By Sydney Lowe
Derby contenders braved the Grand Prix Stadium Sunday morning for the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, sponsored by Butet. With an impressive list of thirty-five horse and rider combinations in the order of go, the dressed up Stadium was the perfect backdrop against the natural obstacles as each athlete contested for a podium finish. Taking the win, with two spectacular rounds was Jamie Sailor (Moorpark, CA) aboard Laura Wasserman’s Skyhawk. Not only did the pair take home the lion’s share of the prize money, BUTET is providing the winning rider with a practice saddle.
Peter Grant’s (CAN) first round course design featured big, long lines and four high option fences which required skill and precision to execute. Horses were outperforming each other and many horses were scoring well into the 80s. Katie Taylor aboard L’Con Reyes was the only pair in round one to surpass the 90-point threshold and gained the top position walking into round two: the handy. In addition to Taylor and Sailor returning for the handy on their respective mounts, Nick Haness brought three rides back and the rest of the riders, Jenny Karazissis, Savannah Jenkins, Cassie Minicucci, Emma Lindstrom, Shawn Casady, and Alexis Meadows, all returned with one ride.
Grant provided insight about how he designs his courses: “For the first round, I think more of classical hunter lines, and how I can implement some of those into such a nice big ring. I think the course designer’s style will have a big effect on the track, however, I think we are all just trying to set the table for the riders to show off the quality of the horses. When it comes to the handy, I try to find interesting tracks, and track options for the riders to be able to show some more of their skill. It can be the toughest part for sure, as you want to be able to give them ample opportunity to show that skill, but you are limited, to a degree, by the fewer number of fences, and that you are working around the first round course.”
Returning in reverse order, Grant’s handy round course put riders to the test and truly allowed the judges to see who was most deserving of the champion cooler. Many riders fell victim to fence nine, the vertical wall, and unfortunately knocked it down. Sailor, after doing that on her first ride, vowed to master it aboard Skyhawk.
“When I know there is a bit of struggle on course, I just try to take my time and give myself a few more seconds mentally and physically. When I make the turn to it, I really just try to settle down and set my horse up the best I can,” narrated Sailor. “Skyhawk, I am able to ride more in a half seat and a bit softer. I really made sure he was on his hind end and he jumped it amazing.”
Sailor triumphed against her competition with two phenomenal rounds earning her the top position with a two round total of 377.5 points. Judges awarded Haness and Constantinos, owned by Georgy Maskrey-Segesman, with a grand total of 376 and the pair claimed the reserve ribbon. Karazissis and her ride Cartier Du Rouet, owned by Heidi Kane, secured the final podium position with 362 total points across the two rounds.
Earning their second win together, Sailor and Skyhawk are veterans themselves in the derby arena yet are a fresh, new pairing. Sailor just recently got the mount in November of 2020. “He is a new ride for me. His name is Skyhawk and I have always been behind him in the derbies and I was super excited because now, finally, I get to ride him.” Sailor continued, “He is super special because he goes in the ring and knows it is Hunter Derby time and that is just an incredible feeling. I don’t have to work so hard out there. I just have to make sure that he is in his right state of mind and he perks his ears forward and just looks for those next fences. That is what I love about him.”
Competition will resume at the Desert International Horse Park during Week V of Desert Circuit. Exhibitors can look forward to the return of FEI CSI3* classes with the $5,000 FEI 1.40m on Thursday and the $137,000 FEI 1.55m on Sunday. Hunters will have a chance to earn valuable show miles in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby on Friday.
For full results of the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, sponsored by Butet, visit Showgrounds Live.