Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 20, 2021 – Hunter competitors took center stage in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Saturday evening during Week Six of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Each year, the 12-week series highlights top junior and professional talent from around the United States for one week with the World Champion Hunter Rider (WCHR) Week. Returning for its 25th year as a special edition of the beloved “Saturday Night Lights,” the annual $50,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular welcomed 33 horse-and-rider combinations to compete for a chance at the lion’s share of the prize money. Nabbing the title from the 2019-2020 reigning champion Victoria Colvin was Amanda Steege, who piloted Cheryl Olsten’s Lafitte De Muze to an overall total score of 177.74.
Each of the competitors qualified for Saturday evening’s class by earning division champion or reserve champion on their respective mounts throughout the week. Andy Christiansen’s (ECU) 12-obstacle course designed with traditional, natural fences began at the 3’6” in height, and were raised to 3’9” and finally set at 4’ to allow riders to jump the corresponding height of the division from which they qualified. While the majority of riders rode the course at the 3’6” height, seven riders tackled the course at the 3’9” height and two competed at the 4’ height.
Less than one point separated the top three at the conclusion of the first round, with Laena Romond and Catherine Cowie’s Traveller, a 10-year-old Warmblood gelding, sitting in the top spot on a score of 89.66. The second place spot was held by Jimmy Torano aboard Laskano, a 9-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by Isalou, Inc, after the pair rode to a score of 89.16. Steege and the 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Lafitte De Muze, held the third place position on a score of 88.91.
Heading into the second round, a cutoff score of 85.66 invited the top 12 competitors to return for a shortened 10-obstacle course. Though not designated a handy course, each showed their skills over the track as they executed tight turns in an attempt to climb the ranks. The second round began with three of the athletes and their mounts competing over the 3’9’’ height in reverse order, followed by the remaining nine pairs over the 3’6’’ height returning to the International Arena in reverse order.
Coming back sitting in third place, Steege and Lafitte De Muze showcased their strong partnership in the arena as they navigated the tight turns and rollbacks with ease. After earning a score of 88.83, Steege climbed into the first place spot. The final two pairs to follow would attempt to unseat her lead, but in the end, Steege and Lafitte de Muze would emerge victorious to claim the championship honors.
Making an impressive jump from the ninth place spot in the first round was Elizabeth Towell Boyd riding Gigi Manigault’s Walk-Off. Boyd and the 7-year-old Holsteiner gelding earned a score of 86.66 in the first round and a 91 in the second round, the highest score of the evening, to claim second place overall on a total score of 177.66, just two-tenths behind Steege. Rounding out the top three was Geoffrey Hesslink riding Shadowfax Equestrian LLC’s Bond, a 9-year-old Warmblood gelding. The pair moved up from sixth to the third place spot after earning an 89.33 in the second round and an overall score of 176.49.
Hunter competition will continue in the International Arena on Sunday, Feb. 21 with the $5,000 Peggy Cone Memorial WCHR Adult Hunter Classic and the $5,000 WCHR Junior Hunter 3’3” Hunter Classic. As the last day of WCHR Week, the final round of championships will be crowned at WEF.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Amanda Steege – $50,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular winner
On Lafitte de Muze
“My horse felt amazing and this is his fourth year doing the class, so I had a lot of confidence in him to come into tonight and rise to the occasion. My plan for round one was to just go as smooth as I could and try to show off some galloping whenever I could. I can trust that he is going to jump the jumps in amazing style, so I just mostly try to do my job the best that I can.”
On the hady:
“I did a totally different plan than what we had walked. Liza [Towell Boyd] and I walked together with a few other friends, and we were not planning on doing some of the inside slices we did. As we were watching people go and people were doing the turns, and the judges seemed to reward it, I actually phoned a friend. I called Tom Wright who was sitting in the stands literally as I was at the gate and said, ‘Help me, what do you think I should do?’ He helped me formulate a plan that we thought would be the best for Lafitte De Muze and I was happy that I was able to follow the plan and make it work.”
On her win with Lafitte De Muze:
“It’s a huge honor for him to have this class on his resume and it’s certainly a class that is very important to me every year and in particular very important to his owner Cheryl Olsten. Every year when we sit down and make his schedule we plan his Florida around making this be the big event for him to get to and for him to try to win. There are months of work that go into winning this class, not just what happens this week. It’s a hard and stressful week and at first you are just happy to be qualified. For me, once I am qualified I take a little breath and then I feel like I can go in there and really show off. It’s an experience that I will never forget.”
On the tight turns in the second round:
“When [Elizabeth Towell Boyd] and I first walked together we went back and forth on whether or not were going to try to go inside the first turn or not, and we actually even spoke to the course designer [Andy Christiansen] and asked him what his plan was when he set up the course and he actually planned for us to go around the wagon wheel jump. But right from the first horse in the handy, they did it and went inside and it felt like you had to do it. I was thrilled with that turn from [Lafitte De Muze], it was like he knew we were going to do it before I even told him. I swear he was looking at the course board or watching the jumbotron – he was leaving the ground and he was already turning right. It actually went smoothly for me but it was a hard turn. The green fuzzy oxer was very much in their view when you landed from that jump. I got a text on my way up here from Linda Andrisani who is a very well-respected judge and a fan of Lafitte De Muze, and she was remembering a few years ago, it was his first year as a hunter and his first year doing this class and I finished in second place because there was a really hard inside turn to the first jump that we didn’t do and it was the right thing not to do it for that horse, that year. He wasn’t ready for it. Linda was saying, ‘Patience is a virtue, look how developing that horse and putting in the time, and today you could ask him to do anything you needed to win.”
Elizabeth Towell Boyd – second place
“My horse is honored to be second behind Lafitte De Muze, he idolizes him. He is quite green and when we went to jog today I realized he was a [COVID-19] baby and doesn’t even know how to jog because we have not done that this year. We got him from Kyle and Kathy Dewar, and they imported him and said, ‘This horse could be a grand prix horse or a top hunter, he has a lot of scope.’ Being green, in the first round I was a little bit cautious, then for the second round I thought we would go for it, and he really stepped up to the plate and followed my eye and did all of the inside turns. He really proved to me that he is going to be a real derby horse in the making.”
On the tight turns in the second round:
“I actually thought a lot of the turns in the second round were jumper turns. We knew the first to the second fence was doable but the other turns, we weren’t going to do those until Scott [Stewart] went in and people started doing them, but they were quite slicing and they were pretty dicey. It was amazing that the horses stepped up to the plate and the riders and everyone did it smoothly. The level of riding and quality of horses is just getting so sstrorng, and you can tell. I think during [COVID-19 outbreak] a lot of people did their homework and practied and I thought the rounds tonight were stronger than ever.”
Geoffrey Hesslink – third place
“Bond is lovely, he competes in the Junior Hunter division with his rider Isha Swani and I am lucky enough to compete with him in some of these big events. He has actually done this class twice with Isha so I knew he would be more than ready to do it. He is always game for anything so my job was easy and I tried to have a nice smooth round.”
On the course:
“I thought the course was great. I like more single jumps like it was today, and I thought it was really nice they incorporated some new, tricker jumps than I have seen in the past. I thought that was interesting. It was great.”
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 Score / R2 Score | Total
- Lafitte De Muze / Amanda Steege / Cheryl Olsten / 88.91 / 88.83 | 177.74
- Walk-Off / Elizabeth Towell-Boyd / Gigi Manigault / 86.66 / 91 | 177.66
- Bond / Geoffrey Hesslink / Shadowfax Equestrian LLC / 87.16 / 89.33 | 176.49
- Quimby / Grace Debney / Temple Equestrian LLC / 86.16 / 89.33 | 175.49
- Traveller / Laena Romond / Catherine Cowie / 89.66 / 85 | 174.65
- Charlemagne / Scott Stewart / Dr. Betsee Parker / 85.66 / 88.33 | 173.99
- Love Note / Scott Stewart / Richard Prant / 86.63 / 85.23 | 171.86
- Catch Me / Mimi Gochman / Gochman Sport Horses LLC / 88 / 83 | 171
- Laskano / Jimmy Torano / Isalou, Inc. / 89.16 / 81 | 170.16
- After Hours / Vivian Yowan / Saddle Ridge LLC / 87 / 83 | 170
- Pritchard Hill / Evan Coluccio / Balmoral / 86.83 / 71 | 157.83
- Avatar Z / Victoria Colvin / Ben Lyles & Isabella Watson / 88.5 / 51.66 | 140.16