Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 18, 2023 – Hunters took center stage in the International Arena at Wellington International during WCHR Week at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Competition came to a pinnacle Saturday night with the annual $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, featuring the nation’s top hunter horse and rider combinations. Athletes qualified for the prestigious class by earning champion or reserve champion during WEF 6 in a division with a fence height of 3’6” or above, winning a WCHR Challenge at the 2022 Capital Challenge Horse Show, or being named the 2022 WCHR National Champion. The class winner in the previous year is also invited to compete. Forty-two horse and rider pairs qualified to compete in the Hunter Spectacular this year, but ultimately it was Milagro and John French who led the victory gallop at the end of the class with two fellow West Coast-ers to round out the top three- Augusta Iwasaki aboard Small Love and Nick Haness with Queen Celeste.
The 12-fence course, designed by Patrick Rodes (USA), allowed riders the chance to show off their talented hunter mounts over the track with long bending lines and impressive single oxers and verticals. The class offered three different jump height options to correspond with the height at which the riders had qualified. The crowd saw 32 horse-and-rider combinations jump the course set at 3’6”, eight combinations jump the 3’9” fence height, and two riders opting to jump 4’.
Iwasaki and Iwasaki & Reilly LLC’s Small Love set the pace for the first round with a score of 90.83 points at the 3’6” height. Glade Run Farm’s Queen Celeste and Haness jumped to a score of 90.33 points putting them in third place going into round two. The final pair to see in the first round, French and Kent Farrington LLC’s Milagro put on the pressure as they overtook the lead in the class scoring a 94 at the 4-foot height.
The second round welcomed back the top 12 riders from the first round scoring 86.41 or better. The second round offered riders the chance to show the judges how handy their horses are by demonstrating a transition to the trot after fence eight before picking up the canter to fence 9 and doing more technical turns to find the shortest track around the expansive arena. Haness and the 11-year-old Holsteiner mare were the 10th to return in the second round over the 3’6” height impressing the judges with a score of 90.08 and a combined effort of 180.41 points to take the class lead.Iwasaki and the 10-year-old Hannovarian mare entered the arena shortly after Haness. The pair earned a score of 93.66 giving them a total score of 184.49 points, thus bumping Haness down in the leaderboard and overtaking the lead.
As the final combination of the night, Milagro and French entered under the Wellington International arch as the arena fell silent. Executing a nearly-flawless round the pair jumped to a score of 93.5 points to give them the highest total score of 187.5 and the tri-color blanket of flowers at the end of the night.
Although French has earned top 10 placings in the class in previous years, this win will be one to remember, “I never really had a horse that was my horse, that I brought up and knew that well like I do Milagro” comments French. “It’s nice going in there tonight…The fact that I know [Milagro] so well. When it is a stressful situation in a class like this, I know I can relax because I know this horse, and I know how he is going to be.”
Hunter competition will continue in the International Arena on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 am with the $5,000 Peggy Cone Memorial WCHR Adult Hunter Classic in the International Ring.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
John French-2023 $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular Champion
On the atmosphere:
“I think it brings out the best in all horses. My other horses were jumping so well in the warmup area today. The lights, the crowd, and the jumps were beautiful and to be in this ring and showcase the hunters. I think that we [as riders] get up for it and so do the horses.”
“Last year he just started showing and I did one show in the Pre-Green [Hunter Division] and one show in the First Year [Hunter Division] and then went right to the 4-foot. He was just so scopey I knew that was going to be his calling. He ended up being [USHJA] Horse of the Year in the High Performance [Hunter Division] last year, his first year showing. He’s just a very relaxed horse. He’s my favorite horse when I go to the barn first thing in the morning. I just mostly ride him on the track and the grass field and im just grateful to have a horse like that.”
On his relationship with this class:
“I’ve never won this class before so it was kind of nice. But I was a West Coast rider so in the past when I was on the West Coast, we weren’t really here [in Florida] showing so I would just fly in and borrow a horse. I placed several times in the top 10, but I never really had a horse that was my horse that I brought up and knew that well like I do Milagro, so it’s nice going in there tonight, the fact that I know him so well. When it is a stressful situation in a class like this, I know I can relax because I know this horse, and I know how he is going to be. He suits my style of riding so I just ride relaxed and that’s the way he likes to go.”
On the course:
“I liked the course tonight because there were a lot of single jumps there was the one line. [The course] did give us some options with the one-bending line at the end. There wasn’t anything tricky. It was more of a course kind of like a hunter class used to be, not just a hunter derby where there are trappy and different things that horses don’t see. It really showcased the real hunters.”
Augusta Iwasaki – 2023 $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular Reserve Champion
On her horse, Small Love:
“I actually got her almost a year ago here [at WEF], and we took our time with her. She used to be a big jumper and we definitely had to teach her to slow down but she has been so special and she is one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever had. I thought she jumped really beautifully throughout the whole [handy] course. Even better than her first round.”
On the WCHR Spectacular classes:
“I think it’s really nice that the Spectacular classes are for really great division horses. There are a lot of derbies, which are great for derby horses but there aren’t a lot of classes like this that are for division horses.”
Nick Haness – 2023 $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular Third Place
On the WCHR program:
“The WCHR program is such an amazing goal for the hunter riders. There are so many things the jumper riders strategize to win and then they have a lot of events to do so, but the hunter riders- this is our Olympics. To win WCHR events is extra special because not only is everyone watching from all over the world, especially this class tonight where we are all trying to qualify for the [WCHR] finals. All of the special events throughout the year you really notice the change in all the trainers and riders and how they prepare the horses for these main events to showcase and make their horse go the best they can go. This is an amazing event and tonight’s class just lets the horses shine which is something as hunter riders we can strategize and look forward to. The owners are into it and the crowd tonight was amazing.”
$100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / R1 / R2 / Total
1. Milagro / John French / Kent Farrington LLC / 94 / 93.5 / 187.5
2. Small Love / Augusta Iwasaki / Iwasaki & Reilly / 90.83 / 93.66 / 184.49
3. Queen Celeste / Nick Haness / Glade Run Farm LLC / 90.33 / 90.08 / 180.41
4. Cadouch Z / Victoria Colvin / Amy Hassinger / 86.66 / 92.83 / 179.49
5. Paradigm / John French / Meredith Lipke / 90.16 / 87 / 177.16
6. Gratitude / Christopher Payne / Provence LLC / 89.25 / 87.33 / 176.57
7. Pavlova / Havens Schatt / John & Stephanie Ingram LLC / 88.41 / 87.66 / 176.97
8. Epic Style / Brady Mitchell / Rein Family / 86.5 / 88.66 / 175.16
9. Caristo / Kristy Herrera / John & Stephanie Ingram, LLC / 87 / 88 / 175
10. For Always / Scott Stewart / Dr. Betsee Parker / 86.41 / 85 / 171.41