Hunter riders took to the ring Friday during the ESP Holiday & Horses CSI4*, which is the first show out of six that make up the ESP Holiday Series. The highlight hunter class of the week, the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, presented by Bainbridge, featured 31 entries over courses designed by Jasen Shelley. With two scores nearing the 100-point mark, Geoffrey Hesslink of Shelbourne, VT, and Small Occasion, owned by Shadowfax Equestrian LLC, claimed the victory ahead of a high-scoring field.
“She is a famous horse and has won all over the country at the main events,” Hesslink remarked on Small Occasion. “It just so happened that we were lucky enough to fall into place with her this summer for one of my clients, Raina Swani, as her first junior hunter. She is just so much fun. She is a blast and a winner and always puts in 110 percent.”
Following the first round of the class, the cut-off score for the top 12 sat at a lofty 86 points thanks to a series of top performances from exhibitors. Hesslink and Small Occasion, an 11-year-old Holsteiner mare, led the way with 96 points, earned from a classic score of 92 plus four bonus points for taking the high option fences. Kristy Herrera of Wellington, FL, rode Kate Ellis’ Valhalla to second position with 93 points, and last week’s National Derby winner Jimmy Torano of Wellington, FL, and Isalou Inc.’s Laskano were not far behind with a score of 92. All told, 10 points separated first position from twelfth place, keeping standings tight headed into the handy round.
“We continued to show through most of the year even with everything going on, so I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well to how things are going now,” Hesslink commented of competing under COVID protocol. “This is sort of our first week back into it, so it was a great start and the horses feel great. They do a nice job here, so we are very excited and happy. It’s nice to be able to show and feel safe. My clients and I have a really top string of hunters and horses for every ring, just like her, and I’m really excited to get the chance to show them and hopefully do well this season.”
In the handy phase, competitors returned in the reverse order of the standings, giving Hesslink and Small Occasion the advantage of going last as the early frontrunners. Torano and Laskano had moved up one spot to hold the lead with only one pair left to go, earning 94 points over the handy course to push them to 186 total points. In the end, Hesslink and Small Occasion retained their status at the top of the scorecard with 93 points to finish on a cumulative two-round score of 189. Torano and Laskano claimed second place, and Herrera captured the final podium spot with Valhalla. Jennifer Bliss of Loxahatchee, FL, also had a great day, finishing aboard three horses in the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions.
For the full results of the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, presented by Bainbridge, please click HERE.
The prize list for the six shows that make up the 2020 ESP Holiday Series can be found HERE.
No spectators or outside media are allowed on-site at this time, but friends and family can view all classes via our SGL live stream HERE.
To learn more about the safety protocols and procedures at the horse show, please click HERE.
Photo credit ©Anne Gittins Photography. These photos may only be used once in relation to this press release with proper credit.