August 19, 2017 — After placing third in the classic round of the $268,550 2017 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, Tori Colvin declared her enthusiasm for the upcoming handy round—a challenging 12-jump course with multiple high options, lots of inside turns and single fences.
“I love single jumps. Give me a single oxer any day,” she said. “And I am ready to go very handy. I love the handies so I am going to have some fun.”
And yes, she did.
Riding under the lights at the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park, Tori piloted John and Stephanie Ingram’s Cuba to a stellar handy round. The 10-year-old bay warmblood gelding scored a 309 for the handy and a combined score of 584.25 to secure the championship. Tori’s aggressive turns captured the highest handy bonus scores of the evening with scores of 9, 9 and a perfect 10 from the three judging panels.
It was a big win for Cuba, who had just begun doing derbies earlier this year. “He is not very spooky and he is an honest horse,” Tori said. “So I didn’t really think he would bat an eye or anything. But I didn’t know how much experience he would have with the very large ring. It’s more intense than regular classes. I felt like he was going to go really well in the handy—all day he has been quiet and perfect and in a good frame of mind. He kind of went like I thought he was going to, which worked out as planned and well.”
Reserve Champion was taken by Cadoretto, a 6-year-old Oldenburg owned and ridden by Geoffrey Hesslink. It was the first time at the championship for Cadoretto and Geoffrey, a Tier II rider whose score of 273 in the classic round on Friday had advanced the chestnut gelding to the Saturday night final. Geoffrey admitted he was so nervous before the event that he avoided the Rolex arena all day.
“I am extremely happy,” Geoffrey said of his second-place finish. “I came here [tonight] with low expectations, with some goals. This was amazing. I am over the moon that my horse was that good.”
Amanda Steege and Maitre D’, a 14-year-old warmblood owned by Wendy Salomon, earned third place. They were sitting in 12th place after the classic round, and their score of 295 in the handy rocketed them up in the rankings. “It was easy for me to go in there and take a big shot,” Amanda said of the bay gelding, who is called “Lucky” in the barn. “He went out there like he owned the place.”
The courses for the classic and handy rounds were designed by Alan Lohman and Danny Moore. The handy round included four high options that ranged from 4-foot-3 to 4-foot-6 high. The focus this year was on creating classic hunter rounds, where “a smooth ride will excel,” Alan said.
“In a championship class, you want the jumps to be inviting, not really spooky. I don’t want any one jump to determine the class,” he said. It was a shift in design strategy from the 2016 championship, which included many high fences and a final gallop down to the last fence—a cordwood wall set at 5-feet-1.5.
“This year I just tried to make the heights high in certain spots where I thought the riders could get a good jump from the horses, versus just building big. I wanted to pick my spots,” he said.
The course did include a few obstacles that would “help the judges judge the class” by being more delicate and easier to knock down, Alan said. Key to this strategy was a one stride in-and-out, set at 4 feet with two gray stone wall verticals. A few horses knocked down the blocks on the first vertical into the combination, including Skyhawk, the 8-year-old bay warmblood gelding owned by Laura Wasserman and ridden by John French. The pair were leading the pack after the classic round with a score of 282 and saw their championship dreams dashed when Skyhawk clipped the block off the first part of the combination.
The USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship is the culmination of qualifying events throughout the year. Since its inception in 2008, the program has paid out more than $10.5 million in prize money. In 2017, 232 horses were enrolled in the program.
For the 2017 championship, 84 horses competed in the classic round on day one with the top 25 horse-and-rider combinations advancing to the Section A handy round. Scores from both rounds are counted toward the championship. Details on the USHJA scoring and tiering system is available at https://www.ushja.org/programs/ihd/finals_default.aspx.