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Popular $1,500 Bit O'Straw Hunter Classic is awarded to Amanda Benoliel

SAUGERTIES, NEW YORK (September 12, 2008) – After Amanda Benoliel won the blue in the $1,500 Bit O' Straw Hunter Classic she had a very important phone call to make. She took a timeout from celebrating with all of her friends at the barn and called her father at work to tell him the good news.

The seventh grader from Stamford, Connecticut outlasted 40 pairs to capture the title aboard her mount Before Color. Once the first round was complete the top 12 were invited back for a second round with Benoliel and her horse coming out on top.

Eleven-year-old Before Color is owned by Autumn Farm, of North Salem, New York. Benoliel has only been in the irons for about a year and they are already forming an excellent combination. "I love coming to Saugerties and especially the Finals," said Benoliel. "The big show grounds are great and it's nice to be here with all of my barn friends. Plus, my horse loves to show in the Grand Prix ring. That was an awesome experience for us."

Benoliel was welcomed into the winners circle by trainers Leslie Kogos and Michele West from Larkspur Farm. She has been riding under the watchful eye of Kogos and West for about four years and aside from improving as a rider she has learned a lot about horsemanship.

"At our farm all of the kids take care of their own horses," said Kogos. "She does all of her own grooming and tacks up her own horse before all of her lessons."

"My trainers have taught me so much about the sport," said Benoliel. "My riding has improved so much since I started and I can't wait to keep improving."

Benoliel used a score of 86 in the second round to propel her up the ladder from third place into the top spot when the class was complete. Second place was awarded to Linda Corvari and her mount Larger Than Life while Smoke N' Joe took third with Devon Hodges in the saddle.

The Bit O' Straw Hunter Classic is taking off as one of the hottest up-and-coming divisions at the horse show. The two-round classic featured fences set at 2'6". "It's a great division," said Kogos. "I think it's wonderful that the kids get to ride in the Grand Prix ring."

Larkspur Farm is slowly winding down their show season for 2008 before heading to HITS Ocala for the winter. "Amanda is not going to Ocala with us this year," said Kogos. "But that is something she is shooting for in the future. She is working her way towards that."

Lucky Day! Lucky C Farm's Deanna Zajic rides Stay Gold to a victory in the Local Working Hunter Classic

Deanna Zajic, of Bloomingburg, New York took advantage of her first appearance at the Marshall & Sterling League National Finals when she took home the blue in the Local Working Hunter Classic aboard Stay Gold to kick-off four days of exciting equestrian competition at HITS-on-the-Hudson.

Zajic is 14 and is currently in her Freshman year at Pine Bush High School. She has trained under the tutelage of Susan Clark at Lucky C Stables in New Paltz, New York for about nine years. "I love everyone there," said Zajic, as she prepared for her next class at the Finals. "We all root for each other and want to see everyone do well. I couldn't ask for a better place to train."

"She is absolutely one of my finest students," said Clark, who has six of her young riders showing at the Finals.

The winning mount, Stay Gold, is owned by Sarah Van Houten, who is a Special Education Teacher in Goshen, New York. Coincidently, Van Houten used to ride at Lucky C Stables when she was a child and returned to the barn after she graduated from college. "It's great because we kept it all in the family," said Clark. "Sarah bought the horse when she returned from college and it's still very green."

Zajic outlasted eight combinations in Thursday's Local Working Hunter Division to win the blue. Second place was awarded to Top Chef, who was ridden by Ally D'Amico, from Cheshire, Connecticut and the yellow ribbon went to Dandy Lion, who had Julia Solomon(South Windsor, Connecticut)in the irons.

"Competing at the Finals was overwhelming at first," said Zajic. "Once I calmed down, I had so much fun. Riding in a big, open space in the Grand Prix ring was such a thrill. I am so glad that I did it."

Once the Finals conclude, Zajic will compete in the Lucky C Circuit Show, which will be her final outing of the season that included a trip to HITS Culpeper in July.

The Local Hunter Division made its debut in 2008 and was open to horses stabled within a 50-mile radius of the HITS-on-the-Hudson facility in Saugerties, New York. "The Local Hunter is a great opportunity for the kids to show at 2'6" because they may not have the horse or ability quite yet to jump 3'. It's great exposure for them and the atmosphere to show at the Finals serves as a great stepping stone for their riding career."

Competitions at the Marshall & Sterling League National Finals continues all weekend and will once again feature a festive League Awards Dinner and Party on Friday, September 12. This year's bash will have a Mardi Gras theme highlighted by a Cajun and Creole dinner and live music.

The Essex Classics Year-End High-Point Awards will be presented following the fabulous dinner. The awards will be presented to the top 10 riders in each division based on the Marshall & Sterling National Point Standings. The top rider in each division will receive a certificate for a free pair of Tretorn riding boots courtesy of EquiFit. In addition, the other riders in the top 10 of each division will receive a valuable coupon towards the Tretorn riding boots. Completely unlike any other riding boot, EquiFit's new Tretorn boot combines the superior technological functionality of modern sports shoes with the styling required for optimum riding performance.

Once all of the awards are handed out, it will be time to boogie during a special musical performance by Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers that will be sure to delight the crowd.

The fun doesn't stop on Friday. After Saturday’s action in the ring, exhibitors are invited to a special Ice Skating Party from 6:30-9:30 PM at the Kiwanis Ice Rink across the street from the show grounds. There will also be an Ice Cream Social on Saturday afternoon on the show grounds.

During the year, riders from coast to coast compete at more than 980 Marshall & Sterling League member horse shows to earn points for a place at the Finals. Since its inception in 1991, the Marshall & Sterling League Finals have provided the goal that has fueled the competitive spirit of child and adult riders at all levels of competition. Click here for the current standings.

Marshall & Sterling Insurance, Inc., founded in 1864, is among the largest privately-owned insurance agencies in the United States. For more than a quarter century, Marshall & Sterling has protected precious equine assets with unparalleled service and support, whether the family hunter, a champion race horse or a commercial farm. An employee-owned company, Marshall & Sterling has been recognized by IIABA as one of the nation's top “Best Practice Agencies”. The company maintains a national presence and is licensed in all 50 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For more information contact Mary Moelle r at 800-836-3046, extension 224.

HITS, Inc. is a special events management company primarily focused on producing hunter/jumper horse shows. Based in upstate New York in the village of Saugerties, HITS produced its first horse show circuit in Gainesville, Florida in 1982. Since that time, HITS has grown into a nationwide company with world-class hunter/jumper circuits in California, Florida, Arizona, New York and Virginia.

For more information and a complete schedule of classes and events, visit http://www.HitsShows.com


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