By Caroline Bald
Riding in my first International Hunter Derby at the Brandywine Horse Show was equally nerve-wracking and exciting. Although there weren’t that many entries, there were some big name professional riders and experienced derby horses, which was intimidating. I had been looking forward to this class the whole week. Most of my experience is in the equitation, so this was something totally new to my horse Vie and me.
I had ridden in the Dixon Oval multiple times in the equitation at Devon, but this day was unfamiliar territory to me. After walking the course with my trainers, Val Renihan and Abbi Ferrigno, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I have jumped countless tracks like this one. We planned not to jump any of the high options since I was just doing it for experience. The course was set beautifully with impressive jumps. I had a lot of confidence in my horse, even though she was less familiar with the hunter ring. My goal for my first derby was to gain experience and to put down solid rounds.
I went ninth in the order in the first round, which was a good spot for me. Normally, I am able to control my nerves pretty well. My first round was solid, but I think you could tell I was nervous. I ended up tenth in the first round. I was so happy with how my horse went and was looking forward to the second round, which was the handy. To my benefit, I did the pony hunters for many years and a lot of handy rounds. Also, having an equitation horse in the Derby helped a lot in the handy round.
After the first round, I was reminding myself that I was totally capable of this. I went second in the handy round. Jump one and jump two in the handy could be jumped in either order and in either direction, which gave you a lot of options. I opted to canter from the gate to the vertical and then turn left and rollback on the second vertical. I loved how this course rode. My horse perfectly executed the inside turns and neat rollbacks. Vie did everything I asked of her and I couldn’t have been happier with how she went. After the handy points were added, my scores for the second round were an 89 and an 82.
I was seventh in the second round out of a great group of riders and horses, which I was really happy with. I placed tenth overall and was thrilled with Vie’s performance. Everything we have asked her to do, she’s done happily and excelled at. I’m so thankful to have a horse I can walk into the ring on confidently every time. Also, having so many people that support me and are rooting for me really makes a difference. Without Val, Abbi, my mom, Vie’s grooms, and many other people, none of this would have been possible. My first International Hunter Derby was a really valuable experience and I can’t wait to do more derbies in the future.