Wellington, Fla. – Feb 7, 2020 – The Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) is host to some of the world’s most talented riders during the winter show season. Everyone from jumpers to hunters, and professionals to juniors, there is no shortage of greatness that competes here. In the world of equestrian sport, jumper riders compete on an international stage and hunter riders are well-known specifically in the United States. They ride remarkably-bred horses and aim to show off their athletic and artistic abilities in the show ring. While there are many admirable hunter riders competing at WEF, there are currently two celebrity riders gracing Wellington with their talents. As of Feb. 5, 2020, Scott Stewart and John French were announced as 2020 National Show Hunter Hall of Fame Nominees. It comes as no surprise that these two have had impeccable careers showing as juniors as well as professionals.
Scott Stewart is a name equestrians all know and a man they look up to for his sportsmanship and his string of talented young hunters. As of date, his career holds a catalog of accomplishments including winning the World Champion Hunter Rider (WCHR) title a total of five times, the Leading Hunter Rider distinction numerous times at world-class shows and countless champion and grand champion ribbons for his efforts in the show ring. He makes riding the challenging young hunters look effortless, while also showing off the strengths of the more experienced horses. To be considered for this award is an honor and, based on his expertise in the show ring and sportsmanship outside of it, Stewart has definitely achieved his nomination.
A longtime competitor and fellow horseman of Stewart’s, French is also nominated to be inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. French started out his riding career like many individuals by working diligently for opportunities. That ethic enabled French to advance from his junior career into his professional career in addition to developing one of the top barns on the West Coast. He has won countless titles at horse shows, including Leading Hunter Rider, champion and grand champion awards, multiple wins in the World Champion Hunter Rider Finals, and is most known for his winning ride on Rumba in the inaugural USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship in 2009. French has made a name for himself within the industry, making him a top choice for this award.
Stewart was very humble at the fact he was nominated to be inducted and incredibly honored to be considered for such an amazing award. He credits most of his successes to his partner, Ken Berkley, and all the horses they have worked together to bring along. Stewart feels unbelievably proud when he sees those horses succeeding in their careers with juniors and amateurs. That is also what he believes to be his biggest contribution to the sport. He continues to advance the sport by keeping the hunter divisions flooded with top-quality horses that help ensure tough competition. It is evident that Stewart wants to be a part of the growth of the sport.
However, the hunter division isn’t just about the horses for Stewart. People like Charlie Weaver, Danny Robertshaw and Leslie Rolahan have made a huge impact on Stewart’s career. The way they treated their horses and the people that helped them get to where they are in their careers influenced how Stewart tackled becoming the horseman he is today. He gives credit to his competitors for keeping the quality of competition high and he appreciates their dedication in growing the sport. When asked, Stewart wants to be most remembered by the tough competition he brought and the sportsmanship he showed towards everyone he came across.
From French’s perspective, he never believed he would get this far. When he was 16 years old, he almost stopped riding, however, it was the overwhelming desire to want to be great within the sport that made him decide to borrow a horse and train himself at the Maryland Equitation Finals. That winning ride changed the perspective of professionals in the industry and made them realize how hard he was willing to work to achieve anything. He was given catch ride opportunities and eventually moved to the West Coast, where for the past 30 years he has worked to raise the competition standard. French plans on continuing that success on both coasts and credits his past success to that hard work as well as the individuals who have aided in the growth of his career. He hopes to have inspired people to do the same.
Even after many years in the business and countless wins, French is not alone in thinking that there is always something to learn. He admits to watching and learning from his competitors, like Stewart, and is ecstatic to now be working for and learning from international show jumping challenger, Kent Farrington, who has purchased a string of hunter horses. French is now able to focus his attention on training, riding and competing. French clearly has a passion for growing the industry across the nation. French hopes to be remembered as an inspiration to people to achieve their goals by showing the world that everyone, no matter where you come from, can achieve greatness.
Both individuals are deserving of their nominations into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. Wellington has been graced with greatness this season by so many top horseman and these two are no exception. Good luck to both professionals!
WORDS FROM THE NOMINEES:
Scott Stewart – National Show Hunter Hall of Fame Nominee
On being nominated:
“I am shocked, really. It is quite an honor and I am grateful for the chance to win the award. It’s a huge honor really.”
On his biggest accomplishments of his career:
“As a rider, my biggest accomplishments include maintaining a lot of nice horses over many years and being champion and grand champion as well as leading rider at most of the major horse shows multiple times. As a trainer, having juniors and amateurs be so successful.”
On how he has helped grow the sport:
“To keep things in perspective, when you are a junior you really want it so bad and you try to achieve it. To achieve anything is one thing but the pressure to maintain it is something else. As a rider, you need to appreciate what everyone does for you and what the community of riders does. Everyone is out there trying to do the same thing and accomplish the same thing, and the camaraderie between everyone is just happy.”
On how he has helped grow the hunter division:
“I have always enjoyed young horses. With Ken [Berkley], producing babies and bringing young horses along to this level is really rewarding. I have focused on that all these years so it is always nice to see the horses we have brought along to go on and be junior and amateur horses. Just keeping the level of the hunters up is a big deal.”
On what riders he looks up to most:
“Growing up as a young professional, I always looked up to Charlie Weaver, Danny Robertshaw and Leslie Rolahan. I loved all those top riders at the time and watching them. As well as my current competitors, I look up to most of them and I appreciate what they do. It is just the little things they do and the way they treat their horses that I admire most.”
On his goals the rest of the 2020 show season:
“Next week, WEF VI, we are gearing up to have all our horses peak that week. After week six, horses I have been showing probably won’t show much at all and I will start to show the younger group of horses to get them going because they haven’t done very much. Then we will take a break until Kentucky Spring.”
On what he wants to be remembered most by:
“I hope to be remembered by the fact I was a good competitor and that I stood behind my fellow competitors and supported their accomplishments.”
John French – National Show Hunter Hall of Fame Nominee
On being nominated:
“It is an honor to be nominated alongside everyone else on the list; they are all so amazing. I have stiff competition. I never would have thought that growing up in Maryland as a kid that I would get this far, and if it wasn’t for the catch rides that I got and the people throughout the years that I have worked for, I truly can’t thank them enough. I am lucky to have started out working for the Lenehans and Kenny Heuckeroth, and people like that who started my career. Then there was the opportunity on the West Coast, which I never thought I would go to. Over 30 years there now and I just hope I can keep going. I want to get more good years out of it.”
On his biggest accomplishments riding and training:
“For riding, in the hunters, for sure Rumba winning the inaugural International Hunter Derby Finals was super exciting. It takes a lot to get a horse to peak at the right time. Having them fresh enough and schooled the way you want – everything fell into place that weekend. It was one of those moments; the whole weekend I couldn’t believe it. Everything was turning out so well. He was so on and he just wanted to win it. I have ridden a lot in California for Archie Cox and his top hunters like Boss and Overseas. There was a year in Washington that I was Leading Hunter Rider and got champion in almost every division that year. To come back to the east coast and be back in the place where I came from feels nice. It’s the same thing with this award being in Pennsylvania, maybe my family can come see it if I get it. It is always fun surprising people with horses from the West Coast back at Indoors and Capital Challenge.”
On how he believes he has helped grow the sport:
“On the West Coast, I think being a rider that competes back on the East Coast and wins championships shows that others on the West Coast can do it, as well. They can come back east as well. I hope I inspire them to do that because many people think it is just for people on the East Coast and that it is too hard for a West Coast rider to compete there. I think I have helped people want to get top hunters and inspire them to show back east and go to big shows. I hope that I have inspired not only professionals, but also juniors and amateurs to want to do this and stay in the sport.”
On who he looks up to most in the sport:
“I would have to say Scott [Stewart] is someone you have to admire because he has produced top hunters year after year and is super successful. He is one of the ones that every year when I go back to Capital Challenge, we always have to go neck-and-neck against each other. I look up to him and what he has done.”
On goals for future career:
“I just made a move and I have joined forces with Kent Farrington. I am riding for Kent now. He has found some really nice hunters and I think I will be showing more here in Florida and on the East Coast. I am very excited about working with him because he is such an incredible horseman and even though it is late in my career, I still have things to learn from people all the time. I am really looking forward to learning from him and I already have learned some just in the short amount of time I have been here. I am looking forward to focusing a lot on the riding and less on running the business. Now I can concentrate on riding and teaching.”
On what he wants to be most remembered by:
“I think as someone who grew up in Maryland and didn’t come from a lot. I really thought I would quit riding at 16 because I couldn’t afford to do it at the level I wanted. I worked hard and at 16 years old I decided to train myself. I borrowed a horse and went to the Maryland Finals and trained myself and won. It was after that, people saw how hard I worked and that I wanted it. People will give you opportunities when you work hard at it, and when you are kind to people and the horses. Hopefully I am remembered by that, as someone who didn’t have a lot but was able to make it in the sport.”
For the full list of nominees, please click here. (http://www.nationalshowhunterhalloffame.com/halloffame.htm)