Articles: Press Release
Madden and McAlary Win
$15,000 AHJF Nations Cup Hunter Challenge at WIHS
Beezie Madden and Maggie McAlary taking their victory gallop after
winning the inaugural $15,000 AHJF Nations Cup Hunter Challenge on October
28th at the 2006 Washington International Horse Show.
©Diana De Rosa Photo
Press-Link Diana DeRosa
When Beezie Madden and Maggie McAlary galloped into the Washington
International Horse Show indoor arena side-by-side donned with ribbons and
glowing smiles on Saturday afternoon, October 28th McAlary thought she was
having a dream.
"It was kind of unreal," she later commented and recalled thinking, "Oh my God I am on a team with Beezie Madden and we just won!"
They had dominated the inaugural $15,000 AHJF Nations Cup Hunter Challenge, an innovative competition pairing five masters of show jumping with five junior hunter seat equitation riders. Madden also earned the Leading Rider title while her mount Once In A Lifetime's owner CZ Farms and Carly Hunt garnered the Leading Owner award.
Madden and McAlary earned $7,500 for their win by scoring 89.952 over second place finishers Georgina Bloomberg aboard Matilda and Megan Massaro riding Stiletto (83.245), who claimed a check for $5,000. Third and $2,500 went to Nick Skelton on Lifetime and Jack Hardin Towell, Jr. with Manhatten (81.665). In fourth was Michael Whitaker negotiating In Sync paired with Haylie Jayne riding Saving Grace (81.082). The final fifth place finishers were McLain Ward aboard Jimmy Choo joined by Sloane Coles riding Guns 'N Roses (79.077).
Riders were scored by three teams of two judges. Guest commentators were American Hunter-Jumper Foundation President Geoff Teall and trainer Don Stewart, Jr. "I think the commentary is a good thing, and look forward to really studying it to arrive at just the right touch," remarked Teall.
All the international riders except for Bloomberg (the youngest of the five at 23) are Olympic veterans and Madden and Ward were members of the Athens Olympic Gold Medal Team. Madden was also the Individual Silver Medal winner at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany.
The junior riders who placed in the top five of the Hunter Phase of the WIHS Equitation Class earned the honor of being paired with these top international riders. The junior riders were first to go around the Patrick Rodes designed course. And they were thrilled for the opportunity.
"I felt the Challenge was an exciting class and should be held every year. It gave us, junior riders, even more of an incentive to do well in the first phase of Washington. I thought it was really exciting and not as high strung as most of the horse show is," explained Massaro.
"It was a very good experience to ride with such incredible show jumping riders. They all were high ranked which made the class a little more special," she continued.
ROUND ONE DETERMINES THE TOP RIDERS FOR ROUND TWO
A special thanks also goes to the owners who donated the ten horses that competed in the competition. Stiletto, owned by Chelsea Samuels is an 8-year-old, 16.2 hand Oldenburg mare trained by Archie Cox who in 2003 was the International Jumper Futurity Champion and continues to win in the large junior division. Stiletto was the first horse in the ring and garnered Massaro a score of 87.666 to set the pace for those who followed.
Guns 'N Roses, owned by Veronica Tracey and trained by Karen Healey, is a 16.2 hand, 8-year-old gelding. In 2006 he won five USET classes. With Sloane Coles in the irons they duplicated Massaro's score of 87.666 but the Team One tiebreaker judges had scored Stiletto higher.
Manhatten, owned by Lilla Ward and trained by Geoff Teall, is a 16.1 hand Dutch gelding who has rapidly moved up the hunter ranks by earning numerous victories. Towell, who ultimately won the 2006 WIHS Equitation Finals later that day, had a good round but a downed rail gave them a final score of 75.666.
True Grit, owned by Ashley Hotz is a 16.2 hand, 12-year-old by Voltair, trained by AHJF Vice President Louise Serio. He has been a powerful force in both the show jumping and hunter arenas. McAlary, who was the winner of the prestigious Medal Finals one week earlier and the Maclay Finals just one week later, had a nice ride that gave them a score of 83.
Commented McAlary after her round, "This class even though everyone wanted to win it felt like it was a little more relaxed and fun. It wasn't as serious as the equitation finals."
Teall agreed adding, "While the sport of showing hunters is a wonderful thing, it has become a lot of the same thing over and over endlessly. We at the AHJF believe that anything different pretty much has to be a good thing. And anything that involves a little fun or a little loosening up is also probably a good thing. I think anytime you can get people to watch hunter classes, you are creating more interest in our sport. And that is the point, isn't it?"
Bloomberg was in sync with Teall noting, "I thought it was a great event and a lot of fun for both the riders and the spectators. It makes the hunters exciting again and can hopefully spark a bit more interest in that part of our sport."
Saving Grace, owned by Grace Stuntz, is a 16.2 hand, 10-year-old gelding, trained by Ken and Emily Smith. Haylie Jayne was the final junior to go and had an impeccable round which was rewarded with a score of 91. That same night Jayne placed second to Towell in the WIHS Equitation Finals.
THE INTERNATIONAL RIDERS SHOW THEIR SKILLS IN THE HUNTER ARENA
Bloomberg aboard Matilda was the first to compete. Matilda, owned by Leslie Coolidge, a 15.3 hand, 9-year-old mare, trained by Alex R. Jayne, has been champion 17 times in the junior hunters this year. Bloomberg was smooth and quiet as she negotiated the hunter course and earned a score of 80.666. When combined with Massaro's 87.666 they finished with a team total of 84.160.
Competing in the hunters again was a real eye opener for Bloomberg who later commented, "I had fun doing hunters again. It's been 5 years since I sat on a hunter so I was nervous. As jumper riders we try to sit up straight and ride almost the opposite of the way you have to ride a hunter, so it was a challenge for the jumper riders I think more than the junior riders who are all used to doing the hunters. It definetly made me want to ride a hunter again soon. I forgot how much I loved doing them. Scott Stewart, my old hunter trainer from juniors, helped me so that was great to reunite with him. I had so much fun."
Jimmy Choo, owned by Laura Wasserman, is a 16.2 hand, 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding trained by Archie Cox who was champion in the Pacific Coast. Ward successfully used his skills to maintain calm and finished with a good score of 87.333. That was combined with partner Coles' 87.666 which took over the lead with a combined total of 87.495.
Skelton was next in on Lifetime, a 16 hand, 14-year-old Hanoverian, owned by Stephanie Danhakl, sired by Goodtimes and trained by Cox and Louise Serio. The gelding was USEF National Horse of the Year in 2003 and 2004. They negotiated a good course but were penalized for hitting a rail (which did not fall) yet still earned a decent score of 83. That combined with teammate Towell's 75.666 gave them a team total of 79.330, which ranked them last with two more teams still to go.
The eventual star of the event, Madden on Once in a Lifetime, a 16.3 hand, 9-year-old gelding trained by Don Stewart, Jr., put in a top score of 88.833 despite the fact that her mount seemed a bit nervous. Combined with her partner's score of 83 this gave them the lead (88.245).
The final combination in the ring for the first go-round was Whitaker aboard In Sync, also owned by Danhakl and trained by Cox. The 17 hand Thoroughbred gelding has accumulated numerous champions and reserves over the years. Their final total of 83.333 when combined with partner Jayne's high score of 91 gave them a round one total of 87.165, which ended up in third behind Ward and Coles. In fourth were Bloomberg and Massaro with Skelton and Towell standing fifth.
ROUND TWO DETERMINES THE WINNERS
For Round Two only the top scoring riders in each round would return. This time the riders would have a chance to show off their skills over a Handy Hunter course which incorporated a unique flow of fences requiring an agile and attentive mount. There were rollbacks and gymnastic combinations along with a trot fence and a bounce jump option.
Massaro and Stiletto were first to return. They paved the way but were also penalized for a hard rub. Their final total of 82.333 when combined with their team total of 84.160 gave them a final score of 83.245.
After that it was Guns 'N Roses with Coles in the irons. A tight distance cost them and they finished with a final score of 70.666, which when combined with their team score of 87.495 gave them a final tally of 79.077.
Then Skelton and Lifetime went in and a smooth go garnered them a score of 84 which when combined with their team total of 79.330 gave them 81.665.
Madden was next to return and coming in as the leader didn't seem to faze her as she negotiated a neat and tidy final round and was credited for their dexterity. Their score of 91.666 which when combined with their leading first round team total of 88.245 clearly put them in a position to maintain the lead with their final score of 89.952.
The final junior competitor Jayne aboard Saving Grace had too much to overcome to take away that lead especially when a rail fell. Their total of 75 when combined with 87.165 gave them an overall average of 81.082 which placed them fourth overall. This left Bloomberg and Massaro in second, Skelton and Towell in third and Ward and Coles last.
But Coles didn't mind saying, "I thought it was a great class. It was so much fun to ride with McLain. I wasn't surprised at all that Beezie won. She can ride anything well, hunter or jumper, and I think it is important to emphasize this about all of the world class jumper riders. They are truly great in any discipline. We certainly saw this in Las Vegas. I would love to see more of this kind of competition because it is fun and important to combine the hunters and the jumpers. They shouldn't be thought of as so different. Great riding is great riding, period. I loved this class."
McAlary added, "I think Beezie Madden is a model for any junior rider and I was really excited to get to ride on a team with her. I had so much fun and it was a great experience even though she was the one with the higher score and made it to the second round."
CREATING DRAMA WITH THE HUNTERS
The American Hunter-Jumper Foundation who both funded and hosted this event is known for being innovative in its creation of new and different ways to showcase the hunters. They continue to do this annually with their awards program as well as some special highlighted events. They have had much success with their annual AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular held each February in Florida (this year - February 24). They also have a unique add-back competition in May called the Legacy Cup, which is held in conjunction with Hugh Kincannon's Kentucky Spring Horse Shows (scheduled for May 9-20, 2007). Kincannon is also the Show Manager of the Washington International Horse Show.
The AHJF also held a similar concept to this class at the 2005 World Cup in Las Vegas (which Coles refers to above) where the top Professional Hunter Riders faced off against four top international riders (a rematch to take place in April of 2007). The professional hunter riders were chosen by the results of the annual Monarch International Show Circuit Magazine's Professional WCHR Finals held each year at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.
AHJF President Geoff Teall explained, "Hugh Kincannon was looking for an exhibition type deal for the WIHS on Saturday afternoon. He asked us to come up with something that resembled the class at Las Vegas. This was our answer. It worked well because it included juniors, and more specifically, the WIHS Equitation Classic."
The Nations Cup Hunter Challenge was again an innovative creation with a new twist by pairing juniors with professionals. The novelty was fun for both the competitors and the audience. In order to create some drama the class opened with a dark arena as spotlighted riders entered one by one to be matched up with their teammates and ended with those same competitors riding side-by-side in their winning orders for the victory gallop.
Junior rider McAlary liked those special touches noting, "The horse show did a really good job in making this event feel like it was a big deal and every horse that was donated was of such high quality and I thought it was a great experience."
The day before riders drew names out of a hat for both teammates and horses and had a 15 minute window to try out their mounts in the Verizon Center indoor arena. They were all diligent and focused in their attempt to quickly adjust to both the hunter format and the unique style of each horse. Owners and trainers gave them insider tips to help them best negotiate on the different horses.
While riding hunters may appear to be easier than negotiating the massive jumper fences, there is a skill and elegance required in order to garner top scores from the judges.
This class proved to be a win-win for everyone including the audience, the horse show organizers, the juniors and the show jumping riders. It put the fun back into the horse show.
"I really enjoyed participating in the class. I think it ran very smoothly, there isn't anything I would have done different," noted Massaro.
Said Teall, "I thought the class went well. I am hoping that they will ask us to do it again. I think both the exhibitors and the spectators enjoyed it."
Added Bloomberg, "I thought everything was well organized and went smoothly. The AHJF is a fantastic foundation that does a lot for our sport and athletes. I wouldn't change a thing about this class. It's a great event that helps promote the hunters."
AHJF Vice President Louise Serio agreed, "I thought the class was a home run for hunters. It really seemed to bring everyone together. And it was great knowing that the juniors really wanted to get in the class. It gave them something to strive for."
A special thank you goes to the AHJF for continually bringing innovative classes to a welcoming audience and competitors. The AHJF is a not for profit organization whose mission is to promote the sport of hunter competition and address the needs of the sport by providing education, support and innovation. Additional programs by the AHJF include its Emergency Relief Fund, Profit Sharing Plan and AHJF/Dover Saddlery Junior Hunter Challenge.
For more information about the AHJF or details on how to become a sponsor of next year's Nations Cup Hunter Challenge call 508-835-8813 or visit their web site at www.ahjf.org.