Pletcher Wins $10,000 Pin Oak Charity Horse Show USHJA Hunter Derby
Presented by Valobra Jewelry and Antiques at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show presented by Compass Bank Wealth Management Group
March 28, 2008
KATY, Tex. - Peter Pletcher of Magnolia, Tex., was the overall winner of the $10,000 Pin Oak Charity Horse Show U.S. Hunter/Jumper Association International Hunter Derby presented by Valobra Jewelry and Antiques. This was a member event of the ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby presented by Dietrich Insurance, featuring Walsh Harness & Saddlery - and it was presented on March 28 during the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center.
Presented by Valobra Jewelry and Antiques, the stunning ringside reception was a nod to the rich heritage and sport of show hunters. Under a perfectly appointed tent elegantly attired guests dined on French cuisine and sipped Moet & Chandon champagne while enjoying classical music and a display of Ferraris and Maseratis; show officials arrived in a traditional carriage pulled by a Gypsy Vanner horse.
"It was the quintessential hunter derby for our sponsors and guests," said Lynn Walsh, president of the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, "and a Pin Oak afternoon that will long be recalled for it's elegance and style."
The USHJA Derby Series was developed to bring the lost art of tradition and horsemanship back to the show ring. It was created to bring show hunters to the international level, to increase spectator, media and sponsorship interest, and to bring tradition and basic riding principles back to the sport of showing hunters. The USHJA Series consists of 48 qualifying events held over 18 months, culminating in a Series Final in August 2009. Each qualifying event offers a minimum of $10,000 in prize money, with $100,000 being offered at the finals. The Pin Oak Charity Horse Show was proud to be one of the venues for one of these special Hunter Derbies.
The field included a mixture of talented professional and skilled amateur riders, and their equally impressive horses - including gorgeous Warmbloods and fine Thoroughbred crosses. A large crowd of appreciative spectators - including ringside sponsors and horse show guests - gathered on the grass under a ringside tent to sip champagne, nibble on fine French cuisine and enjoy live classical guitar accompaniment. The many finely-dressed ladies wearing colorful, fashionable hats and gentlemen in natty blazers created a scene that resembled an elegant Kentucky Derby party. Ferrari and Maserati automobiles were on display for all to admire, and the atmosphere had a warmly old-fashioned feel to it, enhanced by a beautiful, ornate carriage - pulled by a Gypsy Vanner horse - that transported Derby officials to the ring for the awards presentations.
Lynn Walsh, President of the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show (who also was an exhibitor in the Derby on her horse Ocean Park), said she was elated with the success of the Derby. "We are so grateful to Valobra Jewelry and Antiques for helping us offer a ringside party that was unparalleled at any Southwest horse show," Walsh declared. "We had many first-time horse show guests in attendance, and I think they really enjoyed the experience. It was so exciting to actually see a large crowd of people present to watch a hunter event, and to cheer for the riders so enthusiastically."
One of those exhibitors was especially popular with the crowd - Tracy Fenney (rider of three horses in the Derby and a world-famous jumper rider from the Dallas area), who had won the $30,000 Pin Oak Charity I Grand Prix on March 22 and several $10,000 jumper events over the course of two weeks at Pin Oak.
In the USHJA Hunter Derby format, the qualifying events consist of two courses - a traditional hunter classic course, and a handy hunter course. Obstacles simulate those reminiscent of the traditional foxhunting hunt field. Fence heights are 3'6" to 4'0," with a minimum of four 4'0" fence options in each round. Two teams of judges with two judges per team score the riders. There is a minimum of 10 fences in Round I (judged on style and brilliance), and the top 12 horses from the first round are invited back for the handy round. The courses are built to encourage and reward brilliance and daring from the rider, and true athletic ability from the horses. The handy round is judged on style, brilliance and handiness (i.e. versatility) - with a potential maximum of 20 bonus points awarded to each rider for overall handiness. The horse-and-rider combination scoring the most cumulative points earned in the two combined rounds wins the overall classic, although the top 12 riders in each round are awarded prizes (through 12th place) as well.
Pletcher, who captured the overall classic on Argentum (owned by Alta Basaldua of Kingwood, Tex.), is no stranger to winning - he's a three-time winner of the prestigious Monarch International Professional World Championship Hunter Rider title, and a renowned hunter/jumper trainer. But Pletcher faced 23 determined challengers on this particular day, with everyone's eyes on the lucrative prize.
The top five finishers in Round I all included "the Pletcher element." The class was won by a Pletcher-trained amateur rider, Becky Gochman of Houston, aboard her own horse Godiva. Pletcher finished second on Leonardo (owned by Julia Eads) and third on MacArthur Park (owned by Lynn Walsh). Fourth was the Pletcher-trained Vicki MacNaughton of Burnet, Tex., on her horse Studio 54, and fifth was again Pletcher himself on Argentum.
Round II (the handy round) was won by Argentum, followed by MacNaughton on Studio 54 in second, Pletcher on the Gochman-owned Tuscan Sun in third, Pletcher on MacArthur Park in fourth, and Jamee Crawford of El Paso on her horse Travis in fifth. Points earned from the two rounds resulted in a grand final order of finish that included Pletcher on Argentum (1st), MacNaughton on Studio 54 (2nd), Pletcher on MacArthur Park (3rd), Pletcher on Tuscan Sun (4th) and Gochman on Godiva.
Pletcher says he was "thrilled" with the win on Argentum (whose nickname is "Gem"), a seven-year-old Oldenburg gelding that was recently purchased by Basaldua while she was showing on the winter horse show circuit in Thermal, Ca., with Pletcher's stable. "This horse has such an unbelievable jump," Pletcher said of Gem, "even though he's very green - so I knew he could be the winner if he could just use the jump that he has, stay calm and hold it all together."
Gem is "really, really a trier," Pletcher continued. "And this afternoon, he proved that he's going to be a very nice horse." Said owner Basaldua: "I am so excited and thrilled; nothing like this has ever happened to me. I'm still shaking; it's surreal. Peter is the best trainer."
Pletcher had praise for his two highest-finishing students in the Classic - MacNaughton (who also rode two of her other horses in the event) and Gochman. "They were unbelievable," he stated. "Becky was fantastic in the first round with Godiva - she just cruised around and got those high scores, which was fantastic. And Vicki, she's always in there. She's a very good rider, very good in the junior hunters, and a good thinker. If you give Vicki a thinking-problem course, she's going to figure it out."
Course designer Alan Lohman of Westminster, Md., also received kudos from Pletcher "Overall," Pletcher said, "it was a really good course. I thought it was so well-planned, because the ring is not huge. So I think Alan did a fantastic job of where he set those jumps in that ring. It rode picture-perfect."
When the USHJA Derby Series first started, "I thought it was too hard for some of the parts of the country where it would be held," Pletcher admitted. "The first time I did it [in California this past winter], it was held almost into the evening hours, out on the grand prix course which most of the horses weren't used to, and the jumps were really spooky and scary. But now that I've ridden one of these classes that was truly set for hunters, it was fantastic. So I think it's going to depend on each course designer: how they build the course. And I think the word should get out on who's been building the courses that hunters have jumped around on the best. If they create and present this as a true hunter spectacular, I think it will be fantastic for our industry.
As for sponsorships of hunter classics such as this one, Pletcher said: "I think it's great. Any time you can get sponsors to give money in this sport, they should get as much coverage as they can. I love it - I feel like the hunters are getting more and more money in our area now, and to have two of these Classics at two back-to-back horse shows is great money for the hunters."
The Pin Oak Charity Horse Show concludes on Sunday, March 30. For a complete list of results, visit the show's website at www.pinoak.org. Sponsors of the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show included Presenting Sponsor Compass Bank Wealth Management Group, Valobra Jewelry and Antiques, Channel 13 ABC TV, Houston Modern Luxury Magazine, BMC Software, Chamberlain Hrdlicka Law Firm, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, Dillard's, Fogarty Klein Monroe, Gulf Coast 4 Star Trailers, KTRK ABC-TV Ch. 13, Lansdowne Moody, McDonald's Corporation, Neiman Marcus, Nordic Lights Farm, Par Avion, LTD., RE/MAX of Texas, Texas Farm & Ranch Magazine, Moet & Chandon Champagne, and Momentum Audi/West Houston Audi.
The Pin Oak Charity Horse Show is a 501-C 3 organization, and a member of the USEF "AA" Rated Texas Hunter Jumper Association, an American Hunter/Jumper Federation World Championship Hunter Rider Event, Marshall & Sterling League, and part of the NAL and Washington International Horse Show qualifying series.
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