Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 19, 2022 – Hunters took center stage in the International Arena during WCHR Week at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Competition came to a head Saturday night with the annual $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, featuring the nation’s top hunter combinations. Athletes qualified for the class a number of ways: earning champion or reserve champion during WEF 6 in a division with a fence height of 3’6” or above, through winning a WCHR Challenge at the 2021 Capital Challenge Horse Show, or being named the 2021 WCHR National Champion. The winner of the previous year is also invited to compete. Thirty-five horse and rider pairs qualified to compete in the Hunter Spectacular this year, but Geoffrey Hesslink and Mon Tresor finished in the top spot with a total score of 181.16.
The course, designed by Andy Christiansen, offered riders a chance to show off their horses’ skills and scope with a course of 12 obstacles, including a row of fences with multiple options for fences 6 and 7. The class started with the fence height set at 3’6”, then were raised to 3’9” and finally to 4’ to correspond with the heights at which the riders had qualified. The majority of riders rode at the 3’6” height, with seven competing at 3’9”, and two tackling the 4’ height. Augusta Iwasaki and Alajolie set the pace for the first round with a score of 87.66. The highest scoring junior/amateur of round one went to Mimi Gochman aboard Catch Me, a two-time winner of the class with Scott Stewart, scoring an average of 89.66. Setting the highest first-round score and putting himself in pole position heading into the next round was Hesslink with an average score of 90.66.
The second round welcomed back the top 12 riders from the first round, with a cutoff score of 83.1 to be included. The second round offered riders many options to be handy and take inside turns to set themselves apart. Michael Britt-Leon started off round two in the 4’ section with a near-flawless round to score a 88.66 for a total score of 175.66. Britt-Leon held his lead through the majority of the rounds, but with only three left to go, rider Mimi Gochman on Gochman Sporthorses LLC’s Catch Me, a 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding, scored a 89.5, putting them on a total score of 179.16 to overtake the first place spot.
Back to defend her title, Amanda Steege and Cheryl Olsten’s Lafitte De Muze, an 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, put in a flawless round, taking every inside turn option to score a 87.66 and a total score of 177.68, however it left her just short of Gochman and would eventually place her third. As the last rider in the ring from his impressive first-round score, Hesslink put it all on the line to keep his position as leader. Hesslink and Little Brook LLC’s Mon Tresor, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding with a history in eventing, were able to keep the lead with a round that warranted cheers from the crowd and judges’ scores of 90.5 with a total score of 181.16 to capture the win. Gochman was awarded the second place ribbon and Steege finished in third.
Hunter competition will continue in the International Arena on Sunday, Feb. 20 at 7:30am with the $5,000 Peggy Cone Memorial WCHR Adult Hunter Classic followed by the $5,000 WCHR Junior Hunter 3’3” Hunter Classic at 2:00pm.
FROM THE WINNERS CIRCLE
Geoffrey Hesslink – WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular winner
On his plan going into the handy:
“I had a plan from the moment I walked it. I don’t know my horse that well, but he does give me a lot of confidence. I just wanted to stick to the plan and obviously stay calm and not mess it up.”
On Mon Tresor’s future:
“We bought this horse in November from Peter Lombardo. He is extremely talented, very athletic, and actually has a background in three-day eventing, which I think played a strength in this class in particular. We purchased him to be a large junior hunter for Lauren Little, which he’ll continue to do and also compete with me in professional classes as well as the Second Year Greens.”
Mimi Gochman – WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular second place
On being second:
“I’m super honored to have been in such a great field of riders and I’m super excited. Of course Snoopy (Catch Me) knows what he’s doing so that makes it a lot easier for me, but I’m really grateful to my mom for letting me ride him, and he was incredible. He always rises to the occasion at these kinds of events.”
On her plan for the handy:
“I also had a plan right when I walked. Peter, Scott [Stewart], and I went over it and we tried to make a solid plan that I could follow, and I just stuck to the plan. I wanted to be super smooth and not make too many big moves because there were a few tight turns and the in-and-out was a little bit skeptical with the bend, so I just wanted to keep it smooth and tell him where he was going and I sort of just stuck with what we’d walked.”
Amanda Steege – WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular third place
On being in the top three again:
“It just never gets old. Riding that horse every day never gets old and neither does showing him and being competitive with such a competitive group of horses. I think Lafitte is the only horse in the class that traveled down from Ocala, so it is a little bit different for us. We show up here, we haven’t been here, and it’s all a little bit new. This was his fourth year doing it, but he’s also qualified for the class four years that he’s come. I’m really proud of him that he can do that. We had a really great class to get ready last week at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala. He won a big night class there so that certainly helps. But I do think it’s hard to just show up on these grounds and get used to this atmosphere in such a short amount of time. This week he only did one class. I did one 3’6” Performance Class in the International Ring on Thursday. I always have such a great time just being with him and getting to compete in events like these.”
On her plan for the handy:
“I had a plan and I executed the plan. The in-and-out did end up to be more complicated than we all originally thought. I was extra paying attention there, but the rest, I just tried to be as smooth in his handy as I could, and I felt happy with the result.”
$100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 / R2 / Total
1. Mon Tresor / Geoffrey Hesslink / Little Brook LLC / 90.66 / 90.5 / 181.16
2. Catch Me / Mimi Gochman / Gochman Sport Horses LLC / 89.66 / 89.5 / 179.16
3. Lafitte De Muze / Amanda Steege / Cheryl Olsten / 90 / 87.66 / 177.66
4. Private I / Michael Britt-Leon / Kelly Sims / 87 / 88.66 / 175.66
5. Queen Celeste / Nick Haness / Glade Run Farm LLC / 86.75 / 88.33 / 175.08
6. Alajolie / Augusta Iwasaki / Alexander Miller / 87.66 / 86.5 / 174.16
7. Champs Elysees / Patricia Griffith / Hallowell Lane Farm LLC / 83.1 / 86.33 / 169.33
8. Babylon / John French / Marnell Sporthorses LLC / 83.66 / 83.66/ 167.32
9. Laskano / Jimmy Torano / Isalou, Inc. / 88.5 / 76 / 164.50
10. Cascartini / Elizabeth Towell Boyd / Ken and Amy Wexler LLC / 89.91 / 39 / 128.91
11. Consent / Kat Fuqua / Kat Fuqua / 85.66 / 39 / 124.66
12. Golden Years / Elizabeth Towell / Mary Caroline Nolan / 88 / OC / 88