Edited Press Release
Wayne, Ill. – July 23, 2022 – It was a spectacular day for Kat Barkema and Vex Freedom during the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, presented by Zia West LLC, at HITS Chicago. The duo dominated the Grand Prix Ring at Lamplight Equestrian Center on Saturday morning, earning brilliant scores well into the 90s, including a 105 from one judging panel during the handy round, making them the clear winners during the week’s highlight hunter event.
“Vex Freedom is a 9-year-old mare that we’ve been able to take our time developing, and at the end of last year she really started to come into her own,” noted Barkema. “We were able to move her up this year and she’s really stepped her game up and flourished. It’s fun to be able to go into a class like this and trust her and have a solid relationship.”
The classic round began the day with a high option as the first fence, followed by three additional high options, an in-and-out, and a bending line before the final oxer. Barkema and Vex Freedom began their march to victory in the first round with a smooth and flowing round that received scores of 92 and 96 for a 188 total.
“Yesterday, [in the National Derby], I had a young horse in the class, and in the first round I wanted to be smooth and have a good experience with him,” explained Barkema. “Freedom is more experienced, so I wanted to be a little bolder today and not protect it so much. It’s a nice track for my particular horse, so it worked in my favor.”
The handy round began over the same high option fence before a rollback to the trot fence, followed by two more rollbacks. Riders then continued to the in-and-out before a final tight rollback to the final high option. Advancing to the handy round as the leader in the class, Barkema and Vex Freedom made very tight turns while still showcasing a brilliant jump over each fence to earn scores of 97 and 105, bringing their two-round total to 390. The duo’s incredible performance earned the winning title to lead the lap of honor.
“My horse is super handy, and she is very good on the left turns,” said Barkema. “Almost all the of the inside turns in the handy were left turns, so that worked in our favor. She is so game for anything – I look where I want to go and she is on it.”
Barkema credits some of her success to her program at October Hill Farm in Hudson Oaks, Texas. “At home, we don’t do a whole lot of jumping with them,” she explained. “We are lucky because we are on a huge piece of property, so they are outside all day, doing hills and galloping in the fields. We do some gymnastic work, but it’s not a lot of jumping. Just fitness and getting them outside of their stalls as much as possible.”
Saturday’s victory is just one of several wins October Hill Farm enjoys at HITS Lamplight. Barkema concluded, “We came up here in 2020 and had such a great experience. It’s a great show, we love it, and coming from Texas this is such a nice environment. The weather, the footing, everything is great – we are just happy to be here!”
Following Barkema and Vex Freedom in the standings were Kathleen Caya and Jaromir, whose total score of 368 was good enough to garner the second-place prize. Lindsay Black and Gucci rounded out the top three with a total score of 353.5.