Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 28, 2020 – The eighth installment of the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) featured top hunter competition Friday, February 28, as horse and athlete pairs were invited to contend for the top prize in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. Out of a field of 56 entries, the top 12 were pared down and invited back to the handy round to decide the class leader. In the end, it was Hannah Isop that held her lead following the first round of competition to claim the blue ribbon aboard Believe, owned by Victoria Hart.
Course designer Andy Christiansen set a 12-obstacle track that challenged riders through a course that spanned across both Ring 11 and 12. The expansive track allowed riders to showcase their mounts’ skills. Riders were offered four high option fences throughout the first-round course as they navigated their way through bending lines, in-and-out combinations and natural fences. Two panels of judges decided the fate of the class, with Isop and Believe topping the field of riders following the first round of competition. The pair earned scores of 93 and 90 from the judges to take the early lead with a total first-round score of 183. Sitting in second place, just four points behind Isop, was Elizabeth Towell-Boyd aboard Carento as well as Meghan Muray-Tenuta riding Last Word, with both pairs earning a total score of 179 in the first round.
Following the first round, the top 12 riders were invited back to the arena to compete over a shortened, 9-obstacle handy track. Christiansen again offered riders the chance to earn bonus points over four high option fences, adding an extra challenge by incorporating a trot fence and tight rollback turns. Handy bonus points were up for grabs from both panels of judges, encouraging riders to really showcase their finesse around the course. Returning to the arena in reverse order, each pair hoped to impress the judges enough to take the lead from Isop and Believe.
Climbing the ranks from the sixth position was Jennifer Hannan aboard her own mount Olympic Fire, a 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding. As a seasoned derby competitor, Hannan piloted Olympic Fire with ease over all four of the high option fences, earning an impressive total of 17 handy bonus points from the judging panel. Hannan and the gelding received two scores of 98 to earn a total handy round score of 196. The pair’s overall score of 374 would be enough to push them into the top spot heading into the final few competitors.
Though the pairs that followed would attempt to unseat Hannan and Olympic Fire’s lead, none emerged successful. As the last horse and rider pair to contest the handy round, the pressure was on for Isop and Believe to hold their first place position. With just five points separating Isop and Hannan’s first round score, there was no room for error as Isop navigated the gelding through the handy track. She flawlessly tackled all four high option fences, piloting Believe over the trot fence with ease and showing off the gelding’s handiness around the turns. Isop and Believe would ultimately emerge victorious, earning 16 handy bonus points from the judging panel and handy round scores of 99 and 100 to top the class with an overall score of 382.
In addition to Friday’s win, Isop and Believe earned the High Performance Hunter championship Thursday afternoon in the E.R. Mische Grand Hunter Arena. Isop has had the ride on Hart’s gelding for nearly three years, and the pair has been climbing the ranks together as their partnership has grown. Isop is looking ahead to WEF Week Twelve’s $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby in the hopes of again taking the top spot aboard Believe.
Hannan and Olympic Fire would ultimately close out the class claiming second place with a total overall score of 374. Rounding out the top three was another derby veteran, Victoria Colvin, riding Avatar Z, owned by William Lyles. Over the two rounds of competition, Colvin and Avatar Z earned a total score of 372.25 from the two judging panels to claim third place.
Hunter competition will continue for two more days of the eighth week of WEF with champion crownings. Week Twelve will feature the next and final USHJA International Derby of the season, which will take place Saturday, Mar. 28 in the Stadium Derby Field at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival grounds.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Hannah Isop – $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby winner
On her win:
“I felt very confident, [Believe] has had a great week. He was champion in the High Performance Hunter this week. This is a really lovely venue and I am very happy that WEF decided to open up this ring to the International and National Derbies. It’s a great open space, which is perfect for this horse because he has a big stride, so I could really show off in round one. I thought the ring and the course let me do that. I was happy with it, he was super.“
On the handy round:
“My plan going into the handy was to keep it cool. As well as having a really big stride, [Believe] is incredibly handy and I think that really helped us with this course. He’s got a great trot jump to him. He handled the inside turns with no problem. He is plenty scopey, he let me gallop right on down to the last oxer, which was quite big. I think that was actually the best part of the trip.“
“He came over from Europe as a jumper and he was just starting out in the hunters, so we really took our time the first year. We worked on clapping because clapping gets him excited, and learning to go soft and smooth through the course. I wouldn’t call him hot, he was more amped, high power, and he needed to learn to relax and take a big deep breath before he went in the ring. We started with little classes the first year and it’s worked out. He has been a really great horse for me, I’m very lucky! I’ve been very fortunate to have the partnership with him for the last several years. Without the owners this wouldn’t be possible, so I would like to thank the Hart Family. He has terrific people behind him – it really does take a village.”
$25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 Score / R2 Score / Total
1. Believe / Hannah Isop / Victoria Hart / 183 / 199 / 382
2. Olympic Fire / Jennifer Hannan / Jennifer Hannan / 178 / 196 / 374
3. Avatar Z / Victoria Colvin / William Lyles / 178.25 / 194 / 372.25
4. In Writing / Kelley Farmer / Larry Glefke & Wendy Hofmeister / 178.75 / 193 / 371.75
5. Carento / Elizabeth Towell Boyd / Sherri Crawford / 179 / 192.5 / 371.5
6. Last Word / Meagan Murray-Tenuta / Rebecca Price / 179 / 192.5 / 371.5
7. Uptown / Laena Romond / Laena Romond / 176.5 / 193 / 369.5
8. Dynamo / Peter Wylde / Michelle Kamine / 177.25 / 184 / 361.25
9. Durant / Colin Syquia / Eurasia Inc. / 174.25 / 170 / 344.25
10. Ocean Road / Keri Kampsen / Keri Kampsen & Lexy Reed / 175 / 169 / 344
11. Cheeky / Augusta Iwasaki / Meagan Murray-Tenuta / 174 / 170 / 344
12. Fabulous / Ailish Cunniffe / Whipstick Farm LTD / 177.3 / 154 / 331.3