San Juan Capistrano, CA — July 26, 2021— During the Blenheim Summer Festival, amateur hunter riders stepped into the spotlight to compete in the BES West Coast Amateur Owner Hunter Challenge, presented by USHJA Zone 10. The Grand Prix Field saw riders rising to the occasion and among the victors were Caroline Ingalls, Tonia Cook-Looker, and Melissa Brandley.
Caroline Ingalls swept the 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunter division, earning 50 points aboard her ten-year-old Westphalian gelding Concerto to take home the Overall Grand Championship of the Amateur-Owner divisions. The icing on the cake was winning the $2,500 West Coast 3’3”/3’6” Combined Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic. “It feels pretty great. Always coming out on top like this is really humbling,” said Ingalls. “I was a little rusty earlier this week after not showing the past six weeks, but winning all of our classes this week, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Ingalls purchased the gelding five years ago and prides their successes on their immaculate connection as horse and rider.
“I just really understand him in a way; we kind of get each other. I think the way we go together is so fitting,” commented Ingalls. “I am just so fortunate to have such an amazing animal like him. He has the best brain and would jump through fire; I am just so lucky to have him.” Trained by the legendary Hap Hansen, Ingalls and her rockstar gelding have had much success this season at Blenheim EquiSports including their grand championship during WCHR week at the June Series. The duo also stepped up and competed in the West Coast Hunter Spectacular.
“We have been competing in the 3’6” Amateur-Owner Division for three or four years. We have just been doing better and better. We have stepped up and started doing the bigger derbies; we did an International Hunter Derby earlier this year and also ended up 2nd in the Hunter Spectacular a few weeks ago here at Blenheim.”
In the 3’ Amateur-Owner division, Tonia Cook-Looker and Wilten’s Bubblegum topped the competition in the $1,000 West Coast 3’ Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic while Melissa Brandley and Reminiscent took home the Grand Championship of the division.
Cook-Looker and her team at Woodland Oaks Ranch pride themselves on the development of quality horses and ponies. The eleven-year-old Belgian Warmblood known as “Bubblegum” was imported by her daughter in 2019 and the team has been finalizing his development into a top competitor.
“We have shown him in some of the equitation and this is only my second time showing him,” explained Cook-Looker. “He is a super fun horse to ride, he has a great jump. We loved him when we saw him in Europe, and we think he will become a top derby horse someday. He has an incredible jump and is super brave to the fence. A very scopey and talented horse with a cool personality. We absolutely adore him.”
As a life-long equestrian, Cook-Looker expressed how great of an event the BES West Coast Amateur Owner Hunter Challenge is, “there is a ton of emphasis on the juniors with Junior Hunter Finals and the pony riders with Pony Hunter Finals but not a ton of emphasis for Amateurs. I love that they have started doing this, I am a big supporter of this, and it was the biggest reason why we chose to show here this week.”
This opportunity provides a platform for riders like Cook-Looker and Brandley, who have developed horses, to showcase their horses’ amazing talents after tons of hard-work. Similar to Cook-Looker, this was Brandley and Reminiscent’s second show competing at this level. “So, I actually bred him myself,” said Brandley. “I was there the night he was born, and I have brought him along his whole life. I love it. It is the best and most rewarding thing I have ever done.”
Brandley was over the moon with the eight-year-old Oldenburg’s results praising how great of a horse he has been to bring up the ranks. This was the pair’s second show at the 3’ height and their first time out on the grass fields.
Brandley expressed how exciting and thrilling her week has been, “It is just amazing. I love the big grass rings and it is so special to be out on the Grand Prix Field.”
During the awards presentations, all three riders were awarded gift bags that included BES swag and ShadyLady Sun Protection sun scarves. Champions Ingalls and Brandley were presented with celebratory scrim sheets courtesy of Outdoor Outfitters and Tech Stirrups from English Riding Supply and classic winners Ingalls and Cook-Looker received gift certificates to Topline Design Ribbon Wreaths. All first-place winners from the weekend earned Corro gift cards for their efforts as well.
All Photos: McCool Photography