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Junior Sophie Benjamin Beats the Pros in the $15,000 Hunter Derby

Parker, CO ----- Sophie Benjamin of San Diego, California, and her mount Sir Neel, received a perfect score of ten bonus points in the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at The Colorado Horse Park to win the two round event. In the handy round, riders had numerous options over natural obstacles, including jumping out of the arena and opening a gate.

Judge Raymond Francis said, "We were looking for overall handiness and boldness. We wanted to see riders set a good pace and take some chances. Being conservative doesn't win you any brownie points." This was exactly what Benjamin did to earn her perfect bonus score. Choosing the option to hand gallop the last fence, Sophie went all out. "I was going to do the inside turn to the second to last fence until my trainer, Susie [Artes] watched Maggie [Jayne] hand gallop the last fence and told me I should do the same," explained Sophie. "I ended up going a little faster than I intended to, but [Sir Neel] has got so much scope I knew I would be alright."

Sophie's confidence in her horse has been built by years catch riding other horses and expanding her horizons. She was a working student for John and Beezie Madden at Spruce Meadows last year, cleaning stalls and soaking up knowledge. After her stint with John and Beezie, Sophie spent the 2008 Winter Equestrian Festival with Frank and Stacia Madden at Beacon Hill. She has catch ridden since her pony days and is very thankful to Beacon Hill for helping her find horses to ride. Sir Neel is owned by Inspiration Farm and will be going with Sophie to the USEF Medal, the Maclay and the USET Finals. Sophie's hard work in the horse show world is not the only place she's been focusing her energies; she begins her collegiate career at Princeton in September.

Sophie beat out a group of top professionals, including Michael Tokaruk on Polaris who finished second in the handy round and overall. Polaris is owned by Lindsay Strafuss and has shown in the junior hunters, equitation, and recently the jumpers. Tokaruk, who hails from Aiken, South Carolina, said that he chose his course based on what was best for his horse. "Polaris was great today. I couldn't be happier with the way he went," he said.

Jamie Andrews, Franktown, Colorado, finished third in the handy class with a spectacular round on C. Quito van het Panishof, a 6-year-old stallion owned by Jean-François Santerre. The handsome grey is by Parco out of a Latano mare. Jaime was thrilled about the hunter derby format. "This was the best thing ever! I think they should have one every week!" she said.

The United States Hunter Jumper Association developed the hunter derby to bring "the lost art of tradition and horsemanship back to the show ring." Those involved believe that riders and breeders in Europe are interested in hunter competitions and would like to be able to showcase their horses in international show hunter competition, according to ushja.org. The Hunter Derby Series, presented by ASG Software Solutions and the USHJA, is getting a tremendous response from riders, judges and spectators alike.

When asked how important the Hunter Derby is to the sport of show hunters, judge Raymond Francis responded, "This will spark new interest in the sport and make the riders go back to their roots." John McQueen, who has judged the class at other shows, including the Winter Equestrian Festival, had a similar feeling. "This series is bringing the gallop back and the riders are starting to catch on." For more information about the Hunter Derby Series please visit ushja.org.

Overall Standings $15,000 USHJA Hunter Derby

(Placing, rider, horse)

1. Sophie Benjamin-Sir Neel

2. Michael Tokaruk-Polaris

3. Meehan Shirey-Monroe

4. Maggie Jayne-Well Said

5. Tina Judge-Trust Me

6. Charlie Dennehy-- Benchmark

About the Colorado Horse Park

The Colorado Horse Park is a 501 (c) 3 not for profit organization. The purpose of the Colorado Horse Park is to showcase the history and heritage of the West using the horse as the primary teaching tool through hands-on educational programming, museum exhibitions, competitions, boarding and training, recreation, entertainment and therapy for all ages. For more information visit http://www.coloradohorsepark.org.


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