rail down in the combination line, he and his little chestnut finished 4th!
Since my videoing curse was no longer an issue, I decided to tape the rest of the rounds and let the rails fall if they may, which they did for both of the final two riders, McLain Ward and Lucy Davis. Neither was able to secure a spot in the jump-off, so it would just be Duncan McFarlane and Andre Thieme battling it out over a shortened course of 8 jumps. The tension was building as Duncan and Mr Whoppy put in a great effort, but ultimately had two rails down. In the end, it was Germany’s Andre Thieme aboard his Belgian Warmblood gelding, who was the only one able to go fast and clean for a faultless effort earning them the blue ribbon and the sought after $350k prize.
Grand Prix classes at horse shows rarely involve the fans, but Tracy Fenney did something to change that, when she came back in the ring for the victory gallop. She brought MTM Timon over to be loved on by the young spectators and admiring fans. McLain Ward was also kind enough to toss his long, yellow 3rd place ribbon to the kids near the in-gate.
Andre’s victory was well earned, but it was the entire day of competition that demonstrated just how amazing these equine athletes truly are. The whole weekend focused around quality riding and exemplifying what Equestrian sports are all about – THE HORSE.