Lexington, Ky – Aug 5, 2022 – As the sun rose over the Kentucky Horse Park Friday morning, it was the junior athletes’ turn to compete for the Grand Junior Hunter Champion award, presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Across the span of two days, top junior athletes and their mounts worked to put together successful rides to accumulate the most points amongst the field and take home the coveted honor. Points towards the title were awarded to the horse-and-rider combinations in both the 3’3” and 3’6” sections of the junior hunter divisions. Ultimately, it was Tessa Downey and Kyle Owens’ Earnest to boast several top scoring rides on both Thursday and Friday, and lead the pack of elite athletes with 30 points.
The StoneLea Ring played host to these hunter classes with courses designed by Jasen Shelley (USA) throughout the week. No stranger to the hunter rings, Shelley set the tracks to give opportunity for the horses to show off their impressive stride, while connecting in a special partnership with their riders over each obstacle. The talented horses amongst the group were challenged to execute several key points throughout each course including hunting pace, movement, style of jumping and manners, while their rider counterparts were judged on their positioning in the tack and the ability to communicate and control their mounts.
Although the junior athletes are just at the beginning of their respective careers, they were unphased by the pressure of the competition and took to the ring with impressive confidence. Each pair brought their unique approach to the ring, and presented their strengths to the judges over the two day span. Downey and Earnest stood out however, with their consistency both in the flat and over fences. The pair dominated in the Junior Hunter 3’3 16-17 division, taking the top spot in three of those classes. Their rhythmic cadence was second to none, and their jumping form was unmatched. The duo performed well beyond their years, proving they have a very bright future ahead of them.
Hunter competition returns to the StoneLea Ring Saturday where eager athletes will try their hand at the USHJA National Hunter Derby. The Amateur Owner 18-35 and Children’s hunter divisions are slated to close out the Kentucky Summer Classic horse show Sunday, August 7.