Plaidcast 345: Amanda Steege, Hannah Isop & Jennifer Bliss by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 345 Amanda Steege Hannah Isop Jennifer Bliss


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Piper speaks with International Hunter Derby riders Amanda Steege, Hannah Isop and Jennifer Bliss about the longtime partnerships they have with their horses and how they prepared for this year’s Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!


  • Host: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Guest: Amanda Steege is a top hunter rider and trainer that has won multiple International Derbies and Championships at the biggest shows in the country with her longtime partner, Lafitte de Muze. Amanda runs her training and sales business, Ashmeadow Farm out of Califon, New Jersey and Ocala, Florida. Amanda and Lafitte most recently placed 3rd in the first round of the 2023 USHJA/ Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. 
  • Guest: Hannah Isop is a third generation equestrian. She teaches and trains out of her family’s Harkaway Farm in Brewster, New York. Hannah has won numerous International and National Hunter Derbies including Reserve Champion in the 2022 USHJA/ Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Finals and most recently,  6th place overall in the 2023 USHJA Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky with her longtime partner, Red Ryder. 
  • Guest: Jennifer Bliss grew up in New York and showed extensively as a junior rider. Jenn opened Harris Hill Farm, LLC in 2008 and has worked her way up to establish herself as a successful Professional rider and trainer, winning many International and National Hunter Derbies. Jenn earned her official USHJA Trainer’s Certification in 2011 and holds her USEF “R” Judge’s license for the Hunter and Equitation divisions. Jenn recently finished 18th overall in the 2023 USHJA/ Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky with her longtime partner, Poker Face.
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services, Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Photo Credit: Shawn McMillen Photography
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: Purina Animal NutritionAmerica CryoAlexis Kletjian Jewelry, LAURACEA, BoneKare, Show Strides Book Series, With Purpose: The Balmoral Standard, Good Boy, Eddie and American Equestrian School

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm [00:01:09] This is the plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of the Plaid Horse magazine. And on today’s panel discussion, I am joined by three USHJA International Derby stars who have all been on the plaidcast before and just come from a top 25 performance at USHJA international Derby Finals, Amanda Steege, Hannah Isop and Jennifer Bliss. We will be discussing long term relationships with our equine partners. All three of them have been with our current Derby horse for many years and how these horses have become family.  

Piper Klemm [00:02:22] Amanda Steege is a top hunter, rider and trainer that has won multiple international derbies and championships at the biggest shows in the country with her longtime partner Lafitte de Muze. Amanda runs her training and sales business, Ashmeadow farm out of Califon, Jersey, and Ocala, Florida. Amanda and Lafitte most recently placed third in the first round at the 2023 USHJA Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. Hannah Isop is a third generation equestrian. She teaches and trains out of her family’s Harkaway farm in Brewster, New York. Hannah has won numerous international and national derbies, including Reserve champion at the 2022 USHJA Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Finals, and most recently sixth place overall in the 2023 USHJA Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. With her longtime partner, Red Rider. Jennifer Bliss grew up in New York and showed extensively as a junior rider. She opened Harris Hill Farm LLC in 2008 and has worked her way up to establish herself as a successful professional rider and trainer, winning many international and national hunter derbies. Jen earned her official USHJA trainer certification in 2011, holds her USEF large R Judges license for the Hunter and equitation divisions and recently finished 18th overall at the 2023 USHJA Platinum Performance International Derby Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. With her longtime partner, Poker Face. So let’s start by, if you can each tell us how many years you’ve been working with your horse and how many Derby finals and how old your horse is this year. Amanda, do you want to tell us about Lafitte first? 

Amanda Steege [00:05:21] Yes, sure. Lafitte is 12 years old this year. This is my sixth year riding him and I believe my fourth Derby finals. 

Piper Klemm [00:05:31] Awesome. And and Jen. 

Jen Bliss [00:05:34] Pokey is 18 this year, and this is the 12th. So season that we have had together. And I believe this was his seventh Derby finals. 

Piper Klemm [00:05:51] That’s what I counted as well. Hannah you want to tell us. 

Hannah Isop [00:05:55] Red Rider is 19. I think he was the oldest one in the class. I believe we’ve been together for ten years. And I want to say we’ve done at least five Derby finals together. Five, six. I don’t know, something of that number. 

Piper Klemm [00:06:15] So can you all tell us a little bit about what what your horses were like when they were younger and the beginning of your partnerships? You know what? But training things you really worked on over the years, I mean, all we see is a finish seamless product right now. And I know all three of you are on such such athletes and they can’t have always felt easy like they look now. Amanda, you want to start? 

Amanda Steege [00:06:40] Oh, sure. I mean, Lafitte was pretty much a dream right from the start. He was he was young when he came. We imported him as a six-turning-seven year old. And when I started showing him, he went straight to doing the three foot six greens, which I now know is not totally normal. That was the first horse I had ever imported from Europe. But he just took the Hunter life so easily. That being said, he he was and still is very sensitive. He’s definitely an overachiever and an over Trier. And it’s just taken me some time to build such a trusting relationship with him and to get him to be relaxed in these large venues or big events like Derby Finals. So I would say right from the beginning in the regular Hunter classes, he pretty much just went out there and did it pretty smoothly and easily with the exception of like loud clapping or things like that would kind of set him off. So when he started to get into these larger venues or bigger events, he was always trying to do a good job, but almost trying too hard and a little too alert, a little too sensitive, a little too distracted. So I spent a lot of time just making sure I got him to the right venues and work. Ocala has been huge for us because they have these Friday derbies every week that are the most similar thing. I’ve found the Derby finals. So just time and experience and building a partnership and being together has really changed how he feels out there. 

Piper Klemm [00:08:30] Jen, do you want to talk to us a little bit about a little bit about Pokey and bringing him along here? It’s almost like he goes so slowly. And I know that those are the ones that are like, almost deceiving because they need to be so much more fit to go that slowly and so much more organized. 

Jen Bliss [00:08:48] Yeah, he is sort of unassuming way when he comes in the ring, but he sort of doesn’t know how how little he is. We got him. Jimmy Toon imported him. He was four coming five and we got him pretty much right when he arrived in this country. And, you know, he was sort of starting in the very beginning, starting we did, I think, two horse shows in a baby green division and then moved up to the three foot three greens. But he really had to sort of learn the whole game from the beginning and he really hadn’t shown much in Europe or anything. So he was really starting at the beginning. That said, he has his technique and, you know, he he just was sort of born with a very special combination of brave but careful. And that, I think, is pretty one of the kind of special, unique things about him. Bringing him along, the biggest thing was sort of his right ability to use just a little bit of a funny personality is a bit of a funny mouth, and he’s a little uninspired at home. He really likes the horror show, but he’s a little hard to work at home. So just sort of getting the right ability in in some creative ways and sort of making him work without him totally, really realizing it was sort of a big a big part of it and a bit similar to what Amanda said about Lafitte. He especially in his younger days, he, Pokey was a bit of an over Trier. Like he would jump so high and sometimes land a bit shallow. And so he had to sort of figure that out and sort of find we had to kind of find a sweet spot and and and balance that out between that kind of high jump, but also keeping the canter fluid. And then that was a process. And I think for a very long time, I was very careful and very conservative with him, perhaps almost to a fault at time. But I just felt like he operated so much off of sheer try like he just would try so hard that I. I never wanted to put him in a position where he where he thought he couldn’t do it or where he tried something and and it didn’t work out well. And so I just went very slow with him and just took a lot of time, especially when he started doing the Derby’s. You know, I think sometimes I was probably too conservative, but that was just sort of my my way with him and. Sort of building that foundation right now, I, I feel like I can, you know, sometimes call on a more when I need it and and just trust that he has that that confidence in himself to do it. 

Piper Klemm [00:11:49] And you didn’t you know, part of that going slow is you didn’t take the high options until he was ready. And I remember there were so many derbys where you were the only one in the top 12 who had taken any high options. And it was always interesting. I loved a kind of statistics side of it. You know, that that can it be done, not taking the high options? And you had so many top placings where you didn’t, and that was always like kind of an interesting data point to me while you were taking your time to make him the horse he is now. 

Jen Bliss [00:12:21] Yeah, and that’s what I mean. I mean, I did I did make a lot of conservative choices for him and, you know, was it right was it wrong? Who knows? But it just it just was was how I did it with him, because I just. Wanted him to always think he could do anything. And I just never wanted to take even one sliver of that sort of shy away from him, because that’s what that’s what really makes him him. And yeah, so I was really conservative for a long time. And I, you know, like I said, almost to a fault perhaps, but that was just I just always tried to make the right decisions for him, not necessarily always in the moment for that particular class, but sort of for that for him and that the long range picture and just for him as an individual. 

Piper Klemm [00:13:08] And Hannah, I think I was there for it was either your first or second International Derby with Red Ryder at Old Salem, probably nine, nine years, your first one. And you still have the gray horse. I forget his name. And he clearly yeah, he was around Red Ryder comes out just like literally times over the standards on every single jump. 

Hannah Isop [00:13:34] Complete opposite horse. 

Piper Klemm [00:13:37] And I was like, Oh my gosh. And now, I mean, he’s so confident and calm and relaxed and knows this job. Can you talk a little bit about that process? 

Hannah Isop [00:13:49] So Tracy spotted Ryder. We call him Ryder in the barn, I think as an eight or nine year old in a training jumper class in Florida. And I was with her and she watched him jump down one line and she was immediately in love. And I fell in love shortly after the first time I ever got on him. I it was an immediate connection and we were lucky enough to be able to be able to by him. And that being said, as much as we loved him from the get go, it was a very slow start as he’s probably one of the more sensitive horses I’ve ever worked with. You wouldn’t maybe know that now that he’s very picky from what style he’s in to what he eats now, how he ships. He’s a particular kind of guy. So that took that took a little time to learn and to keep them happy. Because he does try so hard. It took him a little bit to take to the more solid hunter jumps and to be brave and confident from the Hunter Gap. So I would say we really we we took it slow. We did a lot of three, three performance classes gradually build up to three, six. And then I want to say it took maybe 1 to 2 years before we started to do the high performance. And once he was at that point, I you know, I don’t think he’s ever really looked back. He’s been now he’s one of the most game horses I’ve ever ridden. 

Piper Klemm [00:15:26] Let’s talk about kind of the planning process to peak at an event like Derby finals. You know, Amanda, you discussed simulating at the best you could at work, Ocala. Like, how do you plan your year? You say I want to peak this weekend. Like, how do you kind of plan your year backwards? All three of you know your horses so well. So how does that that kind of back planning work to make sure that they’re sound and confident and are really feeling their best for for this outing? Amanda, will you start?

Amanda Steege [00:16:02] Well, first of all, I think that takes a little experience. And I think that’s different with each horse how you how you sit down at the beginning of the year and you make that plan for Lafitte. I mean, he’s still relatively young. He’s 12 years old. He really likes the horse show. And I always think it’s important to make sure that I get him to enough shows and enough classes that he’s not too excited to horse show when we get to Kentucky. But at the same time, I want him to get to Kentucky feeling fresh. And as you said, you know, very sound and set. So we spend a lot of time with his fitness. And then I really do sit down with him and Cheryl at the beginning of the year and we sort of map out a plan. I try to get to a lot of those classes that are in Florida at Ocala. Like I said, just because it’s a huge ring and a huge venue like we have a Derby final and they have really interesting jumps there that are different every week. And they they draw a pretty good crowd, especially for the Friday classes that end up going at night. So I make that a real priority to get to those classes. And then from there we just sit down and look at the schedule for May, June and July, and I try to pick out the venues and the classes that I think make the most sense for a little bit and have the most atmosphere. This year we did a derby in Aiken at the Aiken charity show, which is another really large ring with pretty jumps. And then I chose Devon. I went back and forth a lot between Devon and Upperville, but I felt like Devon got more of a crowd. And that’s something that I want Lafitte to experience throughout the year. And then I felt like we needed to do one show a little bit closer to when their final was happening. So we went to Saugerties in July. They have a new ring there. And and I was I was actually really happy with that show. They had beautiful jumps and it actually ended up to be the perfect set up for us. We did do something new this year for Derby final, which I think worked out great for me, and I hope to be able to do this again next year. We came a week early and we laid over at a friend’s farm on Ironworks Pike, and I really felt like that was helpful for Lafitte. Sometimes he gets to Kentucky and after that long drive, even though we would usually come a few days early, he would get there and feel a little wound up. And it was really great to be in Kentucky a week early and and have a chance to let him relax and turn out in school a little bit off the horse show grounds. And then we moved over to the show on Monday of that week. So I would love to duplicate. I would love to duplicate everything from this past derby finals. With the exception of his unfortunate rail in the finals next year. 

Piper Klemm [00:19:28] And Jen, do you want to talk a little bit about you know, you and Hannah are really catering to your older horses at this point. How do you try to peak and be fit and sound and come away with the same horse you leave for Kentucky with? 

Jen Bliss [00:19:45] Yeah. As Amanda said, I. I think it. It does vary a bit on the individual horse. And for sure with Pokey, you know, that whole process has changed a bit a bit over time. I mean, I, I think it’s always really interesting, but these kind of long term partnerships like we all have, how you sort of have to evolve and grow and adapt a bit along with your horse as they change. I mean, in the beginning, the first couple of times we went to Derby finals, I would say I showed over the summer leading up to it much more than we did fifth year. I’ve probably gotten older. It’s sort of become he kind of knows the game now. It’s it’s more more about keeping him kind of extra fit and interested and it’s sort of more a bit about this physical management than solely just the kind of ring time and practice, which I have to say is. Is the right decision for him at this point. We actually only did three horse shows this summer. You after it was over before Derby finals. I think it’s the right thing for him. But but also but it’s a bit harder for me, I have to say, to feel like, you know, I have to be really mindful and try to find a bit kind of creative ways where I feel like I stay in the groove and sharp and I don’t feel like I, you know, this year in particular, I didn’t sort of have quite as much practice and ring time as I have had in past years, which again, I think was the right decision to have him really feeling it’s best that mentally was perhaps a little bit tougher for me. But yeah, I think you sort of plan it out in the beginning of the year and you try to, you know, you try to save their jump, but also kind of choose a few classes that that kind of simulates that atmosphere and that feeling that you’re going to have at Derby finals so that you practice that and can go home and work on whatever you need to work on and just try to kind of I think we all start with our with our sort of plan for the year working backwards and then. Kind of tweak it as as we go as necessary. 

Piper Klemm [00:22:05] What were the three shows up there? Oh, sorry. Go ahead. 

Amanda Steege [00:22:09] I would say I think that that is part of my thing, too. It’s like you have your plan at the beginning, but it changes as the year goes on. And, you know, you experience one class and you’re like, oh, I need to add one, or I don’t think I should do that one or. 

Jen Bliss [00:22:23] Yeah, you definitely change it as you go, for sure. You have to have a little. 

Hannah Isop [00:22:28] A little flexibility when it comes to horses. 

Jen Bliss [00:22:32] Absolutely. So I did. I did a derby in Tryon, which I really specifically wanted to do because it went at nighttime and stadium and that sort of that sort of I thought was a just a good practice in terms of feeling and atmosphere. So we did that in the beginning of July and then I actually did just two shows this summer at WEC Ocala, which you know, was a bit of a logistical decision, were based now in Wellington. And this year in particular, I just sort of have a quiet group and some younger horses and there’s not that we weren’t traveling a lot this summer and. It in my you know, it wasn’t quite the perfect venue per say, to practice for Derby finals because it was indoors and, you know, a very different kind of venue. But I just felt like he and I both needed to just go to a horse show and get in the ring. And we just went and did that one class, just the derby that they have there and just get in the ring and do it because he is so painfully lazy at home that to be honest, it’s hard to really accomplish much. And he sometimes feels like a small pony that can’t do anything at all. And I just was like, I have to go to a horse show and make sure that we can still do this, because at home it feels like we can’t do anything. He’s so lazy and so uninspired. And so even though it wasn’t the perfect venue per say to get ready for Derby finals, I literally just needed to go jump around in the ring and just sort of see this kind of no, no recreating that feeling at home for Pokey. So that was sort of easy to get to, to just kind of zip in and jump around the Derby and and go back home and keep working on the fitness. But he’s a he’s a he’s a funny guy. That’s that’s just been part of the learning curve to know that he’s one way at home and in the schooling area and just being able to sort of trust that when he goes in the ring, he’s going to he’s going to grow a little and be more be more into it. 

Piper Klemm [00:24:48] Hannah I was sitting at Devon and this someone came up in the stands to sit with me right before you came in and they were like, I’m only here to see him shake his head after the first jump. Can you tell us about kind of getting Ryder’s year organized and then you know how you keep him happy? It I mean, it’s truly impressive at 19 to him doing these classes. 

Hannah Isop [00:25:15] So it’s it’s oh, I’ve been lucky enough to have such a long partnership that we have. How we’ve prepared for Derby finals has certainly changed over the years. Always, we would always show him a little bit more steady because he could try so hard. A younger rider, it was very important for us. We’ve always been. Our home base has always been it. We’ve been lucky enough to have larger rings. So we’ve always done solid walls and brush and log jumps to prepare before we went. So we had a little idea of what he was going feel as is. Over the years, he’s become more confident and with his age, we really we really just focus on his fitness. We don’t jump a lot. We just actually, if anything, before Derby finals, we just really focus on building his fitness and his jumping fitness because we do so little with him at home as far as jumping. So I think we did, and he only comes out for the Derby. So our plan is just not the flat work. He’s a little bit like Pokey in the sense that he doesn’t love to be at home. He really thrives off of a horse show atmosphere and and a crowd that’s really where he shines. So our prep we did, did. We did. And they made Devon just the derby. Then he came home. He did a show in June at Fairfield Derby and then just the two Saugerties Derbies before he went just so he was jumping fit enough to go around the around the rolex. 

Piper Klemm [00:28:21] Let’s talk about Derby finals and what it feels like to do a I think it is, you know, like so many of these shows, it’s hard to get the sense of just like how much pressure is there, you know, from the livestream and stuff. I mean, can you talk about what it’s like going in and knowing you have a really special one and knowing you have a real shot every time you walk in the ring and all the people are there and it’s a lot. And I, I kind of I mean, personally, like I had never done shows like this, and I just counted how much pressure it was. I starting to do indoors a little bit. And the adults I like was like, Oh, this is so different feeling than I expected. And it was kind of shocking to me. So can you know, it’s hard to articulate, but I would love to hear like all three of you talk about what it means to yourself and your business and all that work that you’ve had and that were so many decades like. And it’s all kind of culminating into this this bit of a pressure monster. 

Amanda Steege [00:29:27] Yeah, I mean, I always believe that event and I feel like every year Tim and I get in the car when Derby finals is done and I look at him and I say like, I can’t believe it’s like we have to wait a whole year to do that again. I mean, it it’s so much fun. It’s such a pleasure to get out there in that ring and have all your friends there and all your competitors and people that you only see once a year. And the level of the competition at that show and the intricacy of the course, the jumps are not only are the jumps beautiful, but I’m always so taken aback by how large the jumps are. I mean, not not only the high ups and jumps, which we expect to be big, but when you walk the course, the first day in particular this year, there was a oxer oxer two stride across the middle and it wasn’t a high option it was just the only option. And and it’s big and it’s scopey, but the horses, they really seem to rise to the occasion in that ring and in that class. And I just love doing it so much. But yeah, there’s there’s a lot of pressure. I mean you have your your expectation then I at this point I just I really don’t want to let Lafitte down. I mean, just like I said, he’s 12 years old and I really hope that I’m going to be here talking to you when he’s 19 years old. Like Hannah is about Ryder. But but you just don’t know how long you’re going to keep them happy and healthy and at the top of their game. So I really think Lafitte deserves to win that class and I really hope he’s going to get to win that class at some point in his career. And and all of that create a lot of stress and pressure, I think. Over the course of my career, not just with him, but with other nice horses that I’ve had. I’ve developed tactics for for dealing with that and for making those nerves go into a positive direction. But it’s definitely not the easiest thing. And I think each one of us here would be lying if we didn’t say we were nervous. I mean, we we got there and we’ve worked hard and our clients, their owners have supported us for the whole year in order to get there. And our Vet and our farrier, it’s like it’s such a large team and you feel like you sort of have everybody expectations and hopes and dreams riding on your shoulders. So it is difficult, but I try to let that go and make those nerves work for me in a positive direction by I use a lot of visualizing techniques that are sitting by myself, going over the course, and usually once I’m on the horse and in the schooling area and walking into the ring, I can I can let most of that go. It’s it’s the the anticipation or the buildup while you’re waiting. 

Piper Klemm [00:32:43] Jen you had lots of build up while you were waiting on Friday this year. I think you what did you you went like 84th or something in the order of maybe. 

Jen Bliss [00:32:55] I did. I did. I went really late, which is hard on the first day. 

Piper Klemm [00:33:00] And those trips, are long. 

Jen Bliss [00:33:04] Yeah that was a long day. I was I was joking with Hannah at one point during the week and I was like, do you think everyone feels this way? Do you think everyone feels this nervous? But honestly, I think they do. I mean, I have friends who. I have a close friend who was there doing it for the very first time. And then I have friends who have done it so many times. And I think everyone feels that pressure and those nerves. And I don’t think it’s you know, at this point, I don’t think it’s an outward thing. I don’t think it’s about, you know, how many people are watching or or that I think it’s about that We all just don’t want to let our horse down, don’t want to let our team down. You know, it’s taken so much to get there and. You know, it feels a bit like it’s on you walking into that ring. And, you know, we just want to do the best we can for our horse and our team. So I think there there definitely is a lot of pressure and a lot of nerves and a lot of atmosphere, and I think there’s no replacement for experience and just doing it. And each year coming back and just trying to do it a little bit better. And I sort of accepted the fact that I’m never going to not be nervous. That’s just the reality of it. I’m nervous. I’m extra nervous at a horse show like that, but at almost every horse. So it’s just it’s just who I am and it’s how it is. And so I’ve, you know, I’ve worked really hard on that piece of it to be able to handle those situations. And I think it really comes down to focusing on controlling what you can control for your horse and yourself and your team and doing what you can do to kind of help it go right instead of worrying about all the things that could possibly go wrong. And then it just it it works. It’s going to work out how it works out and just sort of doing what what you can do. But I think you have to be mentally prepared for that because it’s hard no matter what. And then there’s always like a few curveballs. Like for me personally, it was going so late on Friday this year, going 84th out of 86. I looked at the order on Thursday night and was like, Oh, you know, for a moment I was kind of upset about it. And then I just said, You know what? I’m not going to worry about it because there’s actually nothing I can do about the order. So I just did my thing and kept myself busy. And I joked that I made myself quiet on Friday. I must have walked 100 miles around that for show because also I was there with one horse and just sort of staying out of my own head and not getting all worked up about it was was a challenge. But that’s all that’s all part of it. Being able to to handle all those pieces of the whole experience. 

Piper Klemm [00:36:03] And Hannah, how did you how did you kind of feel and how to did you process all of your your emotions of it. 

Hannah Isop [00:36:13] So similar to Jen, I’m one of those people that I’m always nervous when I go into the ring And mental work has been a huge, a huge thing that I’ve had to work on within myself, especially huge events like that. And when we when we want it so badly for our team, but most more importantly, our our horse, you can put a lot on your shoulders. And so I you know, I focus on the preparation, knowing that I’ve done everything within myself and my horse to get ready for, for the class and for those 2 minutes in the ring. I do a lot of breath work and visualization as well and and know about they’re horses and It’s you know, a lot can happen and know that we’re putting our best foot forward but. Mistakes happen and things happen. And you have to. You have to not put so much pressure on being perfect and just really stay in the moment and do the best you can within that moment. And and it’s hard you know I really. Ryder at 19 similar to Pokey at 18 we don’t know how many classes we have left. So especially as Ryder gets older, I almost put more pressure on myself because I want it so badly for him. And, you know, I think he deserves the world. So for me as a rider, I, you know, I it’s it’s a lot to put on your shoulders, so I just have To remember that. It’s just special getting in the ring on him and just focus on that moment and not the result. The end result or the ribbon or the outcome to being the moment have the best ride you can have. And from there it’s a subjective sport, so there’s only so much you can do. 

Piper Klemm [00:38:08] Yeah, well, and speaking of that, Hannah, you have the biggest spread. In that if the three judging panels were judging separately after round one, you were first, sixth and 26th, and they were all sitting in, like roughly the same place that I just was like, Huh, You know, I did this. All three of you have kind of alluded to what’s in your control and what isn’t. And, you know. That the angling and how old these jumps look from the different angles. All you can do is your best essentially. 

Hannah Isop [00:38:41] Yeah well for for me I think that’s huge in the hunters. If you’re really just focusing on for me at least if I’m really you know, you have to keep in mind it’s a subjective sport and you can only control what you can control. And and you really have to just be in the, at the end of the day, happy with your team, your horse and your ride. And the rest is the rest. 

Piper Klemm [00:39:07] Can you talk a little bit about kind of that? Preparing for the night class is different, You know, how is preparing for Saturday night different from from preparing for Friday? How do you you know, how does your horse like to warm up? You know, Amanda, like, what are you doing with Lafitte on Saturday during the day to have him be comfortable and happy for the evening? 

Amanda Steege [00:39:31] I mean, our routine stays the same. Basically, whether it was Friday or Saturday, it’s just the little bit that the timing is different. So on. On Friday. I got on with the early like 6:00 and rode him up to the Rolex ring, which is the hike we were in barn three. So it’s like it’s probably a really long hike for Pokey. It was at least 20 or 25 minute walk for us to get up there. So on Friday I rode him early, like around six before the riders meeting and the course walk. And then Tim always takes him out for a little lunge, like a little closer to when he’s going to go. So we sort of kept the routine the same on Saturday, except that my ride was like around nine or 10:00 in the morning. I didn’t want to just sit around all day. He needs to get out and get moving around. So I did his ride then, and then he did a lot of hand grazing and getting out of his stall and just, you know, moving around and relaxing. And then Tim took him out again a little bit closer to the class. But I would say at this stage of the game, Lafitte doesn’t really take a lot of work to get to the ring. I mean, I, I sort of always am consistent with what I do with him and a nice ride. Or we usually jump a gymnastics before the the first day. The first time when I did my morning ride, we jump a little gymnastic with him and we always do the same one. I feel like at this point he knows when he jump that gymnastic that something important is happening. But yeah, we just try to keep it as consistent as we can, even when it even when it’s going to be later in the day. 

Piper Klemm [00:41:30] Jen, what are you doing with Pokie? To budget. His his late night energy. 

Jen Bliss [00:41:35] Yeah, and to Amanda’s point. I also think that one of the big challenges of these types of classes and events is not. Feeling the need to sort of change your normal routine. I think that’s kind of human nature to feel like you have to do a little bit more or do a little bit different or, you know, there’s so many top people and horses and and everything at this event that I think it’s. It’s easy to want to to want to change up the routine a little bit. And I think that that’s something you gain with the experience of not being tempted to do that. And, you know, with Pokey in particular, he’s I mean, no one loves them more than I do, but he’s a little strange and his routine is a little strange. And, you know, we’re joking in the schooling area, like everybody’s jumping mountain and I’m, you know, jumping my three foot three vertical like I’m getting ready for the, you know, peregrines or something. But I know my horse. I know if he gets too careful in the schooling area that that works against them like he has to, he has to just sort of fly out and just feel kind of very relaxed and very comfortable. And so we have our our routine and. We stick to it, even though it’s it’s a bit it’s a bit different. And so like this week, you know, he just sort of did its his normal thing to them just gave him a nice flat in the morning and then on Friday and then again. Yes. Like Amanda said, it’s just about sort of timing things correctly depending on when you go because you could go at eight in the morning or you could go to in the afternoon like I did. So just sort of timing it. And, you know, he got out a bunch of times just to just to walk and stretch and just sort of keep his his mind a bit busy. And then, you know, I feel like he he tried really hard on Friday and maybe started to get, you know, a little a little bold towards the end of the course, which he he can do a joke. It’s either small pony or full on steeplechase mode. There’s kind of nothing in between being the funny horse that he is. So on Saturday morning I just got on and I did a few a few poems and just did some circles each way and just made him land and go forward and land and come back and just tried to sort of like regroup, tone things down so I could kind of press the reset button and start fresh for Saturday night. And yeah, I think it’s just about sort of sticking with your routine that that got you there or whatever, whatever that might be for that horse. 

Piper Klemm [00:44:17] And Hannah, what’s your what’s your routine looking like? 

Hannah Isop [00:44:20] I think I had the easier the easiest job of everyone in the class preparing Ryder on Saturday. It was really just more about getting him out of his stall, going for walks grass, making sure he was physically loosened up and stretched and feeling good. And then we did a light flat in the afternoon, which I actually did bareback, just to get myself centered and get some sort of flat work in with him. And that was really it. And I will say I was feeling very confident about that plan and until I was in the schooling area and then I was like, Should I have done more? Should have I had a set of I working longer? But, but it comes down to knowing your horse and knowing that sometimes more isn’t isn’t better. And and I’m lucky. As I said, he really just thrives off of that. And this year it’s really where he’s he’s happiest with the crowd around him and and so I was just really mostly making sure that he was loosened up and ready to go out and do his best. 

Piper Klemm [00:45:35] Jen, your point is so interesting. I always say that just in case is what ruins horses because it’s so easy to kind of look around and say, Oh, so-and-so’s doing this. I better I better prepare this way just in case. Oh my gosh, while everyone else is like doing this, I better do that just in case. I think it’s such an interesting point. And to evolve the self-confidence to to do right by each individual horse takes decades and takes a lot of work on yourself to be that confident in your abilities. So, Amanda, can you kind of talk about that a little bit of how to, like, keep focused on your horse’s best interest for each individual horse? 

Amanda Steege [00:46:23] For sure. That takes time and experience. I mean, I grew up the daughter of a professional, and so I feel like from an early age, I sort of learned that about the horses. I mean, it seemed so just intuitive for me to treat them as individuals and come up with individual plans and to try to keep your plan consistent at big events. But like Jen said, I can understand that that viewpoint of getting to Devon or getting to Derby finals and seeing other people riding their horses multiple times a day or doing a lot more work and feeling like maybe you’re doing it wrong. But I think I, I learned pretty early to just stick, to stick to my plan, stick to my instinct, treat each horse like an individual. And that is always seemed to have worked for me to just have, you know, a great team and keep your team consistent. I think that you see a lot of barns that have so many changes, right? Like they have different people all the time. I mean, Tim and I have been Laiftte’s rider and caretaker since he arrived in the country. And and we’ve had to evolve as he’s evolved and changed the routine and changed things. But basically we spend the majority of our day thinking about that horse then and all of our horses and trying to do the very best for them that we can. And it’s really important when you get to those big events to have the same person and the same people that have helped you get there. 

Piper Klemm [00:48:07] And Jen, I know you have had really consistent people with Pokey, too. Can you talk about that? I think that’s such an interesting point. And it also, Lends to just how complicated our sport is, that maintaining business size, staffing, etc., like all of these things are not simple and cannot be taken for granted. But as part of these long standing partnerships and big results. 

Jen Bliss [00:48:32] Yeah, I absolutely agree with what Amanda said. I have sort of a similar set up with Davey and I and poky, you know, sort of always have been his people. And, you know, in terms of managing him and preparing for these type of classes, it’s interesting. You know, Tim and Davey, they know those horses and as closely as we do, but perhaps in in even a little bit of a different way. And I think having that partnership and that balance is is so helpful. I mean, I’ll always often say to him, you know, how did you how did he feel to you? What you what do you think? You know, and and just sort of helping to stick with the routine. I think that’s the team component of it is is is vital. 

Amanda Steege [00:49:22] Yeah, I think it was Saturday night. So I’m on Friday for Lafitte. Like in the schooling area and getting ready. He was perfect and relaxed and I knew he was ready. On Saturday night I had a little moment where I was like, feeling a little nervous. Kind of like what Hannah said about, you know, did we do enough with him? And I stopped and I said to Tim, like, he feels like a little bit amped up. And he was like, He’s fine. He’s just as excited to get out there as you are, which proved to be the case. I mean, as soon as I got out in the ring, he was absolutely perfect. But it’s great to have somebody there on the ground that knows the horse and knows the horse’s personality that well, that he can sort of calm my nerves when needed. 

Hannah Isop [00:50:10] Absolutely. I think Tracy is that to me as well. I’m just going to add that a lot of people for big events like that lose the horsemanship side of it. That’s where it kind of like the pressure kind of takes on, to, to have that perfect moment. And I think having a solid team on the ground that puts the horse first is is really is really important. 100%. 

Piper Klemm [00:50:39] All right, So before we go, who who do you think’s going to win Derby finals next year? 

Jen Bliss [00:50:47] I think first, second and third. Yeah. We’re going to tie and not have a jump off Can I just. Can I just add one thing before we’re before we’re done here? I just want to say that I think I can probably speak for all of us, but I personally, I just have so much respect for Amanda and Hannah and, and, and their partnerships. Like, I just. I love. I think we all have a great relationship. I think we all cheer for each other and have so much respect for each other. And I think that that’s really a really fun piece of it, you know, And I think these partnerships with these horses, it’s so special. And I read an article recently about Liza and Brunello, and Jack said something like, Would he have been the same horse without Liza riding him? Who knows? We never had to find out. And I think it’s a little bit the same like with with our horses. Like there’s something about that chemistry. It’s like, you know, they may not be perfect, but they’re perfect for us. And I watch Hannah and Ryder and Amanda and Lafitte, and it’s just. It’s. It’s it’s something special when you have that kind of relationship with the horse. And I just think they do such a beautiful job. And I think it’s it’s. It’s just a really fun thing to watch them with their horses and for all of us to sort of be doing this together and cheering each other on, I think it’s a special thing. 

Hannah Isop [00:52:13] Thank you Jen. And and I agree it’s and the whole class and the whole caliber of horses and partnerships, it’s it is an amazing thing to be part of. Very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to experience it. 

Amanda Steege [00:52:29] For me as well for sure. 

Piper Klemm [00:52:32] Thank you all so much for joining us. Congratulations on yet another amazing Derby finals. Good luck with all of your horses this winter. And hopefully we see three even more mature partnerships at Derby Finals next year. 

Piper Klemm [00:54:10] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit You can find show notes at Follow the Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse magazine at Please rate and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring!