Was HITS a Hit?

Stories from Horse Shows in the Sun
Through my work with EquestriSol I had the privilege of interviewing a number of riders, sponsors and vendors during the 2011 HITS Desert Winter Circuit. Most would agree that with all the improvements, the world-class competition, the hunter prix classes and the World Cup qualifiers, the 20th anniversary year in the desert was definitely one for the books.

Horse show grounds and facilities can be vastly different; however, ask any rider/trainer and they’ll tell you that there are a few key elements that truly make a good horse show.

For riders like Hap Hansen who has competed at HITS Horse Shows since the circuit’s inception, the shows close proximity to his southern California home is one but not the only aspect that draws him and his clients out to the desert. A man of few words, when he spoke, I listened. ‘Why Thermal?’ was one of my questions.

“There’s lots of room and great footing. I’ve noticed improvements but there is also a more international feel this year. It’s fun to have Meredith here.”

He sums it up by saying, “They (HITS Show Management) know how to put on a horse show.”

A key element riders and trainers consider when attending a horse show, is the course designer. Hap rated them as “up and down.” One week in the $25,000 Grand Prix Hap, John Perez and John Pearce all had spills at the same jump. Certainly a surprising turn of events.

If you’ve read EquestriSol’s series “Conversation with Course Designers”, all of them seek to challenge while being careful to not overwhelm horse or rider. That said the course designers had their work cut out for them – often the class had 50 or more horses with a wide span of experience. It was not uncommon to have the group narrowed down to eight riders or less in a jump off.

For Brazil’s Eduardo Menezes, who jokingly disclosed his mantra for life, while sitting next to Olaf Peterson, as being “Live everyday like it’s the most important or the last because who knows what course designer will be there to kill you.” Kidding aside, Eduardo agreed that the facilities, amenities and most importantly, the footing were all excellent.

With big money classes, a tough course is always on the menu. And like any menu, what tastes great to some is not so delicious for others. Eighteen year old Lucy Davis and her two mounts Hannah and Nemo 119 got their fill of goodies, conquering two weeks worth of course designers’ challenges with four grand prix wins.

I caught up with Lucy after her second victory of four, the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix on Hannah during Week V of the circuit. Lucy excelled in field of 57 riders, including topping trainer and well-known international rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum,. “I was confident about my ride, but was still in disbelief from last night [winning the $50,000 Strongid CSI-W Grand Prix aboard Nemo 119]! Today was the cherry on top!”

Davis proved her ability to achieve the ultimate, winning two more grand prix classes, including the $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix of the Desert again on Nemo 119. Qualified for the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix scheduled for September 11 in Saugerties, NY, will the young star be in attendance?

Crossing over to the hunter ring, seems the newly added hunter prix classes, qualifiers for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final in Saugerties, NY in September, drew both competitors and crowds alike, week after week.

Some would question if a 3’3″ hunter competition with a $500,000 finals is good for the sport. With the response and anticipation of the upcoming HITS weekend this fall, the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix combined with the Pfizer Million, it appears the answer is yes. The competition arena is clothed in many ways, and ultimately the best in the sport will prevail.

John French certainly knows a good horse show, having won all over the world in both the hunter and jumper arenas, both indoors and outdoor. French, who owns Waldenbrook Farm, surmised, “HITS has done a great job on improvements. The footing is good, nice job on maintenance and keeping the ground soft. We’ve had excellent weather this year and more people are coming back.” Waldenbrook clients were happy and staying longer than they initially planned.

As explained in this issue’s “Conversation with Equestrians”, for trainers Hope and Ned Glynn of Sonoma Valley Stables (SVS), the circuit proved to be a hit. Hope landed two blue ribbons in the 3’3″ Hunter Prix classes.

“I am thrilled to have an opportunity to compete for the biggest purse of prize money in hunter history. We have all really enjoyed the hunter prix classes at Thermal,” added Hope.

Top hunter riders, professional, amateur and junior alike, have the opportunity to attend several special shows with a focus on hunters this year. The first is the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, now in its third year, at the Kentucky Horse Park in August. Continuing the trek east, the Hampton Classic is an excellent choice for exhibiting and enjoying the east coast. Next to HITS Saugerties for the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final in upstate New York, which not only includes a big grand prix but a Temptations concert. And then the indoor season begins, the Capital Challenge in Washington, DC offers a list of prestigious hunter classes, the fall continues with Harrisburg, Washington and this year Lexington. But that’s another story.

Pleasing your public is essential when running a business. Was HITS a hit? The answer is in the desert oasis. 

Pfizer Million Preview

West coast riders come east for Pfizer Million Weekend; HITS bids to bring Olympic Trials to HITS Desert Horse Park
As the summer show season nears its end, the excitement and anticipation for this year’s Pfizer Million Weekend is gaining momentum. Exhibitors are clamoring to get their qualifying classes in and add to their winnings to ensure their place in the Rider Rankings for both the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix and the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final. After the Desert Circuit it was clear that riders from the west coast were serious about ensuring they’d make the cut for these two monumental events. And with the grand finale weekend just about a month away, west coast riders are making their plans to come east for their chance at show jumping history – the opportunity to compete for $1.5 million in prize money!

The group of High-Performance riders coming east includes a mix of both returning and first time qualifiers with John Pearce, Helen McNaught, Duncan McFarlane, and Saer Coulter, while young phenom Lucy Davis, who took the Desert Circuit by storm when she won the last four Grand Prix at the Thermal including the $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini of Newport Beach, is making her first trip to Saugerties.

The crop of Hunter riders making their plans to show in Saugerties is equally as impressive with top professional riders John French, Hope Glynn, Nick Haness and Jenny Karazissis each committed to show in the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final. Amateur riders Erin Bland and Avery Hellman, who both train with Ned and Hope Glynn, will also be on the scene, as will Archie Cox with a group of his students.

“I am very excited to be coming to compete in the [Diamond Mills] $500,000 Hunter Prix,” said Cox. “Cruise, owned by Jessica Singer, has already proven himself from coast to coast and I am anxious to add a top placing to his resume.”

Jerry Dougherty of Bokeelia, Florida will set the courses for the Hunter Prix and Olympic Course Designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, Florida will set the track for the Pfizer Million. Olympic Course Decorator Flora Baptiston of Brazil will bring her magic touch to the courses.

There’s quite a buzz about the weekend throughout both the equestrian and local communities, as VIP tables are selling quickly and ticket sales for Motown legends The Temptations are picking up momentum. Adding to the ceremony of the day will be an appearance by the West Point Equestrian Team and a special 9/11 commemoration ceremony with members from the local fire, police and emergency service workers. Plans are also in the works for a special head-set rental program for round-by-round commentary for both the Hunter Prix and the Pfizer Million.

More exciting news pertaining to live-webcasting and TV coverage along with other plans will be announced soon, so stay tuned. For more information about VIP or general ticket information, please visit HitsShows.com.

HITS bids to bring Olympic Trials to HITS Desert Horse Park
For the second time in two years, HITS put in a bid to host a USEF selection trial competition at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California. In the summer of 2009, HITS bid to host the USEF Show Jumping Selection Trials for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). The proposal included unprecedented prize money, $775,000 to be exact, and a commitment to waive the entry fees for all Selection Trials classes for horses competing in every leg of the Trials. This time around, HITS submitted another extraordinary bid proposal to host the USEF Selection Trials for the 2012 Olympic Games and National Championship.

The highlights from the Olympic Trials bid included $200,000 in prize money to be divided among the winners, waived entry fees and complementary accommodations for all exhibitors participating in the trials. News came in early August that the selection committees had met and voted to award the bid to another management company, despite the innovative package prepared by HITS.

When news of the decision came, HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri offered his insights on the vote. “If there’s a bright side to this, we’ve got our bid packet fine tuned! Perhaps more importantly, these Trials will not take place during the Thermal Circuit, so customers can enjoy their regular circuit schedule with us in the Desert and still have the opportunity to travel for the chance to compete on the Olympic Team in Florida at the end of March.”

Struzzieri was pleased to have the opportunity to submit a bid and was pragmatic about the outcome. “I can’t say that I disagree with the decision of the committees, geography has to play a big role in this type of decision. We will continue to stay in this process and hopefully we will be awarded this type of event in the near future.”

In the end, Struzzieri believes, “Our bid had an impact in raising the stakes for the competition. As it turned out the other bid was modified to match what we had offered and include free entries for the riders, so that’s another positive outcome for the exhibitors. Having just completed hosting the East Coast Junior Hunter Finals here in Saugerties, I feel strongly that HITS has a product to offer that will ultimately be the right one for trials of this nature and we’ll keep going after it… for us, our customers and the sport.”

Photos by Flying Horse Photography.

Conversations With Equestrians: Hope Glynn

Hope and Hunters Head East
We had a chance to speak with professional Hope Glynn, who owns Sonoma Valley Stables (SVS) with her husband Ned in northern California. Once they realized there was an opportunity to compete for a large purse on hunters, the hunter clan at SVS made it a goal to participate.

They’ve qualified three riders for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final and plan to head east for a series of shows, including the Hampton Classic and Saugerties for HITS on the Hudson with the much anticipated finals on the weekend. The parents are thrilled, not only with the prize money offered, but with all the pomp and circumstance of the entire event. The collective group feels that even if you don’t make the Top 20, you can still have a great experience both on and off the horse – awesome prize money, a new venue, great competition, the east coast, an adventure to the Big Apple, the Pfizer Million – that and more await the northern California competitors and their families.

Hope Glynn and Woodstock
Photo by Gail Morey

EqSol: Tell us about your plans for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final this coming September in Saugerties? You’re qualified on Woodstock, but you have the option to select another mount.
 My highest placing horse was Woodstock and I’m definitely planning on riding him in the Finals. For me, he’s one of my most consistent mounts and I know him very well. I feel very confident riding him in the class. He will also have done the International Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington with me, so I’ll have had that experience under my belt. It will be good preparation for us.

EqSol: Describe Woodstock for us…
 His barn name is Woody – he came from Brandy Hollway in Kansas. He also competes in the Low A/O Hunters with Amateur rider Olivia Hellman. He has a lot of personality, he’s a horse that is easy to like – he jumps great every time you bring him out, he’s easy to work with at home and if he has a fault it would be that he may jump and try too hard, which is a good problem to have as a rider. He’s consistently one of the best jumpers I’ve ever ridden, which is really important when you’re doing a big class like these prestigious hunter finals.

EqSol: You and two of your students, Avery Hellman and Erin Bland, are making the trip to Saugerties. Can you tell us more about them?
 Both riders are 19 years old and they are very excited about the competing at the hunter prix finals. This is the highlight of their riding careers.

Avery Hellman is riding her 7-year-old Westphalian gelding Rococco. He was the Circuit Champion in the 2nd years at HITS (Thermal). Avery rides on her high school equestrian team. She’s also a very good student and doesn’t miss school. She rides on the weekends and during show season, she typically leaves school Friday, gets to the show and heads into the show ring. She’s been training at Sonoma Valley Stables for nine years. She’s actually more excited to do these finals than indoors.

Erin Bland lives in Carlsbad, CA and trains with Liza Applebaum at home and does the A-Shows with us. Her mount for the finals is Weatherly, an 8-year-old WB gelding. This is her first year competing as an Amateur — she and Weatherly competed in the A/O Hunters and were Reserve Circuit Champions at Thermal and she was also Champion at Del Mar National this past May. As for academics, she currently attends Mira Costa College and she’d like to transfer to Sonoma State this next school year, so she can ride and attend college. Erin is extremely excited about the Finals, mainly because she feels like it’s a class where amateurs, juniors and professionals can compete at an equal level. To her, it’s more than just a hunter class back east – it’s an event!

Shelley Campf and Hope Glynn
Photo by Gail Morey

EqSol: Tell us about SVS “Team” coming east…
 I have a fantastic group of horses that I get to ride and the clients are excited to watch them go. We have about 25 people coming to support SVS at the Hunter Prix Finals; between CA barn mates and family on east coast – people are excited to come. Like any big money class, this final draws a significant amount of attention. Honestly, no matter how well they do, they just want to see how the horses go. For us, it’s difficult to get people to travel down south, but because of the prestige of the class, the beautiful and exciting venue, they are traveling from CA to the east coast JUST to watch. As a barn, to have three competing is truly an honor.

EqSol: Since the pressure will be on at these finals, how do you help your clients handle it?
 With our riders, we really feel that positive reinforcement and hard work are key ingredients to their success. Most of these kids are extremely critical of themselves, so we try to teach and maintain a holistic picture: the goal is not “I want to win this hunter prix” – we all aim to win, it’s why we compete, but it’s not just about winning. It’s about what each student wants to achieve as a rider and as a horseman.

EqSol: You had to qualify your horses at HITS Thermal – how did you find the circuit this year?
 Classes were big and quality was good. The facility has developed into a premier place to be on the west coast during the winter circuit. I was particularly pleased with the footing. Footing, in both the show and warm up rings, is paramount to me above everything else. I also like HITS because there is so much space to ride your horses. A lot of barns have great show rings but not good warm up areas. At HITS they have great practice rings available all day.

Since we spend a lot of time in the hunter rings, we also really enjoyed the improvements they made to the Hunter Berm and the hospitality tent. It provided another area for people to watch and enjoy it.

Avery Glynn (center) with Hope (right) and Avery’s grandmother Priscilla Hobday (left)
Photo by Gail Morey

EqSol: It’s been a good year for SVS. Can you share some of your personal highlights, aside from the success?
 I truly LOVE horses and I LOVE being around them, so I’m lucky that they are in my life everyday. Even when I’m old and retired, I will still have horses because being around them brings me happiness.

There was one afternoon when Avery rode up with her pony to watch one of high-performance classes I was in. After our final jump, I heard her clapping on the rail screaming “Go Mommy! Go Mommy!” – that takes the cake for me – when you hear your daughter clapping and cheering you on, it doesn’t matter what happened in the class.

She even told me to keep my eyes up and my heels down as I came out of that class at Thermal.

EqSol: Mantra for life?
 Integrity sums it up in one word. Living with integrity is the utmost important thing to me in how I run my business and how I live my life.

  Thank you Hope for your time and your insights – we wish you and your students the best of luck in your upcoming east coast adventures!

Highlights From 2011 HITS Desert Circuit

By Selena Frederick and Jackie McFarland

In what seemed a newfound rhythm for the HITS Desert Circuit, the winter circuit sailed relatively smoothly for six straight weeks. With increased entries and a positive response from many of the competitors we approached, we asked what was the formula for success this year? Challenging course designers, well maintained footing, improvements and additions to the VIP areas, big money classes, and of course the grand prix highlights from fantastic afternoons to fabulous evening events.

Beautiful sunsets and cool breezes welcomed the four World Cup Qualifiers in the intimate indoor arena. Actually for a majority of the six weeks the California desert weather was pretty perfect. To top it off, during the final week the facility sparkled with Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces and even a pristine private jet parked on site.

John French and Chawi de Laubry

The west coast circuit drew a slew of legendary grand prix riders from near and far, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Hap Hansen, Eduardo Menezes, John Pearce, Rich Fellers, Jill Henselwood, Charlie Jayne, John French, Susan Hutchison, John Perez, Gabriella Salick, Kate Levy…

And that is just a short list. Stars of the circuit Rich Fellers and Lucy Davis each earned four grand prix wins, simply amazing. These two athletes and their horse mates, mind you they each won on different mounts, were fast, clean and cool as ice.

The hunter rings were bustling as well. West coast greats such as John French, Hope Glynn, Nick Haness, Chance Arakelian, Jenny Karazissis and John Bragg were vying for the various championships and derby wins. The ever-versatile John French, who won his usual lion’s share in this arena, also suited up for several outdoor grand prix events. French was seen ‘speaking’ both hunter and jumper on the same day, literally running from the jump off to the hunter derby, garnering top ribbons if not wins in both places. The calm, cool and collected French commented, “It’s an adrenaline rush with the jumpers and everything is so fast; I’m not used to being so hyper.”

Hansen and Michaels-Beerbaum
discuss the course

Quite a few competitors, sponsors and spectators noted the family-friendly aspect of the area. Lamborghini of Newport Beach’s Director Donny Gath brought his entire family. As is often seen when outside sponsorship comes on board, Gath’s company became a sponsor after his 9-year-old daughter Kendal started competing at HITS two years ago, so it is both business and pleasure. Grand prix princess and high-school senior Lucy Davis mentioned that her family can easily come out from Los Angeles and watch her compete as well as enjoy the desert treasures. “My dad can golf in the morning, and then come and watch me ride in the evenings.” Internationally acclaimed rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, also Davis’ trainer, expressed how nice it was for her to spend time in a family friendly environment. She explained, “In Europe the cold indoor circuits typically have late class times making it not very baby or family friendly. It’s also good to be back in California, and see people I haven’t seen in years.” Baby Brianna Beerbaum celebrated her first birthday in California with Mom (Meredith) and mount Lancaster winning the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix. Great day to celebrate.

Of course there were ups and downs. One particular grand prix Sunday took its toll on some top riders. Beginning the circuit with wins, Canadian John Pearce, as well as riding legend Hap Hansen, and the daring John Perez all took a spill at the same fence (#7). Unfortunately Pearce went on the injured list for the remainder of the circuit, whereas Hansen and Perez were able to walk away.

The close to the circuit $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix of the Desert was nothing short of poetic. After 53 riders attempted Olaf Peterson’s technical and big and wide course of jumps, five riders remained in the running for the $200,000 in prize money. The 90-degree southern California sun apparently didn’t faze the riders or the Sunday afternoon crowd. Cheers were rampant at the end of Lucy Davis and Nemo 119’s clear

Lucy Davis and Nemo 119

jump off round, on a streak after winning three grand prix events in a row, as she crossed the timers in the lead.

The class was far from over with two riders left. next in the ring was speed demon Rich Fellers, aboard the amazing Flexible. And following that pair was Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum aboard the talented Kismet 50. The crowd gasped in disbelief as Rich and Flexible took the inside turn to the wide oxer heading down the last line and a rail fell. When the final pair of Beerbaum and Kismet 50 heading towards the first tall pink and white vertical – down went the top rail and Davis had clinched the win. It was a day to remember for competitor and spectator alike.

As Davis said in her interview with HITS after her victory, “I could never believe this in a million years. I was so happy to just win one Grand Prix and I kept thinking that there was no way that this could ever happen. Some of the best riders in the world were competing here today and to come out on top is just surreal.” (Read more in the HITS press release)

International riders, sizeable prize money, classy cars, big jumps, fans galore and increased attendance makes for sporty splendor indeed. Congratulations to all and good luck at HITS Saugerties in their fall finales for both hunters and jumpers.

Photos by Cheval Photos