Emotional Three-peat Championship for Liza Boyd and Brunello, Winning USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship at Bluegrass Festival Horse Show

By Kendall Bierer and Elaine Wessel for Phelps Media Group

Liza Boyd and Brunello
Liza Boyd and Brunello

Liza Boyd and Brunello captured the 2015 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, making history with three consecutive championship victories.

Lexington, KY – August 15, 2015 – Last year, Brunello won the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship for rider Liza Boyd. This year, the tables were turned as Boyd gathered her emotions, picked up the reins and rode to their third consecutive USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship victory.

“Last year, he definitely did it for me and boosted me back up and got me confident,” Boyd smiled. “This year, I did feel obligated to do it for him. I just really wanted to keep it together, and it was all for him.”

The 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding has proven himself year after year for his rider, yet this year he exceeded all expectations, figuratively jumping out of his skin to the high scores of 94, 96 and 94. The pair earned additional handy scores of 9, 9 and 8, and took all high fence options to top the leader board with an impressive second round score of 322 points. Combined with Friday’s classic round score of 287 points, Boyd and Brunello held onto their first-day lead with a final cumulative score of 609 points.

“The horse is unbelievable,” Boyd said breathlessly, fumbling over the words as the shock of her third victory settled on her. “I was so nervous in the schooling area; I couldn’t get it together. I should just get off and let him do it himself. It probably would have been a score of 100. He’s just amazing. I’m in a little bit of shock, and I’m so lucky to have that horse in my life.”

Nerves definitely played a large role prior to Boyd and Brunello entering the ring as the last horse and rider combination of the class.

“I was definitely nervous today, all day. It was a different pressure from last year. Last year was just go in and have fun. This year, I really wanted to win for that horse. I really wanted him to have three wins in a row. That horse feels better than ever,” Boyd said. “I was nervous, but the moment I cantered to the first jump, I got more relaxed. The crowd actually got me relaxed. They whooped when he jumped high, and you don’t see that in the hunter world very often. The more they did that, the more relaxed I got. I just tried to keep my mind slow. He is such an amazing animal, and it felt great to pull this off for him tonight.”


Liza Boyd and Brunello. Photo by Kendall Bierer/Phelps Media Group.

If retirement was ever a question for Brunello, more affectionately referred to as ‘Ike,’ Saturday night was not the night to ponder it.

“Jack [Towell] talked about [retiring] tonight,” Boyd explained. “I said, let’s just enjoy tonight. I just couldn’t go there. I mean, a horse that jumps like that? He still wants to do it; he loves doing it. I don’t think he would be happy not. As soon as he tells me that he doesn’t want to do it, we’ll stop, but he sure didn’t give me any inclination tonight.”

Second place finisher, Kelley Farmer laughed and responded, “As much as I would like to be the first person to tell you that he should be retired, he didn’t look like he was done tonight.”

Farmer and Boyd entered into the handy phase with only a one-point differential separating them in the rankings. Though Boyd led the way, Farmer was hot on her heels with Mindful. They closed out the competition with scores of 86.75, 90 and 88.30 with 8, 9, and 8 points added for their handiness on the course. Farmer also opted for all four high options, to land the second place with a final total of 588.05 points.

“I think he speaks for himself,” Farmer said of Mindful. “He’s an amazing animal, and I’m blessed to have him. He’s done nothing but be a great horse for me. I have a great support team, everyone at the barn, I couldn’t do it without them.”

Farmer continued, “I got in his way tonight. He was trying to win, and I didn’t let him. Liza’s horse went beautifully. I didn’t ride him as well as I could have. He’s a hell of an animal. I’m so lucky; he’s done nothing but be a fantastic horse for me, and he never lets me down. He tries 150 percent every time.”


Kelley Farmer and Mindful. Photo by Kendall Bierer/Phelps Media Group.

Mindful is a rare horse, one that trusts Farmer implicitly, so much so that he is ridden without a martingale and in a rubber D-ring snaffle. Steve Stephens and Allen Rheinheimer’s course catered to his rideability, and the top finishers praised the design.

“You really had to have rideability,” Boyd said. “You had to have rideability, like an equitation horse, plus scope, as well as form.”

Farmer echoed, “You had to have two good leads out there for the course, as well as ability and readability, and that is hard to find.”

Third place finisher, Brady Mitchell, not only finished with the yellow ribbon in the Section A 2015 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, but he also captured the Section B victory with Cassanto, owned by Emily Perez, taking home the largest check of the night.

“I’m honored to be in the company of these riders, and I knew that to try to get ahead of them I had to do something special tonight,” Mitchell expounded. “I feel like I had the best possible round that I could have had out there, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be third in this class. It’s a dream of mine to be in this class, let alone in the top three.”


Brady Mitchell and Cassanto. Photo by Kendall Bierer/Phelps Media Group.

It was Darcy Hayes of Ontario, Canada, who slid into the second place position in the Section B handy phase. Her scores of 89, 88 and 86.50 along with her 8, 8 and 7 handy points netted her the sixth place finish overall, as well as the cumulative score of 571.50 points to fall just behind Mitchell with a 16.45-point difference.

Jennifer Alfano and Maggie May were awarded the fourth place with 573.5 points, while Farmer captured another ribbon as the fifth place finisher with Dalliance.

Boyd could not praise chairman Ron Danta, as well as the other members of the board for their exceptional work and ideas in creating the derby program, enough.

“Ike wouldn’t have had a career right now,” Boyd explained. “As hunter riders, the opportunities you have given us is huge. I don’t think that you get thanked enough. We know you don’t get paid the big bucks for doing this. It is a full-time job. Now we have opportunities for a 17-year-old horse, as well as opportunities for a 5-year-old horse to go out there, make money and make their owners proud. Thank you to the USHJA and everything you have done.”

For those competitors whose scores did not qualify them for the Section A or B Handy rounds, the $10,000 Derby Challenge, sponsored by Moyer Farm, was available as another opportunity to end the day with a chunk of change. Taking advantage of this second chance, Peter Pletcher rode CR Beethoven, owned by Kirby McCool out of Houston, Texas, to the win with a 300-point score, 13 whole points ahead of the reserve champion.


Peter Pletcher and CR Beethoven won the $10,000 USHJA Derby Challenge. Photo by Kendall Bierer/Phelps Media Group.

Thirty-five entries tackled Stephens’ and Rheinheimer’s abbreviated handy track, which consisted of a substantial number of turn options, giving horses and riders a chance to ride a strategy that accentuated their strengths and showed off handiness. As is typical, four fences presented height options and the potential to earn additional points. Pletcher and CR Beethoven set the bar high as the 10th in the order to go with three high scores: 84, 87, and 88 plus handy bonuses of 9, 10, and 10.

“There were some really tough choices to make,” Pletcher said. “A lot of us were like ‘No way, that’s too tight,’ especially from the big wall and the inside turn afterwards, but I was lucky to be on the horse that I was on. If you’re a gutsy enough rider and you have a horse that tries, it pays off.”

Pletcher calls CR Beethoven his “go-to super saint” horse, and has been riding him for three years. Unfortunately, a slight lead change hiccup Friday kept the pair out of contention for the Section A round, but Pletcher felt confident headed into the Challenge that the two had a strong chance at the tricolors.

“I felt pretty good about today with him because he is so straightforward. There were two nearly impossible turns, but I knew I could count on him to try. I definitely questioned whether or not I was going to take those options, but once I was in the ring I felt that he would give me a good effort. He tries harder the bigger they get,” Pletcher commented.


Peter Pletcher and CR Beethoven. Photo by Kendall Bierer/Phelps Media Group.

A proponent of the Derby Challenge, Pletcher supports the “second chance round” as a means of redemption. As small missteps can often hold competitors out of contention for the Section A and B Finals, he believes this class alleviates the worries and teaches a lesson to many riders, owners, and trainers whose scores may have suffered from slight mistakes.

“I think this type of class gives some of these riders and owners reassurance that there is more to it, and even if they make a little bit of a mistake, there is another chance to shine and prove themselves. It was still a great group of horses,” Pletcher noted.


Louise Serio and Eagle. Photo by Kendall Bierer/Phelps Media Group.

Reserve honors went to Louise Serio aboard Eagle, owned by Clementina Brown out of Loxahatchee, Florida, with their mark of 287.000. Holly Shepherd, in the irons for Margaret Camp of Birmingham, Alabama, navigated Cascaron to a 285.500-point ride to clinch the third position.

Hunter competition at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show continues tomorrow with the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, sponsored by Hallway Feeds. To learn more about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows visit www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.

1   1166 BRUNELLO     ELIZABETH BOYD   609.00
2   1089 MINDFUL     KELLEY FARMER     588.05
3   1421CASSANTO     BRADY MITCHELL   587.95
5   1088 DALLIANCE   KELLEY FARMER   571.85
6   1744 SAY WHEN     DARCY HAYES       571.50
7   1135 BOWIE       COURTNEY CALCAGNN 557.95
8   1226 LIKEWISE     VICTORIA COLVIN   554.95
9   899 TEMPTATION   LOUISE SERIO     554.75
10 970 CANDOR 15   PETER WYLDE       552.25
1   1421 CASSANTO     BRADY MITCHELL   587.95
2   1744 SAY WHEN     DARCY HAYES       571.50
3   970 CANDOR 15   PETER WYLDE       552.25
5   492 COMANCHE     MEGAN YOUNG       537.00
6   674 LOXLEY       AMANDA STEEGE     532.80
7   673 ZIDANE       AMANDA STEEGE   520.80
9   1330 EL GRECCO   ROBERT LEE     501.25
1   1146 CR BEETHOVEN PETER PLETCHER       300.00
2   884 EAGLE        LOUISE SERIO          287.00
3   289 CASCARON     HOLLY SHEPHERD        285.50
4   500 CARSON       HOPE GLYNN            285.00
6   1203 EXTRAORDINAIRE TOMMI CLARK           279.50
7   1087 SYMBOLIC     KELLEY FARMER         276.00
8   1204 EXEMPLAR     TOMMI CLARK          275.00
9   599 SANTERNO     TAMMY PROVOST         274.00
10  498 CHANNING     HOPE GLYNN            272.25
11  499 NIGEL        ELEANOR HELLMAN       267.50
12  1262 CARAMO       HAROLD CHOPPING       263.50

Tara Gallagher Couch and Apple Share First Jumper Ring Win at Bluegrass Festival Horse Show

The tides finally turned for Tara Gallagher Couch and her mount Apple Saturday morning in the High Amateur-Owner/Junior Jumper class at the 1.40m height, as the pair, who have unluckily fallen just a tad short of the win in previous classes, rode to the only clean round of the day to clinch the champion title at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show.

“This is my first win with her, which is super exciting! We have been working towards it, and I have been in this four-fault place. We will have great rounds, but then I will just tick a rail. We have been waiting for a win and it finally happened today,” Gallagher Couch said with a smile.


Tara Gallagher Couch and Apple. Photo by Elaine Wessel/Phelps Media Group.

Saving the best for last, the pair were the final entry to take a shot at designer Allen Rheinheimer’s track, which had consistently tripped up the previous competitors. A lofty red-and-white striped oxer placed midway through the course was troublesome for a number of the riders, as well as the triple combination, the second-to-last obstacle of the course. For Gallagher Couch and Apple, their plan proved to be the only successful one of the morning, and they admitted to using their competitor’s shortcomings as help with their strategy.

“There were a lot of options. You had to go in there open to changing based on what happened. We just had a plan, and talked about how to adjust. Everything worked out with the plan we had, and it rode like we anticipated,” Gallagher Couch commented. “I watched a few rides before me and I could see that everyone was trying to go fast and it was costing them rails. My goal was to go smooth and clean, which I thought would put me in the top three. It is really great that I ended up winning it.”

Apple, owned by Eden Valley Stables of Saratoga, California, is no stranger to the winner’s circle in Lexington, as she is “sort of a famous horse here,” according to the winning rider. Last year with Sarah Bagworth aboard, the mare took numerous grand prix wins at the Kentucky Horse Park, as well as the win in this same class a year ago with Bagworth. Gallagher Couch picked up the ride in February of this year at the Winter Equestrian Festival, and while she said it took a few months to acclimate to each other, the two seem to have finally hit their stride.

“She is really game, really hot. When she is relaxed, like she was today, she grows this big stride and is really focused on where she is going. She can land and turn really quickly. She is deceivingly fast because she looks smooth but she is covering the ground,” Gallagher Couch said. “I am all about mares. I have all mares. I like them hot, and a little complicated in their mind.”

The winning duo will return to the Rolex Stadium Sunday for the SJHOF Amateur-Owner/Junior Jumper Classic, hoping to add another accolade to their accomplishments to top off the week, after which they will trek north to the grass fields of the Hampton Classic in Long Island, New York. The prestigious American Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm in upstate New York will follow, then a series of shows out west.


Lina Rojas-Restrepo and Ramdam Dudry. Photo by Elaine Wessel/Phelps Media Group.

The fastest four-faulter of the class, Lina Rojas-Restrepo aboard Ramdam Dudry, owned by Mauricio Restrepo, claimed the second place prize with a time of 65.942 seconds. Brett Burlington and Bluf, owned by Sweet Oak Farm out of Wellington, Florida, also had a singular rail down as the only other four-fault ride. Their time of 69.120 seconds placed them into the third position.

Show jumping competition continues this week at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show, culminating in Sunday afternoon’s $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, sponsored by Audi of Lexington.

For more information on the Kentucky Summer Series please go to www.kentuckyhorseshows.com.


Pl  Number  Horse        Rider                       Faults   Time   Total         Time
1   1745APPLE           TARA GALLAGHER COUCH   0       0         0        65.542
2   1045RAMDAM DUDRY   LINA ROJAS-RESTREPO  4     0         4        65.942
3   1694BLUF            BRETT BURLINGTON         4         0         4        69.120
4   1310HUCKLEBERRY     RACHEL REID            8         0         8        60.430
5   191 FUKAYNA         MARIA BRUGAL              8         0         8        68.106
6   1431UGAF            EMMA WUJEK                  8         1         9        71.969
7   464 SKRIBBELINO     TERI KESSLER            12        0        12        60.202
8   374 ARTANI 2        KELLY ARANI                12        0        12        67.462
9   1074DOMINO VAN DE HEBETHANY BOLEN     16        0        16        67.784
10  87  BALIZO Z        ANNA BETH ATHEY         20        0        20        60.730
11  165 MARIA Z         ISABEL SANCHEZ          20        0        20        68.881