Lexington, KY – May 12, 2023 – The first Friday of the 2023 Kentucky Horse Show series was highlighted by the introduction of a new class, the USHJA National Hunter Derby for both the Open and Junior Amateur divisions. Eager to witness rising hunter competition on display, the horse show included this class to the docket for this year’s field of athletes. After the morning competition concluded with several Amateur Owner divisions, the stage was set by Kevin Holowack for both Derby divisions in the StoneLea Ring on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Ultimately, Havens Schatt and Good Vibes took the top spot in the Open division, while Elise Stephens and Cholita bested the competition in the Junior Amateur division.
The popularity of the International Hunter Derby Program prompted USHJA to develop a separate series of competitions modeled after the Derby but geared toward the up-and-coming horses and riders. The National Hunter Derby Program was launched in 2010 to provide both horses and riders a place to gain experience in Derby competition at a lower height and difficulty level. In the two-round format, judges utilize the open numerical system to score competitors in the Classic Hunter Round (first round) on performance, hunter pace, jumping style, quality and substance, and movement. In addition, the base score in the Handy Hunter Round (second round) reflects brilliance of pace and handiness. In each round, after the judges’ base score is given, one point will be added for each high-option fence jumped up to a maximum of four.
Holowack set the first round track to include ten obstacles, four of which had high options for the athletes to choose from. The course also included four oxer fences with several bending lines to challenge the riders and their mounts. The handy round was set to eight obstacles, with four high options and a trot at jump three.
In the open division, 11 horse and rider combinations entered the ring determined to put their best foot forward and wow the judges with their skills. Tim Goguen and Calisto set the pace in the first round, scoring an impressive score of 92 but the pair couldn’t keep the pace in the Handy round which ultimately dropped them down the leaderboard. However, Havens Schatt and Leanne M. McMenamin’s Good Vibes put together consistent performances in both rounds, scoring an 87 in round one and a class high 94 in the second round for a total of 181 points to secure the win. Jeff Gogul and Reilly Gogul’s Candy Girl came up just short, taking reserve honors with a total score of 180.
The Junior Amateur riders were up next to try their hand at the blue ribbon in the USHJA National Hunter Derby. 24 partnerships stepped foot into the StoneLea Ring to show off their prowess, with Elise Stephens and Cholita standing out amongst the field. Stephens pioneered Rendezvous Farms’ 10-year-old Hanoverian mare through the first round track very efficiently. The 16-year-old showed professionalism beyond her years with her direct commands and pristine riding posture. It was more of the same in the duo’s second round, propelling them to the top of the leaderboard. Noah Nelson and Oscuro also laid down two impressive rounds of their own, securing reserve honors at the conclusion of the class.
Hunter competition at the Kentucky Horse Park is slated to continue Saturday, May 13 in the StoneLea and Claiborne rings at 8:00am EST. Competition will feature several Junior and Amateur Owner Hunter classes, as well as children’s divisions, highlighted by the crowning of the Grand Amateur Owner Hunter Champion.