Ryan Sassmannhausen Dominates $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby at HITS Chicago With First and Second Place

Hunter derby action kicked off on Friday, May 24, 2024, during the third week of the Lamplight Spring Series at HITS Chicago in Wayne, Illinois, with the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – one of three derbies scheduled for the weekend. A competitive field of 17 horse-and-rider combinations aimed for a top performance in the hunt-and-go format class, seeking to impress the judges in one continuous round. The event concluded with two stunning rounds from Ryan Sassmannhausen of St. Charles, Illinois, who took home first place with Signature, owned by Alyssa Quinn, and second place with Hero, owned by Tucker Bolvig.

United States Course Designer Dean Battaglia was the mastermind behind the hunt-and-go derby track, combining a classic hunter round and a handy round into one course. Both portions are scored separately and yield a final total score. The classic part of the course featured two high options, a two-stride combination, and many opportunities for riders to create their own track. Fence eight, an oxer towards the back of the ring, marked the end of the classic portion. Riders then cantered straight into the adjacent arena to continue with their handy round, which featured two more high options, a trot fence, and multiple opportunities for riders to choose an inside track.

Ryan Sassmannhausen and Signature. Photo by ESI Photography

Ryan Sassmannhausen and Signature truly dazzled the judges with their round, earning a score of 177 to take home the winning honors.

“Signature actually trains with a good friend of mine, Ashley Hill, for whom I do some catch riding,” explained Sassmannhausen of how he got the ride on the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Etoulon VDL) “Last year, he did the 3’ greens with me and just started entering the derbies. This is his second year, and now he’s doing fantastic in the 3’3″ greens and in derbies. He is still young but a really nice and impressive horse.”

Sassmannhausen’s second-place partner, Hero, had a beautiful round and nearly took the top spot with a score of 176.

“My sister-in-law bought Hero off a video because he looked cute,” shared Sassmannhausen of the 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Caspar) “We didn’t necessarily intend to go straight into the derby ring with him. Normally, we spend some time with new horses, but we brought him to the show and he turned out to be totally in the game..

“What sets Hero apart from other horses I’ve ridden is that he’s extremely scopey and his stride is gigantic,” he continued. “=He was exceptional today, and I was really happy with his performance.” 

Sassmannhausen, who is based out of his family’s Kinvarra Farm in St. Charles, Illinois, appreciated the opportunity to compete at HITS Chicago – just down the road from home.

“One of the things I love most about competing at the Lamplight Equestrian Center is my ability to go back and forth between the show and the farm. I like to bring my young horses to the show for weekend trips to give them exposure and experience. There are so many classes offered and good prize money. The facility is beautiful, and it’s like a second home to me.”

Sassmannhausen concluded by expressing his appreciation: “I just want to give a huge thank you to the owners of the horses I got to ride today. For Signature, I would love to thank Ashley Hill, the trainer, for letting me represent her in the ring, and Alyssa Quinn, the owner of Signature. I really appreciate them allowing us to develop these horses and show them off in some of these classes. It’s a big deal for us, and we love the opportunity. Another big thanks to Tucker and Eric Sassenhausen with Hero — they really have a good one on their hands, and I’m excited to help in his journey.”

Cody Wooten and Charmander, his own nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Vivant Van De Heffinck), rounded out the top three with a score of 173.

Hunter derby excitement continued on Saturday, May 25, with junior and amateur competitors vying for top prizes. Avery Roper from Hobart, Indiana, claimed the blue ribbon in the $500 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby with a strong performance on Samantha Roper’s nine-year-old Welsh Pony Cross mare, Sparkle (Land’s End Monarch). The week’s derby events concluded with Sandra Waters from Evanston, Illinois, winning the $500 Tiny Bit O’ 2’ Hunter Derby on her nine-year-old Warmblood gelding, Harbour Lights (Harbour Side).