Haness and McQueen Reign Supreme in $100,000 USHJA WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular

Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 20, 2024—Nick Haness and McQueen brought their winning ways to the East Coast for the 2024 $100,000 USHJA World Championship Hunter Rider Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular at the Winter Equestrian Festival on Saturday, February 17. The pair, who topped the West Coast iteration in 2023, claimed the prestigious class at Wellington International with an overall average score of 91.20, just ahead of Kate Conover and Queen Celeste.

"To win this class for me is very emotional and very exciting. I had a lot of support around the country watching the livestream. My mom was watching and brought me to tears after the class and that for me was a really a special moment," said Haness. "McQueen has been a horse, in the last year, that's been a strong partnership with me and I just am thrilled to add this to his list of amazing accomplishments."

Thirty-five combinations took to the International Ring over a Classic Hunter Style course designed by Andy Christiansen and scored by three panels of two judges, including Mark Jungherr, Mary Eufemia, Chris Wynne, Shane George, Mary Leffler, and Wendy Peralta. The top-scoring 12 from the First Round would return for a Playoff Handy Round, but Walkenbach Equestrian LLC‘s McQueen would be the only horse to start and end the night in the winner's circle—collecting the WCHR Hunter of the Year Peter Wetherill Cup in the opening ceremonies and the evening's coveted tricolor.

The veteran pair, who also claimed the 3'6"/3'9" Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship last year, posted an 89.75 to finish the First Round behind Scott Stewart and Nottingham's 90.33. Last year's WCHR Professional Finals victor Conover sat close behind in third with an 89.33 aboard Glade Run Farm LLC's Queen Celeste.

Returning in reverse order by height section, Conover, of Pipersville, Pennsylvania, took to the Second Round first, tightening the race to the top by adding a score of 91 for a 90.16 total average. Haness, of Temecula, California, contested the course next and earned a round-topping 92.66, jumping to the top of the leaderboard with only Stewart to go. An unfortunate bobble at the first fence for Stewart and his Dr. Betsee Parker-owned mount secured Haness' spot on top.

"Honestly, I think the two of us are kind of jet-lagged together. Put that together and we had a great recipe for tonight's class," said Haness of his mount, who arrived in Florida earlier in the week from the West Coast. "He flew to Florida this past weekend. I competed him last week in Thermal and he felt great. He just arrived in good condition, and I was just really thrilled with his performance tonight."

The highlight of the night for McQueen? "Getting the carrots," laughed Haness, noting the treats provided in the winner's circle by Manestream.

For their win, the pair took home $30,000 in prize money, the Dark Continent Perpetual Trophy courtesy of Jim Greene, and a custom WCHR jacket and a cooler. Haness, as the winning rider, also received the Let's Dance Perpetual Trophy donated by Gene R. Mische.

Riders earning champion or reserve champion in the 3'6" and higher WCHR hunter sections during WEF 6 qualified for the Spectacular, with additional riders qualifying based on points if the qualified riders chose not to compete or were pre-qualified. In addition, select riders were pre-qualified to compete based on their 2023 standings in the WCHR national awards programs and Challenge classes at WCHR Finals. The top two of each 2023 Hunter Spectacular were also invited to compete.

"I mean, it's just an honor to come here. This is the first time I've come here where I actually didn't have to qualify by being champion or reserve, so it kind of gave me a different kind of pressure during the week. I was like, 'ok, I'm already in for the big class,'" said Conover, who received a bye thanks to her 2023 WCHR Finals win. "It was just so nice to know that I would be in the class with two chances and two great horses. This week feels so special. There's no better atmosphere than riding in this ring with this many people for us Hunter riders."

Various special awards were also presented during the evening's opening ceremonies and between rounds. The WCHR Peter Wetherill Cup was presented to McQueen, and Louise Riggio, of New York, New York, was awarded the Kavar Kerr Perpetual Trophy for her dedication, leadership, and commitment to the Hunter sport and the WCHR program. 

Nottingham received the Charlie Weaver Memorial Award for the highest-scoring Conformation Hunter in Round 1 with a score of 90.33. Reign, ridden by Christopher Payne and owned by Provence LLC, was presented with the Mark Gregory Award, established by Susie Humes-Bronson, for the best-conditioned horse in Round 1. The WCHR Kiara Barnett Rider Style Award, donated by Davlyn Farms and Meralex Farms, was awarded to Kate Conover.

The International Club was once again the site of the annual Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular Gala, offering patrons the best seats to watch the evening's activities and support the USHJA. 

Two more WCHR Spectaculars will be held across the country in 2024. The $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular will be held on Friday, March 15 at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California. The WCHR Central Hunter Spectacular will be held on Saturday, June 22 at Flintfields Horse Park in Williamsburg, Michigan.

The USHJA sends special thanks to the entire Wellington International team for hosting the Spectacular and to Official Sponsors CWD, Nutrena, and Parlanti for their support. Additional thanks go to Supporting Sponsors Essex Classics and Manestream.

For more information about the USHJA World Championship Hunter Rider Program, visit ushja.org/WCHR.

$100,000 USHJA WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular Results

Horse, Rider, Owner
Round 1 Avg. | Round 2 Avg. | Final Score

1. McQueen, Nick Haness, Walkenbach Equestrian LLC
89.75 | 92.66 | 91.20

2. Queen Celeste, Kate Conover, Glade Run Farm LLC
89.33 | 91 | 90.16

3. Paradigm, John French, Meredith Lipke
87.50 | 90.66 | 89.08

4. Babylon, John French, Marnell Sport Horses
86.08 | 91.66 | 88.87

5. Circa, Nick Haness, Glade Run Farm LLC
87.91 | 89.83 | 88.87

6. Magic Moment, Kate Hagerty, The Hagerty Family
88.83 | 88.16 | 88.49

7. Damas De Tannerre, Kate Conover, Autumn Janesky
86 | 90.33 | 88.16

8. Catwalk, Greg Crolick, Renaud Farm, LLC
87.41 | 87.66 | 87.53

9. Knowingly, Vivian Yowan, Partridge Hill Equestrian LLC
85.50 | 85 | 85.25

10. Acclaim, Parker Peacock, Parker Peacock
86.33 | 83.50 | 84.91

11. Lafitte De Muze, Amanda Steege, Cheryl Olsten
87.33 | 45 | 66.16

12. Nottingham, Scott Stewart, Dr. Betsee Parker
90.33 | 40 | 65.16

Photos: Rachel Milewski/USHJA, Sportfot, Tricia Booker/USHJA