MHJA New Year Premier 2020

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By Francesca Senior; Photos by Marie Cobb.Ree Photographics

The Mississippi Hunter Jumper Association’s (MHJA) second annual New Year Premier Horse Show was held in Brandon, MS at The Rankin County Multipurpose Pavilion, January 2-5, 2020.

The holiday horse show drew competitors from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, offering over $18,000 in prize money along with special rider and horse recognition awards. The show was recognized by and affiliated with Louisiana, Mississippi, and Gulf Coast Hunter Jumper Associations, so members were also able to accrue points in their respective divisions towards year end awards.

The excitement kicked off Thursday night with the $2,020 1.15m Open Gambler’s Choice Jumper Classic, which was accompanied by a Chili Cookout Welcome Party, hosted by farrier Jonathan Walters.

The class called for costume or formal attire and had riders navigate their horses over a pattern of jumps of their own choosing, picking up points for each jump cleared in the allotted time, with higher values set on tougher obstacles. “The Joker” was a vertical jump at the far end of the arena, worth an additional 100 points to the riders who took the chance and jumped it clear. Announcer Stephanie Santos kept score in real time for the audience.

Heidi Simmons of Lafayette, LA, aboard her Thoroughbred gelding Leonidas, trained by Tricia Rabalais, returned to claim the win for the second consecutive year. Longtime partners, Leonidas and Heidi were also Champion in the 1.20m Junior/ Amateur Owner Jumper Division and, in a true demonstration of versatility, finished 11th in the Hunter Derby on Saturday.

Friday evening the $5,000 Five Bar Competition got underway, along with an exhibitor’s party hosted by Winterview Farm and Patti Wright-Shoemaker.

After four exciting elimination rounds, only three horses remained to contest the final row of vertical jumps, each separated by two strides. Show manager Steve Dean and his “Dean Team” raised the jumps, setting the last obstacle to well over five and a half feet. The crowd watched as Baton Rouge, LA native Kelsey Gore carefully navigated her big chestnut Holsteiner/Selle Francais gelding “Goldfinger” through the jumps, emerging victorious as the only pair to jump clean through the fifth and final round!

Trainer and mother of Kelsey, and of “Goldie,” Janet Talmadge joined her daughter in the ring to accept the award. Having trained one of the five bar winners last year, 2019 Style of Riding Award winner Mackenzie Robards, made this a repeat win for her Ravenwood Farm Team. As it turned out, Kelsey Gore was this year’s recipient of the CWD sponsored “Style of Riding Award.”

Madison, MS rider Allison Tussey, who trains at Blue Ribbon Riding Academy, on her mare “Coccinelle” followed in second place, with only four faults. “Vega,” as she is known around the barn, undoubtably touched many hearts in the crowd with her comparatively small frame, paired with the fire and desire and unshakable confidence in her longtime partner Allison.

On that level, the horse-human bond is what this is all about. If you strive for anything, strive for building an honest relationship with your horse.

The Equitation on the Flat Invitational Championship was also held Friday. Riders qualified by placing first or second in the Equitation on the Flat classes. USEF/USHJA Big R Judge Laureen McKenzie called riders into the center of the ring as she tested the remaining riders until one rider remained – the winner Julia Miller. Julia also earned title of Best Child Rider at the show, sponsored by CWD Sellier, receiving a $500 gift certificate from CWD. Julia rides with Trey Bennett at Riverwood Farm in Vaughn, MS.

The highlighted classes picked up Saturday morning with junior rider Ella Buettner riding to the win in the $500 Hopeful Jumper Classic, sponsored by Tack of the Town, on her horse A Wrinkle In Time. Ella trains with her mom, Cambridge Stables Owner Tricia Rabalais.

The Westin Hotel Under Saddle Invitational Championship class attracted seventeen qualified entries. “Cigalus” rose to the top of the class to claim the title, best mover at the show, with owner Regan Felder of Madison, MS. 

Saturday evening’s hospitality was sponsored and provided by Riverwood Farm and Susan and Olivia Walt.

Saturday Night finished with the $4,500 New Year Premier Hunter Derby. The class was conducted in the traditional two-round derby format. Each round, by course designer Ginger Black of Fort Worth, TX, offered three high option jumps worth one bonus point each. The horses were scored after their first round, and the top twelve returned in reverse order of standing for a handy round. The horse with the highest score after two rounds was the winner.

 The 2020 Premier Derby win went to the big, bay Warmblood gelding “Second Line,” owned by Elizabeth Mills of Baton Rouge, LA, ridden by Brittany DeSalvo. Brittany is the head trainer and owner of Sommerview Farms, as well as a longtime friend and rider for Patti and the Winterview Farm horses.

Zigvago and Julia Miller held tight at second place, as the highest placed Junior/Amateur rider in the Derby. 

But Derby excitement was far from over, with three derbies remaining on the Sunday schedule, starting with the Lyle Machinery Child/Adult Hunter Derby Sunday morning. Edging out the competition was “Ferrari Z” (Marena x For Pleasure) owned and ridden by Reese Lyle, trained by Patti Wright-Shoemaker of Flora, Miss.

The Voltaire Design Pony Hunter Derby was next. Winterview Farm rider Kate Rushton had not even remotely imagined a win in the Pony Derby prior to the show, but when given the chance to catch ride “The Whole Enchilada,” owned by Patti Wright-Shoemaker, she capitalized on the opportunity. The pair claimed the top spot in the Voltaire Design sponsored Pony Hunter Derby, won the Large Pony Hunter Division Championship, and finished second in the Under Saddle Invitational.

The final Derby of the 2020 New Year show was the MHJA Derby Hop on Sunday afternoon. It was a first derby experience for many of the riders, and they could hardly contain their glee as the girls walked the course to prepare for the course. After two rounds, the top call and first place honors went to “A Leap of Faith,” ridden and owned by Caroline Kelly. Kelly represented Blue Ribbon Riding Academy and also won the 2’ MHJA Medal Finals Sunday morning.

Other show highlights:

The MHJA Horse Medal Final winner was Sophie Rhoden, riding her bay, Zangersheide gelding “Rochefort Z.”

The Bridles N Britches Best Turned Out Award during the Premier Derby was awarded to Castlemaine Yard’s 10-year-old KWPN Gelding, Chacco B. (Chacco Blue x Voltaire)

The MHJA Pony Medal Finals winner was Emerson Strong.
The Second Annual $2,500 Wesley Lutken Equitation Challenge Class
Challenge was the operative word in the Wesley Lutken Equitation Challenge Class on Saturday night.  The course was a mixture of jumper style, striped rail jumps, and hunter style natural jumps with brush and flowers.

Equitation tests were built into a one round course. Three jump options where available for riders to choose the path and fence height most appropriate for the horse they were riding, in order to produce the smoothest trip.

As part of the Challenge, riders were asked to turn their cell phones in to Jill Dean at the in gate prior to the course walk and for the duration of the class. Riders were tasked with walking the course, warming up their horses, and executing their own course plans – without outside assistance.

Adult jump assistants were permitted only to help raise and lower warm up jumps at the request of the equitation challenge class riders. They were not permitted to comment or help in any way. Trainers were not allowed in or around the warm-up area, at the in gate, or on the course walk. Trainers watched from the stands as their students demonstrated their own “answers” to the course’s toughest “questions.”

There were decisions made about how to approach the jumps, from the first to the last, with only one direct measured line and several bending lines with height and track options. The course finished with the direction to halt and walk out of the ring on a loose rein.

In the end, Lily Rhoden aboard Rochefort Z, a horse owned by her sister Sophie Rhoden that she had borrowed for the class, turned in a seamless ride to place her at the top of the class. On hand, to present the award on Mr. Lutken’s behalf was his goddaughter, Mayrant Gonwa.

MHJA would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Wesley Lutken for his continued support of the Mississippi Hunter Jumper Community and for generously sponsoring this very special, exciting class.

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