The international show jumpers took center stage on Thursday, October 24, at the 61th annual Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) for their first two competitions of the week durning WIHS Barn Night. In the $50,000 International Jumper Welcome Stake, Jos Verlooy of Belgium rode Varoune to victory, while Israel’s Sydney Shulman topped the $36,000 International Jumper Accumulator Costume Class.
Verlooy, who has competed at WIHS in years past and won the Puissance class in 2015, made a daring turn between fences 3 and 4 in the second round to slice seconds off his time. “In a jump-off you have to take a few risks, and the risk paid off for me tonight,” he said. He finished with a time of 41.62 seconds, relegating U.S. rider Alex Granato and Carlchen W to second with a time of 41.75 seconds. Irish rider Darragh Kenny took third with a 42.16-second round on Classic Dream.
The $50,000 Welcome Stake was held as a “winning round” format, where the top 16 riders, regardless of how many faults they had in the afternoon’s first round, were invited back for the second round, which was held in the evening session. Verlooy came back for the second round as the 14th in the order and set the pace. For the victory, he accepted the Ben O’Meara Memorial Challenge Trophy.
“It’s always nice to start the week with a win,” said Verlooy. “It gives you confidence for the rest of the show. My main goal this week is the [$136,300 Longines FEI World CupTM Jumping Washington, presented by Events DC for the President’s Cup], but my horse is fine with going fast in the first class. Some horses get a bit worried by that, but he doesn’t.”
Verlooy has been riding Varoune, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Verdi—Landgirl) owned by Eurohorse BVBA, for just four months. “He’s fast because he’s just so careful,” he said. “I’m getting to know him more and more. In the jump-offs, I’m starting to learn where I can make the time up. I must say, he’s getting faster and faster. He’s the kind of horse that I can really gallop up to the fences. I think he’s the kind of horse that will only get faster and faster.”
Verlooy is just 23, but already is a veteran of Belgian championship teams and earned individual bronze and helped the Belgian team win team gold at the 2019 FEI European Championships in August. While Verlooy last competed at WIHS in 2015, when he placed in the top five of every class in the international open jumper division, he decided early this year to include the show in his 2019 schedule. “I made the plan at the beginning of this year that I’d really like to come,” he said. “It’s a very special show, in the middle of the city. The show has so many traditions. I enjoy seeing my American friends. It’s nice to do something different.”
Sydney Shulman Goes Like Lightning to Win $36,000 International Jumper Accumulator Costume Class
Sydney Shulman, who rides for Israel, just couldn’t stop grinning after picking up the blue ribbon in the $36,000 International Jumper Accumulator Costume Class in her first year of competing in the international open jumper division at WIHS. She topped the class riding Villamoura as the fastest round of the nine riders who picked up 65 points over the jumps, finishing in 41.04 seconds.
“I looked at the list of riders and I had dreamed to be in a class with these people, let alone to beat them,” Shulman, 24, said. “So I’m going to really remember this! It’s special to be here.”
The first through ninth place riders all collected 65 points, which meant they cleared all 10 jumps on course, including the final “joker” fence worth 20 points. There was also a special Washington Nationals World Series-themed fence on course, and Irish rider Shane Sweetnam dressed up as Nationals shortstop Trea Turner in honor of the baseball team’s World Series appearance the same week as WIHS.
With nine riders out of the 24 starters on the same score, the class results came down to speed. “I watched some horses go, and after Adrienne [Sternlicht] went, I thought, ‘There’s no way I can be faster,’ but I had to try!” Shulman said. “My horse doesn’t have nearly the size of stride that she does. I had to think about being faster in the turns and across the ground. I added [strides] in two places that she left a stride out, but for my horse that’s what works.
U.S. rider Sternlicht ended up in second place riding Fantast with 65 points in 42.34 seconds, while fellow U.S. rider Catherine Tyree piloted Catungee into third place with 65 points in 44.09 seconds.
Villamoura, a 10-year-old Selle Français mare (Diamant de Semilly—Kasina) owned by Jill Shulman, is one of Sydney’s favorite horses. “I’ve had her since a six-year-old and brought her along,” she said. “I live for this horse. She is my pride and joy. Every time I ask her to do something, whether it’s a bigger grand prix than she’s ever done, or any speed class, she totally steps up her game. She was my main speed horse as an eight- and nine-year-old, but now she’s had to step up a little bit and be my main grand prix horse. She’s done everything I’ve asked her and more. I brought her here specifically aiming for this class and tomorrow night’s speed class, because she’s very brave and competitive.”
Riders dressed themselves and their horses in costume for the class, and Sydney, of Greenwich, CT, crowdsourced from her students for ideas for her costume. “We wanted something fast, because the horse is very fast, so they thought of Pikachu, who is a lightning bolt. So, then I automatically became the Pokéman trainer, Ash,” Sydney said. “When we were walking the course, I threw 30 plush Poké balls out into the crowd. And the kids I threw them to were so excited at the end when I won.”
For their victory, Shulman was presented with the Crown Royal Trophy, while Villamoura was awarded the Sue Ann Geisler Memorial Trophy, donated by the Washington International Horse Show, as the top horse in the class.
The Best Costume Award, presented by The Stephens Family, was given to Kristen Vanderveen, who dressed as Cruella de Ville riding Bull Run’s Faustino de Tili, who was decorated to look like a Dalmatian. Her groom, Luis Salazar, will share the prize money. With 10 clear rounds over the Buck Breast Cancer jump, $5,000 was donated to the Capital Breast Care Center.
WIHS continues on Friday with presentations for the junior hunter champions, the opening hunter phase of the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Finals, and jump-off classes for the Low and High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumpers in the day session. The exciting Military Night, presented by Caterpillar, Inc., will have the $50,000 Speed Final for international jumpers as well as the $25,000 Land Rover Puissance.