Edited Press Release
Amateur-Owner hunters took center stage on Wednesday, October 26, in the Show Place Arena at Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on day three of the 2022 Washington International Horse Show, presented by MARS Equestrian™. Melissa Jacobs riding On Ice and Stephanie Danhakl on Quest won grand honors on their final day of competition.
Melissa Jacobs and On Ice jumped to the Amateur-Owner Hunter 18-35 3’6” division championship, Leading Amateur-Owner honors, and overall Grand Amateur-Owner 3’6” title, earning the Frank Counselman Memorial Trophy. In similar fashion, Stephanie Danhakl rode Quest to the Amateur-Owner Hunter 18-35 3’3” division championship, the Leading Amateur-Owner 3’3” award, as well as the Grand Amateur-Owner 3’3” championship, and was presented with the Bucky Reynolds Memorial Perpetual Trophy, sponsored by Ernest and Betty Oare.
Jacobs, of Buffalo, New York, purchased On Ice after trainers Chris Payne and David Belford of New Hope Farm LLC in Batavia, Ohio, discovered the nine-year-old Warmblood stallion by Legion in Europe just over a year ago. At the time he was competing in the jumper ring, but Payne and Belford saw his potential to become a top hunter.
“He was definitely a little bit jumpery for a while, but he’s picked up on the hunters very quickly,” noted Jacobs. “He’s just very game to do whatever we want, so he’s great to work with.
“He is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” continued Jacobs of her horse who goes by “Noble” in the barn. “He’s just perfect for me. He’s beautiful, and as long as I do my homework and put him in the right spot, he always gives me a fantastic jump. I love him so much.”
On the first day of Amateur-Owner competition, Jacobs and Noble had a mixed performance. Their jumping round was not their best, but they went on to win the hack. With those results, Jacobs knew she could have a strong overall finish if she could step it up on the second day of the division.
“Dave [Belford] told me to ride like I know how to ride him and just have fun and to try to think of it as just another horse show, which is hard to do, because it is Washington and you know it’s Washington, but it did help me relax a little bit more,” shared Jacobs. “Sometimes I’ll get butterflies a little bit schooling and getting ready, and then usually when I get in the ring and get to what I know how to do with Noble, everything melts away, so that’s really nice.”
Noble didn’t show in any of the professional divisions before stepping into the ring with Jacobs, and the first day of the competition was a bit cooler. As a result, Jacobs could sense both she and her horse were a little tighter. By the second day, they were ready to shine.
“Today, I got on him in the warm-up, and I just knew that both of us felt more open and more relaxed,” commented Jacobs. “We went into the handy, and I asked him to go for it and he was phenomenal.”
In the handy class, Jacobs and Noble impressed judges Linda Andrisani and Peter Lombardo for a score of 86. They followed that up with an 88 in the stake class for the top spot in both.
“This is amazing,” expressed Jacobs of her victory. “I have been reserve champion at Washington once, and I have always wanted to come back and win here. I’m just absolutely thrilled. This is a big win, and I’m really excited about it.”
Stephanie Danhakl, of Pacific Palisades, California, has had her horse Quest for nine years, competing consistently in the Amateur-Owner 3’3” division. Danhakl suspects the key to their many years of success together is Quest’s enthusiasm and ease in his job, but of all their triumphs, a WIHS championship title has been just out of reach.
“He’s a small horse with a big heart,” said Danhakl of the 15-year-old KWPN gelding by Verdi. “He always tries his hardest and has a lot of spunk. I’ve been competing him at this show the past several years, and this is the first time we’ve been champion, so I’m really excited.”
Even though the WIHS championship presentation might not be familiar to Quest, he was certainly in his element, soaking in all the attention.
“He never gets tired of showing,” shared Danhakl. “He really loves it. He loves the spotlight, and he definitely loves the recognition and loves to have a blue ribbon on his bridle.”
Similar to Jacobs, Danhakl and Quest had a less than perfect performance on the first day of the division, not quite earning the scores over fences Danhakl knows they can. However, also like Jacobs, Danhakl was able to show off Quest’s beautiful gaits in the under saddle class for a first-place finish there.
“He felt a little bit tired to me in the first round, so he struggled going around the course to jump as high and as brilliantly as he typically jumps,” explained Danhakl. “He’s always a great mover, so we made up some ground with the under saddle class, but I knew going into today that we had to have two very good rounds, solid performances, in order to be champion and ultimately grand champion.”
On the second day of the division, Danhakl had a plan to make the most of the energy her horse had, just jumping a handful of warmup fences. Her strategy paid off, and she and Quest earned scores of 89 in the handy class and then 88 in the stake class for two more blue ribbons and the championship.
“He really rose to the occasion,” commented Danhakl. “I just tried to keep him energized, focused, and not tire him too much outside of the ring and just save all of our jumping efforts for the show ring. He really gave me his all and tried his hardest and jumped so great today. It was an awesome feeling.”
With neck sashes, winning coolers, trophies, and cupcakes in tow, the prestige of the moment was not lost on Danhakl, who appreciated the significance of the achievement.
“I love coming to WIHS,” stated Danhakl, who is a member of the show’s Board of Directors. “It’s really special to qualify. The show does such a great job of making it feel important with the awards and the decorations and the pomp and circumstance, which is so much a part of this sport. To come here for our finals at the end of the year, it means a lot to be champion here.”