Highlights From The 53rd Washington International Horse Show: October 25-30, 2011

Nick Skelton and Carlo 273

The well-known event in Washington DC gained a huge audience online this year – over 130,000 people tuned into the new live webcast from the Verizon Center. The largest online and in-person crowd was for the $100,000 President’s Cup Grand Prix, a World Cup qualifier. Nick Skelton of Great Britain rode Beverley Widdowson’s Carlo 273 to victory.

Skelton and Carlo 273, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Contender, were the last to go clear in the opening round of 24 entries over a course designed by Michel Vaillancourt of Aiken, SC. Brianne Goutal and Nice de Prissey were second, while California phenom Lucy Davis rode Nemo 119 to third. Margie Engle and Indigo were fourth to round out the jump-off.

Sarah Tredennick of Denver, CO, rode Vigaro to the win in the $31,000 International Open Jumper Jump-off class. Stanford student Saer Coulter went as a character from the movieAvatar in the $20,000 International Open Jumper Gambler’s Choice Costume class. Although she looked blue, she earned second place behind top rider Todd Minikus dressed as Uncle Sam. Holding her own among the best, Saer earned several more respectable ribbons in the open jumper division.

Saer Coulter as a Na’vi from Avatar

John French won the inaugural High Point West Coast Rider Trophy, and won the Regular Conformation Hunter Stake aboard Laura Wasserman’s Overseas. Wasserman won an Amateur/Owner class on Overseas.

Continuing her indoors hunter dominance, the Small Junior Hunter 16-17 division awarded championship honors to Olivia Esse and Oscany Inc.’s Clooney.

Inside Indoors

By Whitney Campbell and Jackie McFarland

Capital Challenge, Harrisburg, Washington, and Syracuse
The excitement of the World Equestrian Games surrounding Lexington, Kentucky was nothing short of overpowering during the months of September and October. However many other year round competitors and enthusiasts of the sport instead found themselves at the most recognized and notorious end of the year championship shows. Many of the sport’s elite as well as up and coming hunters, equitation and jumper riders and their mounts traveled to the 17th annual Capital Challenge Horse Show in Upper Marlboro, Maryland held October 2-10 for the beginning of a well-known and traditional fall series of competitive shows, the Indoor Circuit. A few days later, 1,200 top ranked horses and riders from all over the nation traveled to Harrisburg. The dates of October 14-23, 2010 marked the 65th annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

The Equitation weekend at Capital Challenge kicked off the season. West Coast highlights included 17-year-old division Equitation Champion, Samantha Harrison of La Canada, CA, who trains with Karen Healey. An interesting twist came out of the Taylor Harris Insurance Services (THIS) National Children’s Medal Finals when riders were not asked to return as the judges had their final decision. Moving up from second in the second round was Molly Peddicord of Malibu, CA to take home the top prize. She rides with Far West Farms.

The Professional Hunter Division saw defending champion John French reclaim the Second Year Green Hunter Division, this year aboard Small Affair, owned by Iwasaki & Reilly. Small Affair dominated by winning three over fences classes. French returned for the Future Hunter 3’3″ North American Championships and walked away with another blue on Small Collection and the second to Small Kiss, both Iwasaki & Reilly horses. On a hot streak, John French aboard Small Affair earned top honors in the $15,000 WCHR Professional Challenge.

The California invasion continued when Meredith Darst and Wild Sky Farm’s Macy Grey earned Reserve Champion in the Medium Pony Hunter Division. Having a great year in the hunters, seventeen-year-old Hannah Goodson-Cutt, from Los Angeles, was both the Small Junior 16-17 Hunter Champion and the overall Grand Junior Hunter Champion aboard her horse Caretano. Goodson-Cutt, who trains with Willow Brook Stables, was awarded the Spontaneous Perpetual Trophy and later named the Best Junior Rider.

Further Capital Challenge champion level competitions at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center included the ARIAT National Adult Medal Finals and the World Champion Hunter Rider Finals, for all the press and details visit www.capitalchallenge.org.

West Coast standouts included Hannah Goodson-Cutt, coming off a great showing at Capital Challenge, to claim the Small Junior 16-17 Hunter Championship aboard her horse Caretano. Goodson-Cutt returned in the Large Junior 16-17 Hunter Championships to claim the Reserve Championship honors on Leroy Brown.

With a score of total score of nine faults, the Zone 10 Junior Jumper Team of Jocelyn Neff/Gaja 20, Audrey Coulter/Roderburghs California, Lindsay Douglas/Pernot and Alec Lawler/Live Fire, were second in the $15,000 Prix de States. Jocelyn Neff was awarded the William C. Steinkraus Style Award. The award is presented to the Prix de States Junior Jumper rider who best exemplifies the American style of equitation, and the respectful, dignified, courteous and workmanlike manner of a true sportsman. Aforementioned Hannah Goodson-Cutt was named the Best Junior Rider, Horse Award.

Out of 208 riders, Lucy Davis, who trains with Archie Cox, finished in the top four of the prestigious Pessoa/USEF Hunter Seat Equitation Medal Finals. Judges Julie Winkel and George H. Morris asked back the top twenty for the second round over fences and then the top seven returned for flat work. After top two riders Hayley Barnhill of Collierville, TN and Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, MD switched horses, Barnhill ended with the top honors.

The final event of the PNHS was highlighted with a win from defending champion Rodrigo Pessoa. Coming straight from a Final Four appearance at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY, Pessoa of Brazil reclaimed his title aboard HH Ashley in the FEI World Cup Qualifier $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National. For more results, stories and highlights, visit www.panational.org.

Members of the North American League (NAL) have the benefit of earning points in six hunter-jumper divisions – Children’s Hunter, Adult Hunter, Children’s Jumper, Adult Jumper, Pony Jumper and Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper – that up through 2010 had qualified horses and riders for the Finals at the PNHS. However in 2011 there will also an annual North American League West Coast Final occurring at the Las Vegas National Horse Show. This event will represent an even bigger and more nationwide opportunity amongst competitors. The 2011 qualifying year began on September 1st and continues through August 21st at qualifying horse show across the Unites States and Canada. Membership and more information at www.ryegate.com/nal/faq_nal.htm.

Next in the Indoor Circuit lineup is the world renowned Washington International Horse Show. Classes started on October 26th and continued through today. Jennifer Woods Media was there and gave us the daily scoop.

California junior riders Olivia Esse, Hannah Goodson-Cutt and Ashley Pryde rocked the Junior Hunter Divisions. Esse was Grand Junior Hunter Champion aboard Illusion. Goodson-Cutt earned the best Junior Hunter Stake round and was Small Junior Hunter 16-17 Champion on Caretano. Plus was Champion in the 16-17 Large Division on Superman, with Ashley Pryde taking home the Reserve Championship on Truly. Laura Wasserman and Overseas also won the Stake in the In the Amateur Owner Hunter 36 & over Division. Interviewed in an earlier issue this year, young hotshot Reed Kessler grabbed 1st and 3rd in the $10,000 Junior Jumper Stake. Pablo Barrios and G&C Farm’s Quick Star 11 topped the Puissance and McLain Ward aboard the priceless Sapphire rode to the blue in the $100,000 President’s Cup, a World Cup Qualifier. More at www.wihs.org.

The final Indoor extravaganza will be in upstate New York when the prestigious Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament commences on November 2 and continues through the 7th. Champions will be crowned in several divisions, grand prix events as well as in the ASPCA Maclay Medal Finals. Details at www.syracuseinvitational.com.

Inside Indoors

By Jackie McFarland

Back in the day the Indoor Circuit was Harrisburg, Washington, New York. Those days are gone and the fall indoor season on the East Coast is now Upper Marlboro, Harrisburg, Washington, Syracuse. The shows affiliated with those cities are the Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, the Washington International Horse Show and the Syracuse Invitational.

A Little History
In its 16th year, Capital Challenge is a relatively young event, but with all its unique offerings has certainly become the essential first stop of the Indoor season. Harrisburg, hosting the traditional USEF Medal Finals and more, is presenting its 64th annual event in 2009. Washington is in its 51st year. The standing North American indoor Puissance (high jump) record of 7 feet 7 1/2 inches was set at Washington in 1983 by Anthony D’Ambrosio and Sweet N’ Low. The newest addition to the Indoor roster is the Syracuse Invitational. Taking over where The National Horse Show (126th year) left off, this event not only hosts the ASPCA Maclay Finals but presents a fabulous horse show for exhibitors, spectators and sponsors alike.

Not just anyone can enter into these top shows – a certain number of points and/or money won are required to qualify for Harrisburg, Washington and Syracuse in the hunter divisions and jumper divisions.

September 26th – October 4th: CAPITAL CHALLENGE 
Begins with an Equitation weekend

Location: Prince George Equestrian, Upper Marlboro, MD
Managers: Billy Glass & Oliver Kennedy
Special Classes:
$40,000 North American Junior/Amateur Jumper Challenge Cup
$20,000 Added Future Hunter North American Championship
$15,000 WCHR Professional Challenge
$16,000 Green Working Hunter Sections
$5,000 Emerging Pro Challenge Ariat National Adult Medal Finals
THIS National Children’s Medal Finals
Capital Challenge North American Equitation Championships
Numerous Special Awards & Trophies
Web site: www.capitalchallenge.org
Webcast: www.equestriansport.tv

October 8th – 17th: PENNSYLVANIA NATIONAL 
Begins with a Junior weekend

Location: PA Farm Show Complex & Expo Center, Harrisburg, PA
Managers: Ryegate Show Services
Special Classes:
$75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National, World Cup Qualifier
$25,000 Pennsylvania Big Jump
$25,000 NAL Open Jumper Speed Finals
$15,000 Cavalor Show Jumping HOF A/O Jumper Classic
$12,500 Prix de States Team Championship
$10,000 ‘Gem Twist’ Sprint, Gamblers Choice
$10,000 NAL Children’s Jumper Finals
$10,000 NAL Adult Jumper Finals
$10,000 NAL Children’s Hunter Finals / NAL Adult Hunter Finals Pessoa / USEF Hunter Equitation Medal Finals
Numerous Special Awards & Trophies
Web site: www.panational.org


Location: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Managers: David Distler & Robert Ridland
Special Classes:
$100,000 President’s Cup Grand Prix, World Cup Qualifier 
$30,000 International Open Jumper
$25,000 Puissance High Jump
$20,000 Open Jumper – Gambler’s Choice Custom Class
$15,000 Open Jumper Pair Relay
$15,000 Hunter Classic Derby
$15,000 Junior Jumper / Amateur-Owner Jumper Sections
$10,000 WIHS Children’s Hunter Championships
$10,000 Adult Hunter Championships
$10,000 WIHS Children’s Jumper Championships
$10,000 Adult Jumper Championships
WIHS Equitation Finals / WIHS Pony Equitation Finals
Numerous Special Awards & Trophies
Web site: www.wihs.org

October 28th – November 1st: SYRACUSE INVITATIONAL

Location: Oncenter Complex, Syracuse, NY
Manager: David Distler
Special Classes:
$100,000 Budweiser World Cup Qualifier of Syracuse
$50,000 Animal Planet Sporthorse Cup – a three phase event
$35,000 Syracuse Corporate Team Challenge
$25,000 Pasmore Stables Horsemans’ Cup
$15,000 CN Gambler’s Choice
$15,000 TK99 Speed Derby
$5,000 Empire Tractor Ride & Drive
National Horse Show ASPCA Maclay Championship
Numerous Special Awards & Trophies
Special Events: SI Horseman’s College / Insider’s View / Used Tack Sale

Conversations With Equestrians: John French

Anthem to Zen with John French
By Jackie McFarland

A well-known name in both the hunter and jumper circles, John French is famous for his style in the saddle. Some weeks ago spectators and exhibitors alike were surprised to hear, literally, another side of John when he sang the National Anthem in front of a World Cup Qualifier crowd. Speak softly but carry a big booming singing voice is just one of the interesting aspects to this multi-faceted equestrian.

Certainly successful as a hunter rider, a handful of years ago John also proved he has what it takes to win at the international Grand Prix level. Over a five-year period, John went from Rookie Grand Prix Rider of the Year to qualifying for the World Cup Finals, placing in Britain’s Hickstead Grand Prix and representing the US on Nations Cup Teams in Great Britain, Belgium, Spain and Sweden.

In this conversation we not only wanted to delve into John’s vast equestrian knowledge and experience but also learn a bit more about who he is through a series of questions from A to Z…

Anthem: So Week II of this year’s Desert Circuit you sang the National Anthem in front of hundreds of people. Many questions spring to mind – how long have you had a passion for singing? Do you have any formal training? Have you ever sung the National Anthem in public before? How did it feel? Would you do it again?

John: When I was 10 or 11 yrs old I was one of 400 kids that tried out for this folk ensemble group. We had to sing the National Anthem for the audition. Only ten kids were picked, I was one. We performed all over as a group, I really enjoyed it. My parents didn’t really get involved, so I decided to drop it and focused on riding.

We had a singing coach when I was a part of the ensemble. I remembered learning the National Anthem for the audition, but had not sung it since age 11. I wanted to see if I could do it – so I off-handedly mentioned it to a client that I would like to. Turned out HITS needed someone, the word got out that I would do it and I thought ‘I can’t back out now…’ At least it was in front of friends and people I knew – but I was still super nervous. My mouth was getting so dry while I was standing there waiting.

Sometimes you have to take risks like that – do something beyond your comfort zone, it makes you a stronger person in the end. Next time I’m nervous before a class I will remind myself – ‘John, remember when you sang the National Anthem? Can’t be that bad.’

Favorites: Do you have a favorite memory from the show ring? A memorable ride among the thousands you’ve ridden?

John: Probably my most memorable ride was in 1985 at the Washington International Horse Show – I was riding a horse named Ice Palace in the Regular Working Hunter Handy class at night. I had gone back to the hotel to change, it was rainy, there was traffic and I missed my place in the order. When I finally got to the ring, there were only five rounds left. It got worse, I had forgotten my hat, so I had to run up and get it. The horse’s owner was angry, it was a mess. On top of that, the course was challenging, full of twists and turns. So I ran up to the stands to watch a few horses. Jumped two jumps in the schooling area and then had to go in the ring. I didn’t have time to be nervous; I was trying to remember the course, going from jump to turn to jump to turn… It was amazing – everything fell into place. Rodney Jenkins had the leading score and he was standing at the back gate. When the crowd cheered after my last jump, he mumbled, ‘Sh–.’

I had won! Rodney was 2nd, Katie Monahan was 3rd, Charlie Weaver was 4th. There has not been a bigger win in the hunter ring than that one for me.

Finesse in the Saddle: An avid performer, you’ve won in the hunter ring on both coasts, at all the top horse shows on a number of different horses. What advice can you give to a hunter rider on how to achieve that winning round? Tips to finesse the ride?

John: You have to go in and be confident. Pick up the pace right away – don’t doubt yourself. To have a winning ride, you can’t think ‘am I going to find the distance’ you have to let that go. When you are tentative it interrupts the flow. Let the doubts go out of your mind – that’s when you ride the best. Take risks – believe in the ride.

In the show ring you do want to finesse the ride – try to get relaxed in your body – relaxing your muscles will carry over to your mind. If your body is relaxed your mind will follow – so if you choose to be relaxed and breathe, that will in turn finesse the ride.

Idols: Whom do you consider your idol – equestrian and non-equestrian?

John: Idol – let’s see… my equestrian idols would probably be… ones that are no longer riding. The one I have the most respect for on the ground and as a rider is Bernie Traurig. He is so insightful. Also Patricia Heuckeroth – she is such a horsewoman. And another is Kathy Kusner – not only as a horsewoman but also because of what she’s doing now with Horses in the Hood*. She’s giving back and I have a lot of respect for her. [*a non-profit organization that offers 5-day riding camps to inner-city children in Los Angeles, learn more at horsesinthehood.org]

Non-equestrian idols – Jack Kornfield* – do you know who that is? He’s a spiritual teacher. And the Dalai Lama. [*A practitioner for over 40 years, one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America. Author of many books and CDs, he is also the founder of The Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, CA.].

Nerves: Do you ever get nervous? Any advice for dealing with nerves?

John: Oh yeah – I always get nervous. When I do there are certain things I do to un-nerve myself. One is to remember to enjoy the process – have fun. Smile and think how lucky I am to do this. Mistakes are not the end of the world – it’s a horse show! Another is I remind myself that it doesn’t help to be nervous about something I can’t control – a ride happening in the future – so I let go and focus on what I can control which is being in the present during the ride. Yet another is I pretend no one is watching, that I am just schooling. I don’t go out thinking that I am going to win – or that I need to beat somebody else. Just do the best I can – ride better than the last time.

Sometimes when I’m on a really good horse, I’ll go in and pretend I’m somebody else on a different horse – depending on how the horse needs to be ridden, then I’m not nervous because I’m not John French, I’m somebody else!

I rode in the clinic with McLain – he definitely taught me a few things. So when I went in the jumper ring after that, I pretended I was McLain. It went well, first class on a horse I hadn’t really shown before I won, beat Richard. Then I only had the last jump down in the Futures.

Relaxing: Since you spend a majority of your time riding and competing – when you do have spare time what do you like to do? How do you relax?

John: I live in a really super quiet place – an old western mission town – San Juan Bautista, population about 1,700. Walking down Main Street, you would think there is going to be a shoot out in one of the saloons. I can relax, no hustle, bustle of a big city. I don’t get a lot of free time – when I do I go on retreats. I’ve been on four retreats.

Winning: What’s your approach to winning? Losing?

John: I’ve learned to get perspective – center myself – which can be difficult when you are always competing. A few years ago I was winning but not happy. I would win this big class or award but I felt nothing. I was essentially depressed. I wasn’t certain if I wanted to keep riding.

I went to a retreat. I learned that I wasn’t alone feeling this way – it’s not you alone against the whole world – but everyone is connected in feeling and wanting the same thing. To be happy. But that has to come from within. So I gained perspective.

It is so easy to get caught in that winning cycle. But the winning can’t be the only reason. You can’t be happy – achieve true happiness just from that. When I put it in perspective I let go of the winning as the reward. I remembered that I ride because it’s my passion, I love it. That is happiness.

Zen*: The path of enlightenment… Can you tell us about your interest in Buddhism and how that helps you? [*school of Mahayana Buddhism asserting that enlightenment can come through meditation and intuition rather than faith]

John: That’s a hard question. In the big picture, so many other religions tell you what you can and can’t do. But Buddhism is about a state of consciousness, seeking that greater interconnectedness, it’s a way of thinking. Things happen for a reason. Buddhism helps you learn about these lessons presented to you and to seek the path of enlightenment.

In order to achieve that state of consciousness, I practice the ability to acknowledge the nerves, the stress and then let go. Sometimes I meditate before a special class, when there are too many things going on in my head. I try to do some yoga and meditation in the morning in order to clear my mind.