By Emily Kerr
THERMAL, Calif. – Mar. 5, 2021 – For the first time since its inception in 2013, the World Champion Hunter Rider (WCHR) West Coast Hunter Spectacular will make its way to the desert and take place at the Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in Thermal, California. The momentous class will take place during Desert Circuit VIII’s WCHR Week on Friday, March 19, under the new lights in the Grand Prix Stadium. Professional, Junior, and Amateur riders will vie for the Champion title and their share of the $100,000 prize pool.
The class brings with it a long history of world class Hunter competition. The WCHR Program originated in 1992 with the WCHR Professional Finals and has since expanded to include year-end awards for Professionals, Developing Professionals, Amateur Owners, Adult Amateurs, Juniors, Children’s and Pony riders. Members accumulate points at specified WCHR Member Events and each year, the top ten nationally ranked riders and top six regionally ranked riders in each category come together to compete in the WCHR Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.
“The WCHR Program is really important and since the beginning, it’s always been a goal of mine to follow those particular shows,” shared Jenny Karazissis, a well-decorated West Coast Hunter Professional based in Calabasas, Calif. “Since the West Coast Spectacular has originated, it’s really grown in popularity and I believe it will even more now being held at Desert International Horse Park.”
The historic Flintridge Riding Club in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. hosted the WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular for its first two years. In subsequent years, the class ran at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. This is the first year the class will be brought to the desert.
“I think it’s really appropriate for the class to be brought out to the desert for the first time,” noted Karazissis. “You have a very captive audience and a lot of horses are here for the circuit already. I think the Horse Park has taken the Spectacular on and taken it very seriously. I know they will produce a wonderful event.”
Katie Taylor (Tarzana, Calif.), another respected West Coast Hunter Professional and the Reserve Champion of the 2020 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular shared similar feelings: “I never got a chance to compete in the Spectacular at Flintridge, but I have competed a couple times on the Grand Prix Field at the Oaks where they always made it unique. I think bringing the Spectacular to the Desert International Horse Park however makes it an even bigger event, since so many people from around the country come out for the winter circuit already.”
Both Karazissis and Taylor made their way back East last February for the West Coast Hunter Spectacular’s East Coast counterpart: the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular. The pair were joined by two other West Coast Equestrians to make up four of the top ten placings: Taylor and Kindred (owned by Gabrielle Sokolow) were second, Augusta Iwasaki (Calabasas, CA) and Seaside (owned by Eliza Kimball) were fourth, Karazissis and Big Shot (owned by Dulcie Lou Morris) earned fifth place, and John French, who is now based on the East Coast but has a thirty-three year long history on the West Coast, and Ocean Road (owned by Keri Kampsen & Lexy Reed) placed tenth overall.
“Last year was an unbelievable experience,” exclaimed Taylor. “What made it so memorable, was how important that class was throughout the show grounds. That was definitely the biggest stage I have ever competed on. It’s definitely an experience I will never forget, but it’s also amazing that we are bringing this big of an event to the West Coast! So, I get another chance to do it, and this time with my longtime partner that qualified me in the East Coast Spectacular last year: L’Con Reyes [owned by Bravado LLC]!”
In contrast to the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, riders and horses do not need to qualify for the WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular. Riders can choose which section they will compete in with their horses: the 3’6” height, the 3’9” height, or the 4’0” height. Riders are allowed to ride up to three horses.
“It really only provides advantages for the riders to be able to choose a fence height that is best suited for their horse. It’s something you decide beforehand on what is best for your horse and at that point everyone is on an even playing field,” noted Nick Haness (Temecula, Calif.). Haness was the United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) 2019 National Equestrian of the Year and the Leading Hunter Rider at Desert Circuit 2020.
Karazissis, Taylor, and Haness all plan to ride in the class. Not only will the winner of the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular be bringing home the lion’s share of the prize pool, they will also receive a $5,000 flight credit from HorseFlight. The top placing female rider will be given a LAURACEA Bag.
Karazissis hopes the increased prize pool and the upgraded facility will pull some competitors from the East Coast: “It’s not easy pickings; the riders here on the West Coast, the caliber of riders is deep. There’s a lot of good, good riders. Professionals, Juniors, and Amateurs. We’ve proven ourselves a number of times by going East to Devon or Indoors or Capital Challenge. I’ve always been proud of how the West Coast has done and how we are represented.”
“I think it’s often said the major horse shows and the bigger prize pool for Hunters happens on the East Coast – usually at Indoors and Finals – so for us to have a class of that caliber here in California at Desert International Horse Park is exciting,” Haness proudly noted. “The West Coast has a big part in the game of having top hunters in the nation, so it’s really fun to be able to showcase them on our own coast.”