Lexington, Ky. – Nov. 1, 2019 – Now in its second year, the $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic made its triumphant return to the National Horse Show on Friday for its 2019 installment. A fitting class for the 136th National Horse Show, which is steeped in history and tradition, the event celebrated the elegance and grace of some of the nation’s top hunter horses and riders over two rounds of competition. Exemplifying the ideals of hunter competitors, Amanda Steege and Lafitte De Muze, owned by Cheryl Olsten, laid down two stellar performances to earn the majority of the prize money, a one-year lease of an Audi from Audi of Lexington, presented by Samuel A. B. Boone, as well as the lion’s share of the $10,000 Meralex Farm Leading Professional Hunter Rider Bonus. In the junior hunters, Maggie Hill and Cassanto rode to three milestone victories, including the Overall Junior Hunter Grand Championship.
To qualify, horse-and-rider combinations awarded championships, reserve championships or second reserve championships in their respective hunter divisions earlier in the week were eligible to compete in Friday’s $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic. Participants competed at the respective height – 3’6”, 3’9” or 4’ – of the section from which they qualified, which meant 21 pairs competed at the 3’6” height, six partnerships jumped the 3’9” fences and only three exhibitors navigated the course at 4’ in height. The class, which counted towards Horse of the Year points, consisted of two rounds, with the top 12 returning for a second round from low to high score within their respective heights.
Following the first round of riding, which saw 30 exhibitors try their hands around designer Bobby Murphy’s natural track, reigning champion Stewart and Private Life led the scorecard with an initial score of 89 points. To determine each duo’s tally, the individual marks from two judges panels, consisting of Ralph Caristo, Linda Hough, Jimmy Torano and Tammy Provost, were averaged to result in a final score for that round. Tied in terms of points with a score of 89 but competing over lower fences, Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou sat in the reserve spot following the first round and Steege and Lafitte De Muze rounded out the top three contenders with a score of 87.50. After a competitive first phase of competition, the cut-off score for the top 12 pairs earning callbacks was a respectable 81.25 points.
Returning for the second portion of riding, the top 12 combinations were tested once more in the handy phase of competition. The 4’ horses took to the ring first, followed by the 3’6” contenders and finally the 3’9” exhibitors. Murphy’s pattern included a long approach across the entire arena to fence one, a two-stride in-and-out and multiple rollback turns to display handiness, plus entries were challenged to choose two fences to hand gallop out of the provided obstacles. Riding midway through the pack, Maria Rasmussen jumped to the early lead aboard Sunset View Farm LLC’s Worthy thanks to second round marks of 87, which pushed the horse-and-rider combination to a cumulative score of 172.50 to set the standard. Second-to-last to take to the ring, Steege and Lafitte De Muze entered the ring boasting 87.50 points and managed to match their previous efforts with a second equivalent score over the 3’9” fences, propelling them to the top of the standings with a composite score of 175 with only one rider, 2018 champion Stewart, left to go. Though Stewart and Private Life, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker, turned in a superb final trip around the handy track, their score of 87.50 left them just shy of the title with a final tally of 173.50 points, solidifying Steege and Lafitte De Muze as the 2019 victors.
In addition to leading the lap of honor as the 2019 victor in the $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic, Steege was also awarded a one-year lease of an Audi from Audi of Lexington, presented by Samuel A. B. Boone, as well as half of the $10,000 Meralex Farm Leading Professional Hunter Rider Bonus, with the remainder going to the second- and third-place finishers in the cumulative standings. Stewart was awarded $3,000 as the reserve finisher overall, while Jeff Gogul earned a $2,000 bonus for third place in the rankings. Athletes earned points throughout the week in the High Performance Hunter, High Performance Conformation Hunter, Green Conformation Hunter and Green Hunter divisions.
Earlier in the day in the junior ranks, Hill and Stella Styslinger’s Cassanto stole the show by accumulating a whopping 32 points to claim the coveted Overall Junior Hunter Grand Championship title and the “Huntland” Perpetual Cup. Acquiring their points in the Large Junior Hunter 16-17 division, Hill and Cassanto topped the ranks of every over fences class in the division, also earning third on the flat. Following the presentation of her championship in the division, Hill and Cassanto were called back to the winner’s circle to receive the Inclusive Perpetual Cup, an award given by the judges for the best performance in the stake round. All told, the young rider accumulated three major awards Friday to add to her growing collection with Cassanto.
Hunter action will conclude at the National Horse Show on Saturday, with the final champions of the week being crowned in the Junior 3’3” Hunter divisions. Sunday will feature the prestigious ASPCA Maclay National Championship, which pits top junior equitation riders against one another for a chance at the coveted title.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
Amanda Steege - $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic champion
On her plan in the handy round:
“I think all of us riders talked a lot and went back and forth over what jumps we wanted to hand gallop. That was interesting. I have never had a course like that in a class where they gave us the option of hand galloping two jumps, let alone the jumps that were of our choosing. I ended up picking fences five and eight. I decided that since I was galloping jump eight that I would go around fence one in order to get a good gallop there. My plan was to do the best that I could and show off as much as possible and see where everything fell in the end. I was happy with my hand gallop jumps. My boyfriend of 15-years, Tim Delovich, was joking with me after the round that he has never seen me go that fast on any horse ever!”
On being consistent in the Hunter Classic two years in a row:
“This class is such a highlight of our year. I really encouraged my owner to send my horse to this horse show, not only because it is the National Horse Show, but also because I think it is really important to support hunter events and hunter classes that give out this level of prize money and have this level of atmosphere. I showed two horses in this class last year, Zara and Lafitte. Last year was Lafitte’s first year in America and first year as a hunter and he got a little nervous and green in this class last year, so it was nice to see how much he has matured this year and how much more relaxed he was about the whole thing. I am really proud to have been in the top three for two years in a row.”
On donating Lafitte’s prize money to the EQUUS Foundation:
“It is a little surreal sometimes. I really have to take a step back and think about it. I know that it is very important to Cheryl [Olsten] and myself that he does donate his prize money and that there is a whole other purpose to these wins other than to just keep accolades for ourselves and in our own home. It makes it more special for me that he can do that, especially in the bigger classes because that was a lot of money for the EQUUS Foundation. Now, I know some people also started to have their horses be equine ambassadors. I know that Caroline Moran has a horse that is an equine ambassador and to participate in that is so meaningful.”
On Lafitte de Muze’s development:
“I am very excited about Lafitte! This is my second year with him and last year was his first year in America as a hunter. The goal is to start to do more derbies and go to Derby Finals, so this year he did the Green 3’9” Hunters and I started to add in some derbies. He went to his first Derby Finals so next year he will start to do the High-Performance Hunters and do more and more derbies and hopefully make it to Derby Finals again.”
Scott Stewart - $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic, second place
On his two horses, Lucador and Private Life:
“Lucador is a little more temperamental than Private Life so I can only push him so much. I think I chose to do the same hand gallops as Amanda. I was hoping to do a hand gallop to fence one but I sort of just went with him. He let me gallop more that I thought I could to the ones that I did do, so I was really happy with him. With Private Life, I didn’t really get to see Amanda go over the shortened course so I figured I would just have to go for it and I was really happy with him.”
On the class:
“I think it is a great opportunity for us to bring our best horses forward and get excited about doing this class, which we do not get to do very often. It was a true hunter classic and not a derby, and I think that we all, me especially, want to do our best and qualify at the last horse show of the year. I want to thank everybody for putting on a great horse show for us.”
Maria Rasmussen - $50,000 National Horse Show Hunter Classic, third place
On the class:
“I had a lot of fun! My strategy was really just to go and see how it felt. I was going to hand gallop jump one because I knew that would make the judges sit up and watch because my horse would jump high. I turned at the top of the ring and started to gallop jump two! And then I just kind of kept going and galloped jump five and then I thought “ok now I can slow down.” He had fun and I had fun! We have more camaraderie in these classes so it is fun to watch everyone go and see everyone try to be quick, jump well, be handy and clear. It is more exciting and fun than anything.”
Jennifer Burger - President of the National Horse Show
On her reaction to the class:
“I absolutely love the hunters and they are my personal passion! It has been a joy to put energy into a class like this that can highlight the best hunter riders that we have in our country and their amazing animals. It is a joy for me to watch the level of excellence from both horse and rider in a class like this. And of course the audience cheering and the two rounds and the hand gallop - I just love it all!”
Maggie Hill – Overall Junior Hunter Grand Champion
On her partnership with Cassanto:
“I have been with him for about two years. I started doing the 3’6” Junior Hunters on him and last year was a bit touch and go, just because it was my first year in the 3’6”. Over the course of the Winter Equestrian Festival we were able to build our relationship and this year at indoors and Devon it has just been solidified. At Devon this year and last year he has been amazing. He is a horse of a lifetime and I really honestly cannot say enough good things about him. He has been amazing. I have no words, he has given me more in this junior year than I could have ever asked for. He was champion at Devon, Junior Hunter Finals, Capital Challenge, Pennsylvania National Horse Show, Washington International Horse Show and now champion here! I cannot believe it and I couldn’t have asked for more from an animal.”
On being Overall Junior Hunter Grand Champion at the National Horse Show:
“It means everything. I think I have seen over the years people like Devon Seek and Brian Moggre win this and I have really looked up to those people. It is an honor to have that in my resume as well now because I love this sport and I would really love to use it as a career. To accomplish another milestone is an important thing.”
On competing at the National Horse Show:
“This is a fun horse show! I love this ring because it almost rides like Devon, it is really forward and you can show off your horse, the jumps come up nice and you can get a big stride to keep around the whole course. It is cold but it is nice inside! The show is run so well, everything is on time and I love this show. It is a wonderful way to end the year!”