Smiles, Style, Showmanship: The 2021 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show

Michael Britt Leon and Private I. Photo by Erin Gilmore

WORDS by Catie Staszak
PHOTOS by Erin Gilmore

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show returned after a year hiatus for its 168th edition—a display of top, modernized sport seamlessly intertwined with timeless throwbacks to beloved traditions.

The USHJA International Hunter Derby is always a program highlight, taking center stage in the main arena Saturday evening. With the picturesque Blue Ridge mountains in view, a field of 28 accomplished combinations—including two-time champions, Samantha Schaefer and In the Know—put on an absolute show for the enthusiastic and educated crowd on hand, over a beautifully laid out course designed by Skip Bailey.

Ultimately, Michael Britt-Leon and Private I, winners of the 2020 WCHR Professional Final at Capital Challenge, catapulted to the top of the leaderboard following a sensational, standout handy round. First round leaders Hunt Tosh and Cannon Creek finished second, with Schaefer and In the Know, affectionately known as “Spyder,” earning a podium placing in the event for a fourth time.

We recap the event in photos:

After a four-year hiatus, Scott Stewart returned to derby competition earlier this season, riding to first and second in the USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show. He finished fifth and 12th in Upperville aboard Dr. Betsee Parker’s Nottingham and For Always, respectively.

Five junior riders—Mimi Gochman, Baylee McKeever, Grace Debney, Kat Fuqua and Alexa Lignelli—took on the derby track.

Amanda Steege and Lafitte de Muze rarely disappoint. The accomplished pair, winners of the 2021 WCHR Palm Beach Winter Spectacular in Wellington, FL, finished sixth—a nod to the competitiveness of the field.

Two-time champions, Samantha Schaefer and In the Know, affectionately known as “Spyder.” Schaefer and Spyder finished third, with Schaefer also riding to fourth honors aboard Caristo.

Every detail matters.

The horses made brilliant efforts over the fences, making for a fun evening for riders and spectators alike.

Hunt Tosh and Cannon Creek were best in the Classic round, ultimately finishing second overall.

Four natural hedge jumps set perpendicularly—creating two combinations across the arena—were among the most unique and eye-catching fences on course, but they caused little problems for competitors. In fact, it was a trot jump set just behind them that proved most challenging—particularly when approached on the difficult inside track that many riders executed in the handy. Michael Britt-Leon and Private I tackled every challenge with ease, and their stellar handy performance propelled them to victory.

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