Edited Press Release
November 6, 2021 – Ashley Conkle (Wellford, SC) and Return to Me earned a pair of 89s from the judges to take the title in Saturday’s $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby. Just three points behind with an overall score of 175, Katlynn Butler (Mechanicsville, VA) and Excelsior, her own 2013 gelding (Carrico x M-Concerto), claimed reserve. Third place went to Alexis Gallati (Rockford, TN) aboard her own mount Iconic, the 2013 German Sporthorse gelding (Chacco Me Biolley x Unknown), for their 171-point performance after two rounds over the Dean Rheinheimer (Sheridan, IN) course design.
Conkle and the 2011 Warmblood gelding (Twister x Opal) owned by Issabella Malherbe combined for the win by pushing for the inside turns, Conkle relayed.
“I thought the course was great! It rode really well. It was very straightforward and inviting for the horses. In the Handy round, there weren’t a lot of areas for handy turns, although Meghan [Kaergel] and Conto [van de Helle] did some phenomenal inside turns,” she emphasized. “I was debating on whether to try to catch her, and thinking about what I needed to do. I just rode what I had, we landed on each lead, and then I thought, ‘Let’s go ahead and do the inside turn.’”
Based at AMC Show Stables, Conkle is enjoying the ride on Return to Me now that he’s found his true calling as a Hunter, from the Derby ring to the Cross Rails division, she noted. “He is the coolest thing ever. He will do this [Hunter Derby] and then this afternoon he’ll do cross-rails with his owner. He is such a rockstar! About a year ago, he was doing the Jumpers and a friend sent him to me.
“He has just excelled in the Hunters,” Conkle continued. “He’s done a couple Derbies and is still getting his feet wet, figuring out the turning, staying slow and careful, and all of that. I’m very lucky to have the ride.”
A frequent competitor at TIEC, she concluded, “We love Tryon. It’s phenomenal. I think they’ve done a great job working the footing, too. You can definitely tell that they’ve put time and effort into it. It just gets better and better! We can’t wait to come back again.”