Traverse City, Mich. – June 24, 2023 – Geoffrey Hesslink has taken countless major hunter victories in his professional career, and on Saturday of Traverse City Spring III, presented by Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, he added the prestigious $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular, presented by Debbie Smith, Ltd., to his ever-growing list of accolades. The win came aboard Drumroll, a horse he showed for the first time in Saturday night’s class.
“We quite literally just got this horse,” Hesslink said of Drumroll, owned by Meridian Farm, LLC. “He’s a really special horse I’ve watched and known for a number of years and always thought was really talented.”
The stars aligned for Hesslink and the 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding, as he sat in third after round one over Tommy Brawley’s course with a score of 87. While Kate Conover led with Queen Celeste, owned by Glade Run Farm, LLC, on a 90.5, Hesslink put his best foot forward in the second round and jumped up by just enough points to take victory. Conover claimed second with Queen Celeste after a beautiful handy round, and Greg Crolick and Carole Chase’s Chappy ended up third.
Kelly Mullen was riding Drumroll throughout the winter season, and Hesslink approached her a number of times about purchasing the horse. “I actually rode up to her in an under-saddle at WEF and asked [if she would] sell him. After Devon this year she had a great show so they were willing to part with him. The timing worked out that he got here this week and I wasn’t able to show him in any other classes. So I showed him in this class as my first time ever showing him.”
“He’s just the epitome of a classic hunter; he’s beautiful, has a lot of presence, amazing balance, and he’s really athletic,” Hesslink explained of why he loved Drumroll initially. “He can jump over the standards at every jump and I was really drawn to that.”
Hesslink won the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular in 2022, where he was protecting a lead, whereas in Saturday’s class, he wanted to be bold and make moves up the leaderboard. Inside turns and opening the gelding’s stride were risks he took that led to higher judges scores that he needed.
“I didn’t know the horse that well but I figured I had nothing to lose so I should take all the shots,” Hesslink said. “He answered the questions I asked better than I thought he would. The handy was really nice. I thought there were a few questions where you could leave out a stride or go inside but the fences came up really nicely for us today and I couldn’t be happier.”
The future is bright for the horse and for their partnership, especially since the horse thrives in classes with atmosphere. “One of the only reasons I did this class today is because a class like this is his speciality,” Hesslink continued. “He rises to the occasion every time I’ve watched him. I really wanted to give it a shot so I hope to continue to be successful in derbies and these types of classes. He’ll continue to do Second-Year Greens this year and be a Junior Hunter for his owner, Caroline Signorino.”
Closing out WCHR week and heading into Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships with his talented students, Hesslink reminisced on all the moments that led him to this point in his career.
“The WCHR program is something my entire barn and I take very seriously and it’s a big goal every year for all divisions. I grew up watching the WCHR programs and classes. Capital Challenge has always been one of my favorite shows so it holds a special place in my heart. I never thought I would win this class once so to win it twice, I can’t put it into words. I’m so thankful,” he shared.
Holding the $100,000 WCHR Central Hunter Spectacular is what makes WCHR week in Traverse City that much more special, and for Hesslink, who came to Michigan this year primarily to watch his students thrive in the Junior Hunters, it was an added bonus to take home a win for himself and his newest partner.
“I’ve grown up coming to Michigan almost every summer for the past 10 years or so,” he shared. “It’s always so fun. The weather’s great, the rings are great, they do an amazing job, and my riders think they do an exceptional job at the Junior Hunter [National Championships]. It’s really special here.”
See full results from the $100,000 WCHR Central Hunter Spectacular, presented by Debbie Smith, Ltd., here.
Lori Matthews and Exclusive Score their Second Championship of Traverse City Spring
Lori Matthews has a special bond with Exclusive, and it was made extra apparent Saturday as the duo took another championship in the B & D Builders Adult Amateur Hunters Over 35. After taking the win during week two, week three turned out to be another week to fall in her favor, besting a competitive field of 23 entries.
“I started leasing ‘Wesley’ in January because I needed a horse to ride for the Florida circuit,” Matthews said of acquiring Exclusive. “He’s a very particular horse. He’s not happy with most rides, he’s had some time off, and we started in the 2’6”. Courtney [Lenkart] figured out the way to make him happy is to put your hands forward in front of the jump and just leave him alone.”
The strategy they discovered paid off during Traverse City Spring III, leading them to their second championship in two weeks of showing in Northern Michigan.
“He just really took to me,” Matthews continued about their special partnership. “He’s been a star from the beginning. He’s my mister reliable. I bought him last month so he’s not a lease horse anymore. He tries so hard and for some reason he picked me, so I’m very lucky.”
Traveling to Michigan from her home in Dallas, TX, Matthews and her horses are enjoying the cooler weather and enjoyable atmosphere both at the show and in town.
“It’s the best,” she said of bringing her horses to Traverse City. “It’s the nicest thing we can do for our horses. They’re so happy here and it’s so nice to get away from the 100 degree heat and have the water and nice temperatures. It’s such a vacation.
“This is an amazing show,” Matthews continued about Traverse City Horse Shows, where she plans to show four more weeks over the course of the summer. “The management does such a good job of accommodating lots of entries, and it’s just very well run so we love to show here.”
Continuing to shine in the Adult Amateur Hunters is the plan for Exclusive as they work through the show year. “He’s a really sensitive horse and he’s really particular so I’m definitely going to keep him in the three-foot. I’d like to take him to Capital Challenge and any of the other indoors that we get into. I’d like it to be a special year for him because he’s been so reliable and fun.”
Hunters have their final day of competition for the Spring Series on Sunday, featuring the $25,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby.
O’Mara, Rinehart, and Haverfield Take Individual Medals in USHJA Championships
The Markel/USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships wrapped Saturday morning with victories for TJ O’Mara and Richard Rinehart as the gold medalists. Both riders were the sole clear efforts over the three days of competition for their respective fence heights.
O’Mara piloted Ona Van De Helle to a clear round in the Individual Final, putting him at the top without a jump-off for the gold medal.
“Max [Amaya] got Ona this winter from Axel Verlooy in Belgium,” O’Mara said of the 9-year-old mare, owned by Stonehenge Stables. Barnmate Alexandra Volpi had the ride throughout the winter circuit before passing the reins to O’Mara. “Since Alex is competing for the teams in Europe we brought her here for me to show her. Last week I did her in the 1.35m, then 1.40m and then the National Grand Prix. I had one down so I knew the mistakes I had to work on.”
O’Mara polished the ride and the partnership just in time for the demanding championship, leaving all rails intact over three days and three rounds of jumping.
“I think we really clicked this week and I just figured out the little tweaks I needed to fix last week,” he explained. “She’s a machine. She’s so powerful, she really knows what to do, and she’s really sweet natured. I always get along with mares so it worked out.”
Just a 9-year-old, Ona Van De Helle had O’Mara’s trust and he knew she could deliver as long as he did his part. “I knew she was a clear round horse,” he continued. “We’re not the fastest; she’s a big mover and a little slow moving. I hoped if I kept producing round after round that it would end up the way that it did. I was very happy with her. I knew she could do it. I was happy with today’s course; I thought it was much more technical and I was hoping they’d build it a little bigger in my favor.”
With the technical tracks, the bigger fences, and the format of the championships, the event made O’Mara reminisce on his championship days as a junior rider.
“It felt very much like [NAYC] or the elite championships that those top Olympic riders are doing, so it was nice for me to get to participate in that. I haven’t done a team event since I was a junior. As a professional I felt more calm than I was as a junior. I had a great time,” he shared.
Richard Rinehart also produced three clear rounds to be the easy winner at the close of competition in the 1.30-1.35m section with Vincent, owned by Ron Caraway.
“I’m so proud of Vincent,” Rinehart said. “He was just wonderful. He’s listening and really giving it his best. Moving forward I’ll probably do some Midwest grand prixs with him and stay on track. This was a really good training environment for him to go out and jump fairly technical courses for three days.”
Rinehart participated in the Platinum Jumper Championships with his son, Luke, who had an entry in the 1.20-1.25m Zone Jumper Team Championships. “It’s been awesome,” he continued. “We’re so grateful to have this event. The show grounds are great. We look forward to coming up here every year. We like to go boating and enjoy the lakes.”
Earlier in the day, Anya Haverfield secured victory in the 1.10-1.15m Child/Adult section with Galanthos B, but not as easily, having to top a four-horse jump-off to earn her medal. All four riders, Haverfield, Lillian Soroken, Rylie True, and Olivia Tobin, jumped clear in the jump-off, but Haverfield’s impressively fast time of 32.144 seconds took top call.
“I really like going fast and I noticed the course had a lot of spots where you have time to gallop,” Haverfield explained of her jump-off strategy. “That’s my chance to let her loose and she’s going to get over the jumps.”
Having attended the championships last year but as a new partnership, Haverfield was happy to return on a horse she knew was up for the challenge to take the win. “It feels really good,” she said of winning the gold medal. “I came into this and didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew I had a chance because my horse is amazing. But I’m really happy I ended up first.”
Haverfield trains with Ashleen Lee and Stephen Foran of Freedom Woods, and on her way into the ring, Foran went through the plan and his last words to her were, “You’ve already arrived.”
“Me and my team have been up at 5 a.m. every day working hard and he meant that I earned it to be here,” Haverfield explained of what Foran meant. “I put in the hard work and I can show them what I’ve got now.”
She showed the crowd and exhibitors in Traverse City exactly what she had, and now her plan moving forward with Galanthos B is “to move up hopefully, and to keep working, keep growing as a pair, and see how far we can get with each other.”