2012/2013 West Coast Qualifying Season For All New Thermal Million

by Danette Kadlic

Rich Fellers and Flexible on their way to a win at the LA National in 2011. This year, the LA National will be one of the West Coast shows hosting qualifiers for the Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix. © Flying Horse Photography

HITS, Inc., together with the show organizers of Blenheim EquiSports, Jump Del Mar, Sacramento International and Langer Equestrian Group, is pleased to celebrate the start of the 2012-2013 qualifying period for the newly formed Thermal Million Grand Prix League. The qualifying season began August 14 and runs through the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit, beginning January 22, where seven weeks of horse shows will culminate in the largest prize money purse ever offered west of the Mississippi. The Thermal Million Grand Prix will be a star-studded conclusion to the seven-week circuit, complete with a musical concert being organized in collaboration with a top entertainment company out of Los Angeles.

The season officially kicked off at the famed Blenheim Summer Classic Series in beautiful San Juan Capistrano, California followed by the Showpark Summer Classic Series in Del Mar, California where high-performance riders got their first opportunities to bank crucial Grand Prix prize money in the hopes of securing a spot on what’s sure to be a coveted Top 40 Rider Rankings for the all-new Thermal Million. The Blenheim Summer Classic II ran August 15-19 at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano and featured the $40,000 Blenheim Summer Classic II Grand Prix, presented by CardFlex, as the very first qualifying class Saturday, August 18. The action continues for two more weeks at the Del Mar Horse Park with the Showpark Summer Classic August 22-26, featuring the $40,000 Showpark Summer Grand Prix, presented by California Horsetrader, Saturday, August 25. The Showpark All Seasons Classic August 29-September 2, offers the first of 10 World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix included in the Thermal Million League, and will host the $50,000 Grand Prix of Showpark, presented by EQU Lifestyle Magazine, Saturday, September 1. After a short break, the qualifying quest returns to San Juan Capistrano for the Blenheim Fall Tournament, September 12-16 where, on Friday night, September 14 high-performance riders will enjoy a $50,000 World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix, presented by Summit General Insurance Agency.

Rusty Stewart of Grey Fox Farm in Camarillo, California is one rider looking forward to the start of the qualifying season. “This is a huge opportunity for us on the West Coast to compete in a really big class, and everyone that I’ve spoken to is very excited. I think the collaboration of these shows along with the Desert Circuit is great for the sport. I’m looking forward to getting to work on qualifying and hopefully getting my chance at that big check! This collection of shows is typically our schedule for this portion of the season, we typically hit all the World Cup Qualifiers and this year to have those shows be in coordination with the Thermal Million is just a wonderful thing.”

Stewart has his sights set on qualifying with Bristol, a 10-year-old homebred from Grey Fox Farm. “We’ve brought him along since he was a baby with great success,” added Stewart. “He’s a great horse with a terrific personality, he was fifth in the FEI World Cup Standings for the West Coast, and I’m looking forward to continued success with him this season, right up to the Thermal Million!”

A view of the Grand Prix ring at HITS Thermal, which will host the 2012 Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, as well as
the World Cup Qualifiers taking place during the HITS Desert Circuit. © Flying Horse Photography

From the Blenheim shows, the qualifying tour continues September 19-23 with the LA International Jumping Festival, where the team from Langer Equestrian Group will celebrate the first of their three Thermal Million qualifying shows with the $50,000 LA International Grand Prix, presented by LEGISequine.com, Saturday, September 22 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

October kicks off with the popular Sacramento International Horse Show World Cup Week, held October 2-7 at the Murieta Equestrian Center in Rancho Murieta, where the highlight of the week’s schedule will be the $55,000 Land Rover Grand Prix of Sacramento, a World Cup Qualifier, Saturday evening, October 6. Three weeks later, Jump Del Mar will offer the next opportunity for riders to capture some cash en route to the Thermal Million when it hosts the Fall Festival II October 24-28, which features the $55,000 Villas at Rancho Valencia World Cup Grand Prix of Del Mar, presented by California Horsetrader, Saturday, October 27.

“We are thrilled to be offering two Thermal Million Grand Prix League qualifying events this October,” said Dale Harvey, Show Manager for Sacramento International and Jump Del Mar. “The Sacramento International Horse Show and the Del Mar Fall Festival are sure to attract the highest caliber of horse and rider combinations looking to secure their spot in the Thermal Million.”

Tom Struzzieri, HITS President and CEO, at the helm of the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California, which will be home to the all-new Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix. Photo by Paula Parisi

The Langer Equestrian Group, will host the next two qualifiers leading with the $50,000 LEG 40th Anniversary Grand Prix on Saturday night of the National Preview, October 31 – November 4, followed by the Los Angeles National, November 7-11, the highlight of which will be the $50,000 LEGISequine.com Grand Prix of Los Angeles, a World Cup Qualifying event.

“Langer Equestrian Group has enjoyed a very good relationship with HITS, and when the possibility of the Thermal Million Grand Prix League came about I was honored to include LEG’s three premier Grand Prix events in the League,” said Larry Langer, President and CEO of Langer Equestrian Group. “For quite some time I knew the West Coast needed some kind of league to help promote the highest level of our jumper sport, and Tom’s creation of the Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix League exceeded my expectations.”

With just over two months to go before the start of the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit, riders will have one last chance to test their luck and back some more qualifying prize money towards the ranking list when Blenheim EquiSports hosts the final pre-season qualifier at the Las Vegas National, November 13-18. The event will take place at the South Point Hotel and Casino Equestrian Arena, where the $50,000 Las Vegas World Cup Grand Prix will take the stage on Saturday night, November 17.

“This collection of shows represents some of the best show jumping offered in the United States and each of them attracts a diverse mix of talented riders and horses,” said Tom Struzzieri, HITS President and CEO. “This schedule should pave the way for a dynamic late summer/fall season on the West Coast and help to generate great momentum as we await the start of new season in Thermal. I’m thankful to this group for their collaboration and support of something new and exciting for the sport. Hopefully this is the beginning of more great innovations that will serve to benefit exhibitors from coast to coast.”

The 2013 HITS Desert Circuit will begin Tuesday, January 22 and offer a jam-packed schedule of classes, including 16 Grand Prix, three of which will be FEI World Cup Qualifiers, leading up to the Thermal Million Sunday, March 17. The 2013 Desert Circuit prize list is currently in production and is expected to mail in mid-October. Please visit HitsShows.com for more information or to request a prize list.

Conversations With Equestrians: Stefanie Saperstein

Intro By Jackie McFarland, Story By Stephanie Saperstein

Stefanie Saperstein
A name we haven’t heard lately on the west coast is that of Stefanie Saperstein. The rising young star went overseas mid-year to soak up some serious European exposure. She is fully ensconced there, not only as a rider but a student as well.

Before she left on this incredible adventure, Stefanie sent us this exclusive, endearing piece about riding in a World Cup Qualifying class like the ones you’ll be watching this season. Enjoy the ride as she takes you along with her that night – it will bring tears to your eyes…

World Cup Qualifier – November 2009
I barely slept the night before. Fear and excitement kept me awake.

That night was a World Cup Qualifier, one of the few that Quanto and I had ever done, and considering it was one of the last of the year I knew it was going to be a challenge.

I got on Quanto to stretch him out before the class and I couldn’t help but think about what the little boy had done for me and how I owed him the same. He brought me to a level of competition that I had dreamt of my whole life, but never thought could be possible. That night I needed to forget about everything else and fight for him, as he always fights for me.

The night of competition I put on my show jacket and started to polish my boots as I listened to music and cleared my mind. I heard the announcement that the course was ready for walking and ran to give Quanto one last hug and kiss before heading to the ring.

I walked the course a few times on my own and then met up with Meredith [Michaels-Beerbaum] and Richard [Padilla] to discuss my plan. Meredith emphasized parts of the course that I needed to focus on, walking with me to tall verticals that seemed to tower over both of us.

As the class started, I stood behind the bleachers going over my plan in my head reminding myself that it doesn’t matter how different it is from the other riders’.

My sister Alexis inched towards me. The last time she saw me ride was over two years ago, so having her there further encouraged me. I took a quick picture with her, as we both smiled at my grandmother who was in the same box as my mom. I remember closing my eyes and being so thankful for the support that I have; the people and animals that will continue to love me no matter what happened that night.

When I was twelve rounds out, I caught sight of Guma (our fabulous groom) with Quanto and walked over to them. I asked Guma about how Quanto was and he gave me the same response as always, “He is ready to win.” I giggled and responded, “I hope I am ready to win” and as Guma helped me on he assured me that I was.

The warm up felt surreal and I was called up to the ring in what felt like seconds. I stood outside of the ring and retold Meredith my plan and she wished me good luck. I asked Richard if he thought I could do it and he replied, “Of course, it doesn’t matter how it looks, just get it done.” This is what he always says to me before going into the ring. For some reason knowing that I don’t have to “look good” is always so encouraging. As I was about to head in the ring Richard continued to ask; “Do you know how I know you are going to do great?” I asked him “How?” He simply smiled and told me to listen. And with that I entered the ring. As I trotted in I heard the Bob Sinclair song “Love Generation” which Richard knows is not only one of my favorite songs, but the one that reminds me the most of competing in Europe during the summers.

As the ring went silent and I picked up the canter, I had a smile on my face, and I knew that Quanto could feel it. We feed off of each other’s confidence as we ride around the course. I added in the first line to keep Quanto’s shape, which carried over to the rest of the round. I kept reminding myself of the time allowed, trying to stay tight through the turns while keeping a forward rhythm. There was a tight five to a tall plank bending to a triple bar- oxer double, and Quanto jumped so powerfully over the triple bar that I tapped him on the shoulder with my stick to help him get over the next oxer.

Everything was coming up so fast, but I never felt nervous, I felt as though I was watching myself the entire time. I steadied Quanto up for the skinny, a fence that we often struggle with and he jumped it with ease, allowing me to shape out the following lines. Each fence kept Quanto’s attention as he jumped over them and refused to touch a rail. I was one with him and it was unbelievably powerful. I was galloping to the final line and had to set Quanto up, as it was a careful triple combination and he was already moving at such a fast pace.

He came back to me so easily; it was shocking, and he jumped through it as well as any of the top horses out there. I continued moving to the final oxer in five strides and soared over the last fence, an instant that could easily have been eternity. The fact that I hadn’t had a fence down didn’t go through my mind until I heard the ‘victory’ music play after going through the timers. The feeling I had at that moment is almost impossible to explain.

I fell onto Quanto’s neck knowing that it was only the second time we had gone clear in a qualifier. As I left the ring my whole body was shaking. I looked over at Richard, I thought I was going to cry. He held back his emotions as he reminded me to go to the stewards to weigh Quanto’s boots.

A few tears escaped my eyes as my mother and sister ran to congratulate me on going clear, Meredith and Richard brought us all back to earth as they called me over to discuss my jump-off. Quanto and I had one more job left, and we couldn’t forget that. I knew that the other people that had gone clear were Nicole Simpson, Will Simpson, Richard Spooner and Rich Fellers, four of the riders that I admire most in the world. Just being in a jump off with these riders felt unreal to me, but I still wanted to give it a go.

My plan for the jump-off was to make a few inside turns and to gallop to the last fence. As I cantered into the ring I refused to think about the time that I had to catch or what I would have to do to win, all I wanted was to give Quanto the ride that he deserved. We ended up going clear again but were not as fast as Richard or Will, two riders with abilities that are awe-inspiring to me.

I saw Guma being congratulated by other grooms and I helped him put Quanto’s fourth place ribbon on. I remember Guma telling me that I was his winner for the night and that I am “with the big guys now.” I didn’t even know what to say, so I just gave him a big hug and thanked him, reminding him that none of this would be possible without him.

During the awards presentation and the victory gallop Quanto was having the time of his life. I turned him around while the flag was raised, because the excitement seemed to overwhelm him. When I was facing the people in the bleachers I made eye contact with a young girl who told me that Quanto was her favorite horse, and then her mother continued to say, “I will see you in the Olympics.” At that moment I felt that my work and the help that I had been so blessed to receive were all coming together.

Soon after, I was congratulated by my family, tackled by my sister and then whisked off to the autograph table. As I sat down, I remembered when I was younger and would ask for the autographs of some of the riders sitting next to me, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually there myself.

I signed a girl’s shoes and a boy’s shirt, but what meant the most to me was seeing my sister in the line gleaming with a poster in her hands. As she walked through the line she was telling everyone that I was her sister, and as I signed her poster she leaned over the table and told me, “I am so proud to be your big sister.”

I got up and gave her the biggest hug I could and saw my family over her shoulders. My mother was talking up a storm with everyone, but my grandmother was standing there silently staring at me with tears flowing out of her eyes.

As the autograph line ended I got up and walked straight to my grandmother, I held her in my arms as she told me in Swedish about how happy she was to be alive here with me. I kissed her over and over again, then wished her goodbye as I had to drive back to school for class on Monday.

Highlights From HITS Desert Circuit Highlights


This weekend marked the second to last World Cup qualifier for the 2009 season.  As expected, the winners of the last four qualifiers at the HITS Desert Circuit created a shift in the rankings, so this weekend’s class played a role in determining who will be heading to the final qualifier at the end of March as well as who might be competing in Vegas at the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Finals.

This is how the $50,000 FEI World Cup Qualifier, presented by Adequan, unfolded on Saturday night…

Initially the Guilherme Jorge (BRAZIL) course looked tough as the first two riders, including the west coast league leader Harley Brown (AUS), both circled before the final bending line. Next in the ring Week V’s outdoor $25,000 HITS Grand Prix winner John McConnell on Carolina went clean well within the time allowed. Four fault free rides followed, including this week’s indoor $25,000 HITS Grand Prix winner Rich Fellers on the fabulous Flexible, Katherine Bardis riding Mademoiselle, the unbeatable Ashlee Bond and Cadett 7, Helen McNaught aboard Caballo, all in a row sixth through ninth in the order. Fence seven, the liverpool across the diagonal, caused a four fault distraction for quite a few. However, Richard Spooner piloted his new mount Lou Bega beautifully around the course, Mandy Porter and San Diego were flawless and Lane Clarke rode Kiss the Sky to a clean round, resulting in an ideal eight of 28 starters heading to the jump off.

McConnell set the pace clean in 39.03. In Flexible fashion, Fellers, also clean, shaved more than four seconds off that time stopping the clock at 34.89. Unbeatable? Bardis tried but had a rail in 36.26.  In gallops Bond.  Clean in 34.78 – .11 seconds faster than Fellers. The crowd went crazy, unbelievable!

McNaught and Spooner gave it a go, both clean but not fast enough in 36.94 and 35.09, finishing fifth and third. Porter was blazing fast in 33.55, with an unfortunate two rails dropping her to eighth. Clarke gave it a good shot, ending up fourth, clean in 35.12. A fantastic class.

Place Horse Rider Owner
1 Cadett 7 Ashlee Bond Little Valley Farm
2 Flexible Rich Fellers Harry & Mollie Chapman
3 Lou Bega Richard Spooner Leone Equestrians, Inc.
4 Kiss The Sky Lane Clarke Horsemanship Unlimited
5 Caballo Helen McNaught Helen McNaught
6 Carolina John McConnell Klein Ranch
7 Mademoiselle Katherine Bardis C & S Partnership LLC
8 San Diego Mandy Porter Danielle Korsh
9 Ace Richard Spooner S & B, LLC
10 Black Ice Jill Henselwood Juniper Farms
11 Archie Bunker Will Simpson Linda I. Smith
12 Kaskaya Jill Humphrey Leone Equestrians, Inc.

The $50,000 Orange County Register CSI-W Grand Prix (final 2009 FEI World Cup Qualifier) in San Juan Capistrano will be a very important class to those who still wish to shake up the top of that order.


During the upcoming series of spring shows hosted by Blenheim EquiSports there will be two important indoor Grand Prix opportunities. One is of course the final World Cup Qualifier on Saturday, March 28th and the other is the $35,000 Spring Classic III Grand Prix on Friday, April 10th.

For this Grand Prix, the Blenheim management team would like to offer an invitation to all riders who have qualified to compete at either the 2009 World Cup Finals or the 2009 Las Vegas Grand Prix to ride in the indoor arena Friday night for free. Not only would Blenheim like to recognize these individuals for achieving the honor of qualifying for Vegas this April, but they would also like to give them a chance to practice over a simulated course in front of a live audience before they head to the Finals. The riders will be allowed to jump all or part of the indoor course set at a “soft height” (1.40m – 1.45m) just prior to the start of the actual class. This will be a non-judged exhibition performance that will be limited to horse/rider combinations having earned more than 25 World Cup points in the U.S. West Coast League during the 2008/2009 season. For more information contact Show Manager Stephanie Wheeler at (949) 443-1841 or [email protected].


Ashlee Bond was the rising starlet of the week – winning both the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix AND the $50,000 FEI World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix presented by Adequan against some of the best in the west over courses designed by European Aki Ylanne (Finland). The win on Saturday catapulted her above Gold Medalist Will Simpson and the 2008 World Cup 2nd place finisher Rich Fellers. Ashlee is hot, hot, hot!

There were plenty of important activities off the horse during Week IV, from a National Horse Show forum to a USEF Riders Meeting, culminating with a USEF Dinner & Fundraiser.

East Coasters Leo Conroy, John Madden and Mason Phelps came out to offer their appreciation to the west coast along with getting feedback from our professionals about the National Horse Show. Ideas for both hunters and jumpers were discussed and recommendations made. Another show jumping forum, hosted by the USEF, encouraged discussion on numerous important topics including new committees, 2010 WEG selection and choosing a successor for George Morris, US Show Jumping Coach. The indoor arena was host to yet another grand evening: during the Six Bar Open Jumper Class and Modified Jr/Am Jumper Classic, the USEF hosted wine and dinner, a live auction of exclusive USET memorabilia and a Calcutta for Saturday’s World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix. The evening’s events raised upwards of $30,000 for US Show Jumping High Performance Programs.

During Week V the show jumpers were back out on the Grand Prix field for what proved to be challenging courses from designer Florencio Hernandez (Mexico). Colorado equestrian John McConnell on Klein Ranch’s Carolina had the only clean round of 49 entries in the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix on Friday. Apparently the course was more difficult than it appeared, with three plank jumps, some big square oxers and the skinny jump as the trouble spots mixed with a tight time allowed.

Canadian Olympic rider Jill Henselwood on Juniper Farm’s Special Ed rode for the win in the $75,000 HITS Grand Prix on Sunday. Eleven went clean, four double-clear, with Henselwood’s 48.06 emerging as the fastest time. Fellow fast Canadian John Pearce as well as the master

of faster, Richard Spooner, tried but couldn’t beat Henselwood’s time, finishing second and third respectively.

Off the horse happenings included the Volleyball Tournament hosted by Joie Gatlin – Morley Abey Show Jumping and the WCAR Party. The weather was ideal for the inaugural beach volleyball event where a dozen teams played in the grand prix field. This year’s WCAR party was a casual affair, with dinner and dancing at the date plantation, Tierra del Fuego.

And the always-anticipated Tack Room Awards were presented last Sunday, with generous prizes donated by Home Depot, Antares Saddles, Der Dau Boots & Shoes and Flying Horse Photography. A panel of five judges awarded first through third in two categories: permanent and portable barns. In the permanent barns the winner was Waldenbrook, and the top honor in the portable stalls went to Sovereign Place. Congratulations!


In this issue John French enlightens us in unexpected ways in Conversations with Equestrians. Eq Specs Excerpts presents a detailed description of the AHJF’s World Championship Hunter Rider Program. Erna Adelson speaks with Tamara Petersen of Showjumping Unplugged!TV and USHJA provides an update about their new and exciting program for Emerging Athletes from all levels.


With the $150,000 Grand Prix of the Desert, the Ronnie W. Mutch Equitation Classic and another $10,000 USHJA Hunter Derby, the final week of the 2009 HITS Desert Circuit offers a high-end class for each discipline. A not-to-be-missed weekend for exhibitors and spectators alike.