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Team USA Victorious in the Las Vegas World Cup Hunter Challenge This Time

Las Vegas – April 23 – The World Cup Team Hunter Challenge rematch was met in stride, literally, as riders negotiated some of the nation’s top horses around the Richard Jeffrey designed course at the Thomas & Mack arena on April 21, 2007. In the end it was the U.S. team of Louise Serio, John French, Peter Pletcher and Scott Stewart who won against European show jumping riders Rodrigo Pessoa, Michael Whitaker, Christian Ahlmann and Marcus Ehning.

Team USA scored 462.32 to Team Europe’s total of 440.98. Those points followed an afternoon of fun and camaraderie as some of the riders performed effortlessly while others had their skills tested. All were aboard horses they’d never ridden before. While all the horses were veterans, none were used to the drama that a full house arena poses. In the end Scott Stewart earned the Leading Rider title while Henderson was the High Point Horse.

“Revenge is sweet,” commented Louise Serio, “but I’d like to take a moment to thank the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation and all the people who worked on this class including Karen Healey, who does so much and Archie Cox, who brought most of the horses this time.”

Louise was sitting in a Press Conference when she made these comments and to her left sat the European Team, all four of them Olympic medalists. Louise continued, “It’s an honor to be in this class. It’s an honor to sit next to this group of riders, these European Superstars. We are thrilled that we won this time but it’s a tough class because the horses have a hard time in this venue. They get a little spooky with the atmosphere, crowd and noise. It is just so different from anything they are used to. We need to give them all credit for trying to go well. It’s a truly novel experience for all of us.”

A New Experience for the Hunters

Louise was referring to the fact that both Rodrigo and John had refusals. Despite the fact that all the riders had plenty of time to school their horses once they entered the arena, all bets were off as far as the horses were concerned. While some of the horses went without missing a beat others entered the arena, took one look at the crowd, another at the jumps and you could see that they were wondering just what kind of hunter show this was; stands filled with over 9,000 excited fans was certainly nothing they’d ever witnessed.

However, it was the spookiness and how the riders dealt with it that made the class even more interesting. And it was lively color commentating from Melanie Smith Taylor and Frank Madden that got quite a few chuckles from the crowd, especially early in the class when Michael Whitaker went off course after he literally just finished winning the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Whitaker took it all in stride and jumped the last fence with no hands on the reins.

Later when asked what was going through his mind when he lost his way he jokingly commented, “I was trying to find the numbers.” Unlike in the jumper classes Michael regularly competes in, the hunter fences are not numbered.

It was also those behind the scenes that helped to make this class a success. Shawn Davis is the production manager for the entire Las Vegas World Cup event and brings his experience from many successful rodeo events, including the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. “This was an event designed to excite the crowd and create enthusiasm. With the American’s losing last time it gave us another opportunity to create even more enthusiasm. My concern is if you get into it too competitively you lose the spirit of it. It ended up being a real fun event to conclude a fun afternoon.”

We have learned a lot from working with Shawn and his staff for this event,” commented Michele Perla, AHJF Executive Director. “The AHJF co-exists with many horse show managers around the country for its events, none are like The Las Vegas World Cup Team,” she continued. “Here production value and audience appeal are the priority with the competition coming second. This may not always be appropriate, but it is a very creative and refreshing approach—one that has taught all of us an important lesson about selling what we do with the American Hunter in Sport.”

The Riders Want More

Despite their problems the riders spoke positively about the experience and the sport of hunters.

“We go to a lot of shows but we don’t go to shows of this magnitude that showcase the hunters. This is an international event where you have people from all over. I wish the hunters could be a little bit more of an international type sport,” commented John.

Scott as the Leading Rider felt he was lucky with the horses he drew and added, “I had a great time.”

“I understand what stage fright means,” commented Peter. “You come into this type of an arena with that many people and it’s an unbelievable feeling. It is a great class and I wish we could do it more often.”

Louise added, “You really have to respect the Europeans and the amount of pressure they ride with all the time. It would be great if we could have more classes on an international level and maybe raise the bar for the hunters a little bit. I think the hunters are going in a great direction right now and there are a number of things happening on the horizon.”

“It was a lot of fun and today was really good,” added Christian.

“We were a little bit unlucky in the first round with Michael and Rodrigo. We had good winners today, but I hope we can beat them next time again,” said Marcus, with a twinkle in his eye.

“My first horse was a little bit scared of the arena,” explained Rodrigo, “but we are happy to have competed against our friends here from the States. I’d like to thank everybody who put a lot of work into this class and are trying to make the hunter sport more popular. It’s a great discipline.”

“We are just not used to this type of venue but we want to have the chance to continue to get this kind of exposure for the sport of hunters,” added AHJF President Geoff Teall.

George Morris, who was one of the judges, also wants to see the hunters go international. George would like to see the hunter classes return to what they once were. “I’m a traditionalist with the hunter divisions. These were much closer to the fences of the hunting field and much closer to the fences we jumped years ago in the hunter division. I thought Richard Jeffrey did a great course and I loved the fences.”

George continued, “I really respect those guys (the show jumping riders) here for sticking their necks out and participating in this. They are great sportsmen. They are superstars and icons to all of us. And I respect the others for going up against them. They are great riders. It’s a fun competition and very good for our sport in this country.”

George believes that the hunters can and should be an international sport. “Lots of these horses are coming from different countries. I’d like to see the anti upped for the hunter division and see it become international.”

AHJF President Geoff Teall revealed that he is working on a committee that is at the “very beginning stages of a very long road. It is time for the hunters to get back to being more exciting with bigger jumps and more difficult courses. We need to bring an international flare to it and involve more and more people.”

“We have a pinnacle for the show jumping with the World Equestrian Games, the Olympics and the World Cup and I think we’ve lost the top of the pyramid in the hunters. If we can create something that people will want to aspire to, it will raise the level of everything else along the way,” added Karen.

THE COMPETITION

While show jumpers are judged on what happens in the ring based on objective criteria (where faults are accumulated and speed is a factor in who wins), hunters are judged subjectively, with the scoring based on the horse’s smooth way of going, jumping style and overall presentation.

The competition consisted of two rounds. In the first round each team of four riders competed over a 3’6” course and were judged by three pairs of judges and received three scores, which were then averaged. The lowest scoring competitors total was dropped for the team competition and the remaining scores added together for a single round team cumulative total.

The second round was a handy course where the rider’s interpretation of the course was rewarded and emphasis was placed on turns and promptness (again the lowest score was dropped). Riders competed on a different horse. The scores of both the first and second rounds were combined.

The horses were divided into two teams and a draw took place on Wednesday night along with the draw for the World Cup horses. Once each rider completed his or her first round, then the teams switched horses for the Handy competition, which included turns, gallops, inside tracks and a trot jump.

The Show Jumping Manager for the event was Robert Ridland. Healey and Teall were the Chef d’Equipe of the US Team, Ann Symes for the European Team. Serio captained the U.S. Team while Pessoa headed up the European team.

In addition to George (Wellington, FL), the judges included: Scott Williamson, Wellington, FL; Julie Winkle, Reno, NV; Linda Hough, Wellington, FL; Ralph Caristo, Saugerties, NY and Tom Wright, Cincinnati, OH.

THE TEAM HUNTER CHALLENGE AND THE AHJF – WORKING TOGETHER

The Challenge first took place in 2005 but after the Europeans dominated that first competition, the U.S. riders wanted a chance to show that was only a fluke. And in the 2007 World Cup they proved that while the hunters may appear simpler than the show jumping classes, it clearly requires good riding if you want to win. It also was a great opportunity to show the packed arena of spectators that hunters can be entertaining to watch.

The 2005 WCHR World Cup Team Hunter Challenge presented by the AHJF, was the outcome of a phone call to Healey by Pessoa, Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, Symes and a few other riders while they were together on a ski outing. They thought that Vegas would be a perfect opportunity to face off some top European show jumper riders against the best in the U.S. and challenged Healey to make this happen. She did just that, presenting the idea to Ridland and to the Las Vegas organizers who agreed to this new addition to the show schedule. Ultimately, the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation was approached as they were the obvious organization to help organize such a prestigious event.

The Europeans won that first competition to the dismay of the U.S. Team, who wanted the chance for a rematch. The 2007 competition proved that no matter what the sport you have to be prepared for anything and even the best rider can be put to the test.

The AHJF was formed in 1992 to further the development of the equestrian sport of show hunter rider and show jumping competition by providing a national office to organize, coordinate and support hunter rider and show jumping equestrian competition. Other programs of the AHJF include the World Championship Hunter Rider Awards, AHJF Educational Programs, the AHJF BSA Inc. 401k and Profit Sharing Plan and the Dover/Junior Hunter Challenge program.

The AHJF also annually hosts the Hunter Spectacular in Wellington, FL (February 23, 2008), the Legacy Cup (May 9-20, 2007 in Kentucky) and Monarch International's Show Circuit Magazine Professional WCHR Finals (October 5, 2007 in Upper Marlboro, MD).

The World Cup Team Hunter Challenge was made possible through the support of Mary Manfredi/Peter Lutz/Davenport, Inc.; Taylor Harris Insurance Services, Janie Andrews, Davlyn Farms, Triple J. Farm LLC, Dick Carvin/Meadow Grove Farm, Hap Hansen Stables, Lesley Bulechek/Hawkeye Farms, Pegasus Show Stables, Diane Carnie, Caroline and Rush Weeden, Gregory Franklin and the staff and Board of the AHJF.

A huge thank you to the owners who donated the horses. Henderson and Mandarin are owned by Jane Fraze, Overseas and Quality time by Laura Wasserman, Janie Andrew owns Carson, Cunningham is owned by Mary Slouka, Tache Rouge by Allison Baileys, and Clockwork by Old Oak Farm. The alternate horse was My Cap owned by Chelsea Samuels.

For more information about the AHJF contact the AHJF (335 Lancaster Street, West Boylston, MA 01583-0369), Phone: 508-835-8813, http://www.ahjf.org, E-mail: AHJF@earthlink.net.



RIDER/HOMETOWN Horse Rnd 1/Owner

Horse Rnd 2/Owner Round 1 Round 2

Scott Stewart/Flemington, NJ

Wellington, FL Henderson/Jane Fraze

Clockwork/Old Oak Farm 85.33 90.33

John French

Redwood City, CA Cunningham/Mary Slouka

Carson/Jane Andrew (23.33) 84.33

Peter Pletcher

Magnolia, TX Mandarin/Jane Fraze

Overseas/Laura Wasserman 79.00 83.33

Louise Serio

Kennett Square, PA Tache Rouge/Allison Baileys

Quality Time/Laura Wasserman 40.00 (80.00)

TEAM USA TOTAL: 462.32 204.33 257.99



RIDER/HOMETOWN Horse Rnd 1/Owner

Horse Rnd 2/Owner Round 1 Round 2

Christian Ahlman

Germany Clockwork/Old Oak Farm

Henderson/Jane Fraze 83.33 89.66

Michael Whitaker

Great Britain Carson/Jane Andrew

Cunningham/Mary Slouka (0.00) (70.00)

Marcus Ehning

Germany Overseas/Laura Wasserman

Mandarin/Jane Fraze 88.33 82.66

Rodrigo Pessoa

Brazil Quality Time/Laura Wasserman

Tache Rouge/Allison Baileys 20.00 77.00

TEAM EUROPE TOTAL: 440.98 191.66 249.32

LEADING RIDER: Scott Stewart

HIGH SCORE HORSE: Henderson



PHOTO: French, Pletcher, Serio, and Stewart at World Cup. DeRosaPhoto

 

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