Peter Pletcher took a moment to take it all in after he won the 2002 Chronicle of the Horse Professional World Championship Hunter Rider title. The Challenge was sponsored by Carol & Gordon Stillwell, Stillwell Hansen, Inc. and Jack Schock and First Savings Mortgage Corporation, presented by the American Hunter Jumper Foundation (AHJF) and hosted on October 4, during the eight-day Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD.
Four riders qualified for the final competition: Sandy Ferrell, Churchville, MD; Scott Stewart, Flemington, NJ; Emily Williams, Wellington, FL and Pletcher, Magnolia, TX. He and the others had competed in this class before and felt that "doing it before helped. Emily was more nervous because this was her first time." For Pletcher it was his third try and his first victory. "I'm really glad," he admitted. "I've wanted to win this class ever since they started it. It's a very special class for me to win."
The riders alternated on riding four different horses which they had not ridden before. These included Special Delivery, a 12-year-old grey Dutch gelding by Largos owned and trained by Geoff Teall; Notra Dame, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Megan McGuire, and trained by Amanda Steege-Herrara; Capito, a 10-year-old chestnut Warmblood gelding, owned by Karen Healey; and Gandolf, a 10-year-old bay, Hanoverian gelding, owned by Sue Grange and trained by Don Stewart.
Pletcher had the high score (92.60) on Special Delivery, while Ferrell scored 89.20, Williams 86.40 and Stewart 84.60. Notra Dame, loved being ridden "soft," explained Pletcher. "The softer you rode her the better." Again Peter took the high mark of 89.20 (Stewart 86, Ferrell 75.60 and Williams 73.80).
It was Stewart who took the leading score of 91.80 on Capito (Pletcher 88.20, Williams 87.60, Ferrell 73.80). Williams took the leading score of 89.60 on Gandolf (Pletcher 88.70, Stewart 88.60, Ferrell 78.40).
The riders were allowed to briefly warm-up on their first horse but for all subsequent rides they had to go directly to the course in the ring. When the final scores were tallied Pletcher had the highest total of 358.70. Then it was Stewart (351), Williams (337.40) and Ferrell (317).
JUDGING THE RIDERS
After a yearlong selection process based on points, the Professional Division riders were narrowed down to the top four who then rode off for the title. Similar to a World Championship, the riders competed over a 3'6" course on each of four horses provided by the show.
In hunters the horses are judged on form over fences and when they jump from a comfortable distance their form is shown off the best. So, as the riders go around the course their goal is to bring their horse to the optimal distance for each fence. However, unlike other hunter classes, the winner in this class was the rider and not the horse.
The five judges scored by the open numerical system. The rider with the highest cumulative total was the winner. The four riders who qualified were being judged by Ronnie Beard, Wellington, FL; Jim Clapperton, Columbia, MD; Brian Lenehan, Southern Pines, NC; Matt Collins, Culpeper, VA and Patrick Rodes, Argyle, TX.
"The key to scoring this class is you don't score each round, you score how each rider does on each horse," commented Lenehan.
"Peter showed he could ride all four horses well and that was the clincher, whereas the others had trouble with at least one," noted Clapperton.
"There was no on in that class that on any given day couldn't win that class," added AHJF Executive Director Michele Perla.
THIS CLASS IS FOR THE RIDERS
The riders look forward to this class. "It's an excellent class, a great concept," said Pletcher. "It happens fast and it's fun. It's great for the audience. They can follow it and it's something totally different. The riders really enjoy it and the crowds come," added Teall, President of the American Hunter Jumper Foundation (AHJF).
"There's no other class like it and it gives the hunter visibility," added Louise Serio, AHJF Vice President.
"It gives us a little something extra to work for because this is strictly for the riders," said Ferrell.
"It is a great class because it highlights the hunter riders," noted Stewart, who also added that the AHJF "is wonderful because it showcases the hunters and keeps people interested in doing hunters."
"It was so much fun. I hope to get to do it many more times. It's something different and they made it very special," said Williams. "Plus it was fun seeing how every horse goes with the different riders - and the fact that you've never ridden them before is good. I had a blast!"
Williams had also won the Winter's Run Sportsmanship Award which is voted on by the other riders. She was especially pleased about this because her mom, Lynne (who recently lost her battle with cancer) was the first recipient of the award in 1997. "My mom was such a good sport and always gracious," commented Williams. "Winning that class made my whole year."
AMERICAN HUNTER JUMPER FOUNDATION
The AHJF was founded in 1992 by Louise Serio, Geoff Teall and Kavar Kerr. At that time it had 400 members and four designated member shows in each of five regions. Today the AHJF has 1,000 members and 48 designated shows in 8 regions.
The AHJF was created for the purpose of rewarding the hunter riders who are often overlooked when compared to the jumpers. Beyond the awards program, the AHJF also has an Emergency Relief Fund, the Retired Equine Placement Service, and a BSA 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan. It works towards educating spectators and encourages grass-roots organizations. The AHJF is a non-profit, member and sponsor-supported organization.
The AHJF also sponsors a few more featured events throughout the year, including the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular of Palm Beach (February 15, 2003), which is done as an Add-Back competition with $12,000 going to the winner.
The riders are very appreciative of how the AHJF has increased interest in hunters. "Everything they do is so great," commented Williams, "everything from the scoring, to the perfectly manicured rings, to the smallest details."
At the Capital Challenge the Professional Championship honors were part of an overall World Championship Hunter Riders 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. The late Victor Hugo Vidal (August 2002) was the winner of the Old Springhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. The Heard A Rumor Award was presented to Prince Charming owned by Caroline Moran (Bedford, NY). The Jeffery Katz Memorial Award went to Marvin, ridden by Ferrell. Marvin's owner, Mrs. Gary B. Peterson, won the Rox Dene Award. The China Blue Hunter Challenge went to Strapless, ridden by Williams.
RISING TO THE TOP
This was the eighth year that the AHJF had hosted the Chronicle of the Horse Professional Rider award. The winner not only received the trophy but also a Tad Coffin Performance Saddle, a saddle that Olympic Gold Medalist Coffin researched and designed himself which is based around the comfort of the horse. "It's great for us to be here. The AHJF is a group of people who are trying to do the right thing for hunters and that is the key," commented Justin Kenney who presented the saddle. "It's a hard class. You take your saddle and your skill and go on to the next horse."
Pletcher also received a sponsorship from the Chronicle of the Horse, which designates money to be used specifically to ensure coverage of both the championship and of Pletcher as its winner. Press Link, an equine focused PR firm, handles that sponsorship. The Chronicle and the AHJF should be applauded for their foresight to ensure that someone who wins such an important award is not overlooked.
The AHJF was able to present trophies, money and prizes to the winners of the various awards thanks to the Chronicle and Tad Coffin as well as C.M. Hadfield's Saddlery, Derbydown Inc., Equitex/Cynthia Krantz, Finish-Line Horse Products, Hodges Badges Co., Linda Robinson, Merrill Lynch, Quail Hollow Tack, Rein-Aid Productions, Sandra Brown and Hobby Horse/Marge Vance.
A special thanks also goes to Capital Challenge co-managers Oliver Kennedy and Billy Glass who truly showcase the event which is preceded by a light show and followed by a friends and exhibitors party.
For more information, the AHJF can be contacted at 335 Lancaster Street, West Boylston, MA 01583-0369, 508-835-8813, fax: 508-835-6125, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For complete results go to www.ryegate.com.
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