Wellington, FL. – February 4, 2023 – Competition in the International Ring at Wellington International drew to a close Friday afternoon with a total of 47 top hunter combinations taking to the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, presented by Perfect Products. Over a course designed by Andy Christiansen as an efficient hunt-and-go format, the lead changed hands several times throughout the one-round challenge, but ultimately the top honors were awarded to John French and eight-year-old Hanoverian gelding Milagro.
The hunt & go format consolidates two rounds into one with both a classic and a handy element. Two judging panels were responsible for producing each pair’s combined score after a course that consisted of four possible high options and utilized both the expanse of the ring to allow riders to open their horses stride and incorporated a series of rollbacks and inside turns to demonstrate handiness across the second half.
Christopher Payne took the early lead aboard Reign after producing a hard-to-beat combined score of 367.50. He and the Provence, LLC-owned ten-year-old Holsteiner seemed to have it in the bag until late in the order when Kristy Herrera and John & Stephanie Ingram, LLC’s ten-year-old Holsteiner gelding Caristo executed an exemplary round that earned them a new leading total of 370 combined points.
Entering in one of the final few positions with three international hunter derby wins already tucked neatly under their belts since December, French and Kent Farrington, LLC’s Milagro proved they are still very much in top form and overtook the lead one final time with a score of 371.50.
“He stands out in the hunter derbies because he has a lot of scope, he is slow in the air so I can make the tight turns on landing easily, he is very brave, and I never have to worry he’s going to look at anything,” French gushed of the gelding.
As no stranger to the victory gallop, once French got through the first half of the course, which he expressed had a few tests for himself, he knew that Milagro’s exceptional form and athleticism would take care of the rest.
“I always worry a bit about trot fences, but I went very slow and he did it nicely,” he described. “After that I took a breath because I knew the hard parts for me were over and he would be able to do the final high option, which he cleared with a couple feet to spare.”
Like many others in the afternoon’s event, French was grateful to use the class as preparation for World Champion Hunter Rider (WCHR) Week during WEF 6.
“This is a great opportunity to bring our horses into this ring,” he continued. “I showed a couple of my first-year horses in today’s class so I could get them into this arena, and I now know better how to prepare them for next time.