Susan Merle-Smith was in attendance at this week's Ocala Horse Properties Eventing Jumping Challenge, which attracted many event riders who wanted their shot at the purse as well as some time in the show jumping ring. Many thanks to Susan for sending in her report and photos, and thank you for reading.
The ﬁrst-ever $10,000 Ocala Horse Properties Eventing Jumping Challenge, presented by Southern Cross Equestrian, was held at Anne and Dave Quanbeck’s farm in Reddick, Florida on March 4th. The brainchild of Scott Keach, the idea behind it was to provide Event riders with a chance to practice their show jumping in a ring with a lot of atmosphere and a lot at stake, so that they and their horses didn’t arrive at major competitions having never experienced that pressure. An Olympic and World Games Eventing Team member for Australia, Keach is now a successful show jumper, winning in the Grand Prix ring and recently competing as an individual at the Nation’s Cup in Wellington, so he has a unique perspective regarding eventing show jumping. “If show a jumper stuffs up, they get another chance the next weekend. If Eventers have a problem at a major competition, they may have wait a long time to get back in a big-time ring.” He feels that the best way to be prepared is to practice in an environment that simulates what riders will ﬁnd at venues like Rolex, where the atmosphere is much more electric than most horses and riders are familiar with.
The morning class, with jumps at 1.5m, was open at no cost to Challenge riders as a timed warm-up and to anyone else for only $30 a round. The Marc Donovan-designed course was full of brightly painted, professional jumps with sponsor banners next to the ring, music playing, a VIP tent set at one end, several nearby vendor booths and spectators on all sides. It’s rare that eventers are exposed to this much commotion, even at larger competitions, and that was the point of the Challenge. Many riders rode two or even three times around the course, as their horses ﬁnally settled and focused on jumping instead of what was going on around them. With Max Corcoran policing the warm-up and Brewster Walker manning the in-gate, the show ran very efﬁciently, with about 60 rides in the morning class.
The same track was used for the 2:00 P.M. Challenge class, though the jumps were raised to 1.25-1.30m. Five national teams of four riders competed, as well as some individuals, with the time proving to be as much of a factor as rails down. Canada Team 1, captained by Jessica Phoenix won the ﬁrst round, with U.S. Team 3, captained by Lauren Kieffer ﬁnishing second and a mixed nations team captained by Joe Meyer coming in third.
Only four horses and riders went clear to advance to the jump-off over a shortened track: Bobby Meyerhoff on Dunlavin’s Token, Selena O’Hanlon on Bellaney Rock, Lauren Kieffer on Veronica and Jennie Brannigan on Cambalda. The jump-off riders really went for it, and with signiﬁcant money and individual bragging rights at stake they all clearly wanted to win. Although Lauren Kieffer, the last to go, had the best time by three seconds, in an effort be the fastest she had a rail at a vertical, handing Selena the individual win and $2,000 prize. Jennie Brannigan was 2nd in the standings, Keiffer was third, Bobby Meyerhoff 4th, Buck Davidson 5th and Sinead Halpin 6th.
Generous sponsors helped fund the competition, which Keach plans to make an annual event. Title Sponsor Ocala Horse Properties donated the prize money, which was split between team and individual winners. Ashland Stables and Sharn Wordley offered a $1,000 Style Award, rewarding the rider who put in the smoothest, most technically correct rounds. Judged by Wordley, Kirk Webby (a New Zealand Olympic show jumper) and Deb Furnas, Laren Kieffer was the recipient of this award. Other Challenge sponsors included Antares, KER Sport Horse Nutrition, Wordley Martin Equestrian Footing, Station Hill Farm, Peak Performance Equine Services and Delbene Brothers Construction.
The Challenge not only showcased some great horses and riders, but was also a really fun day for spectators. VIP sponsors were treated to catered food, wine and beer, and there was a food truck on grounds with a better than your typical horse show selection.
After the competition, Keach and Corcoran generously opened the bar to all and despite the chilly temperatures many stayed for the humorous awards ceremony and to catch up with other eventing fans.
Keach wants to encourage people to come out next year for the second annual Challenge, which will be held the Tuesday before Red Hills, explaining “The more support we have the better off the riders are and the better for the sport. Spectators add to the atmosphere.”