Christopher Payne Ties for Grand Hunter Champion on Gratitude and Imagine at Kentucky Spring Classic

Gratitude and Chris Payne

After successful rounds in the Green 3′ Hunter and Green Conformation Hunter at the Kentucky Spring Classic, professional hunter athlete Christopher Payne emerged victorious to tie for the Grand Hunter Championship, riding Gratitude and Imagine to a total of 50 points in their respective divisions. Awarded to the horse with the most points in the Green 3′ Hunter, Green 3’3″ Hunter, Green 3’6″ Hunter, Green Conformation Hunter, High-Performance Conformation Hunter, or the High-Performance Working Hunter Divisions, Payne showcased his skills on both mounts, earning top honors for the second week in a row in the Green 3’ Hunter and Green Conformation Hunter divisions to claim the Grand Champion title.

Gratitude and Chris Payne

Course designer Jasen Shellye (USA) designed the hunter tracks to showcase the beautiful fluidity of the horse and rider combinations,allowing them to open up their strides and show a forward pace to each natural obstacle. Many of the riders in the Green Conformation Hunters found issues during the handy round in the long lines, but Payne stepped up to the challenge, meeting each fence in perfect stride to ride to victory. Payne spoke highly of the courses and thought they were designed beautifully. He appreciated Shellye’s openness to hearing how the courses rode and found that to be commendable for a course designer.

Payne rode the talented young 7-year-old Warmblood gelding Gratitude, owned by Still Water Farm LLC, to top honors both Wednesday and Thursday in the Green Conformation Hunter division. The pair came into the second week of competition at the Kentucky Horse Park with a big win under their belt from the Kentucky Spring Horse Show, where they also tied for Grand Hunter Champion. The talented young gelding continued to impress the judges Wednesday, winning both over fences classes and taking top honors in the Green Hunter Incentive Stake. Thursday was no exception, with Payne showcasing the gelding’s huge step, eagerness and beautiful form over each jump.

Christopher Payne and Imagine. Photo courtesy Shawn McMillen Photography

In addition to his win on Gratitude, Payne piloted Imagine, an 11-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Julie Holzberger, to top honors in the Green 3′ Hunters, which would help him tie for the Grand Hunter Championship. The scopey young gelding impressed the judges in the Claiborne Ring Wednesday afternoon with his giant stride, lovely expression and fantastic jump, helping the pair make a clean sweep during day one of the competition. DuringThursday’s competition, Payne solidified his Grand Hunter Championship win by capturing blue ribbons in both over fences yet again on the young horse. Payne expressed his gratitude for Imagine and looks forward to watching his continued success in the Green 3′ Hunters and the Adult Hunters with his owner, Holzberger.

Imagine and Chris Payne

Competition will continue in the StoneLea Ring Friday, May 21, with the Amateur-Owner 3’6’’ Hunter and will conclude the day with the highly anticipated USHJA 3’3″ Hunter Seat Medal.


Christopher Payne – Grand Hunter Champion

On his big win:
“It is a great feeling. They are both amazing horses and I feel so lucky to get to ride them. They rode beautifully both days and I could not have asked for more.”

On Imagine:
“We had him last year for a little bit; I was competing in the Green 3’ Hunter on him. This year, the woman that owns him, Julie Holzberger, started doing the Adult Hunter on him. So he is currently doing a little bit of double duty, with the Green 3’ Hunter, where he is learning his job, and also Julie doing him in the Adult Hunter. He is really just a super talented horse, with a great talent, a lot of scope and a fantastic brain.”

On the courses:
“I thought the courses were great. Jasen [Shellye] did a good job. He is really open to hearing how the courses are, which is very commendable as a course designer. He set up great courses that rode beautifully.”

On his upcoming plans:
“Imagine is supposed to be doing the Adult Hunters 50+ division with his owner, Julie. Gratitude will be competing in the National Derby this weekend.”