Traverse City, Mich. – Aug. 23, 2020 – A talented sea of some of the best junior hunter riders and their horses in the country took centerstage at Flintfields Horse Park, the home of Traverse City Horse Shows, on Sunday to commence the first of three days of the 2020 Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships East Coast. By the conclusion of the day’s activities, eight pairs had ridden to the top of the leaderboard in their respective divisions to emerge as the frontrunners headed into the second half of competition, which will see the 2020 champions crowned following the final handy and flat phases.
By the end of the day, two partnerships had earned first prize in two classes. Grace Debney and Quimby, owned by Temple Equestrian LLC, separated themselves from the pack as one of the big winners of the day and the early leaders in the Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under division following blue ribbons in the Classic and Under Saddle. Augusta Iwasaki and Small Occasion, owned by Elizabeth Reilly and Chris Iwasaki, followed suit with back-to-back victories in the Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under. In the 3’3” divisions, Raina Swani collected impressive results with blue ribbons in two divisions aboard Brendan Williams’ Knightly and Shadowfax Equestrian LLC’s Stately.
The USEF Junior Hunter National Championship was established in 2001, and in 2014 the new 3’3” Junior Hunter section was added to the schedule. Each year, more than 2,000 eligible hunters qualify to compete in the prestigious East Coast final that consists of three phases: classic, handy hunter and under saddle phase. The Under Saddle phase accounts for 20 percent of the rider’s overall score, while the Classic Round and Handy Hunter each account for 40 percent of the overall score. The overall score from the weighted sections determines the ultimate victors. After spending years in multiple homes, the Championship is making its debut in Traverse City in 2020.
The largest class of the day, the $3,000 Large Junior Hunter 16 – 17 Classic featured 35 entries that contested the 3’6” course set by designer Andy Christiansen in attempts to impress the judging panels that consisted of Robert Crandall, Mark Jungherr, Keri Kampsen, Tammy Provost, Scott Williamson and Sissy Wickes. Earning a score of 259.50 thanks to an exemplary trip around the pattern, which included a creative set of natural-themed obstacles spread across the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring, owner-rider Sophia Mitchell and Chevito jumped to the early lead in their division with a blue-ribbon performance. Under the tutelage of trainer Val Renihan, Mitchell and the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding propelled themselves to the top of the class standings seemingly with ease, more than 7 points ahead of the next-closest finisher.
Mitchell’s younger peers in the $3,000 Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under Classic continued to show off their prowess in the ring, with Iwasaki leading the way on Small Occasion with a first-round score of 266, the highest score of the day. Their smaller counterparts saw two more 3’6” Classic winners, as Debney topped the scorecard in the $3,000 Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under Classic with the reins on Quimby thanks to their 249 points, and Libbie Gordon piloted Lindsay Maxwell’s High Society to a winning tally of 256 points.
Following their over fences efforts, the 3’6” exhibitors showcased their skills again Sunday, following up their Classic performances with the under saddle class in order to highlight their horses’ movement. The first class, the $1,500 Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under Under Saddle, was topped by Debney and Quimby with 271.50 points to push them to the top of the overall leaderboard. Wolfstone Stables’s Boccaccio carried Natalie Jayne to victory in the $1,500 Small Junior Hunter 16 – 17 Under Saddle with 265.50 points. Iwasaki flatted Small Occasion, another Reilly and Iwasaki entry, to the highest score in the $1,500 Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under Under Saddle, boasting 262.50 points to emerge as the cleardivision leader. Juliette Joseph and Reilly and Iwasaki’s Seaside rounded out the flat class wins for the day with first prize in the $1,500 Large Junior Hunter 16 – 17 Under Saddle with a score of 261.50.
In the 3’3” ranks, Swani shone on Brendan Williams’s Knightly, turning in a textbook trip to garner 255 points from the judges, which would ultimately capture victory in the $2,000 Small Junior Hunter 3’3” 15 & Under Classic. Swani is trained by both Williams and Geoffrey Hesslink, and the young rider and Knightly will head into the second day of competition as the frontrunners thanks to their early success. Swani maintained her momentum later in the afternoon with another winning trip thanks to a 250.10-point ride on Shadowfax Equestrian LLC’s Stately to clinch the title in the $2,000 Large Junior Hunter 3’3” 15 & Under Classic. Other day one champions included Elizabeth Nestor and her own Covert, who accrued 251 points and the win in the $2,000 Small Junior Hunter 3’3” 16 – 17 Classic, as well as Riley Hogan on Stewart’s Keebler in the $2,000 Large Junior Hunter 3’3” 16 – 17 Classic, the final contest of the day, with 255 points.
Junior hunters will return to the limelight Monday for the latter portion of their respective divisions, which will include handy phases and flat classes, in order to finalize the standings to crown the 2020 champions. Overall champions will be named after the completion of each section, and the Overall Grand Champions, Overall Reserve Grand Champions and Best Mare will be distinguished.Tuesday will conclude the championships with its feature event, the The United States Hunter Jumper Association Gladstone Cup Equitation Classic, presented by Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College.
Sophia Mitchell – Large Junior Hunter 16-17 Classic winner
“I’ve had him for about a little over one year. He is the most incredible horse I’ve ever had. He’s never let me down and he is always on his A-game. He is 11 years old and he is amazing.”
On her win:
“It means so much. It’s really nice to work all year and be rewarded for it. It is really nice to have all of my hard work pay off this year. This is my third year competing at the [Junior Hunter Final National Championships – East], and I won the classic trip last year. This round was one of my best and I’m really happy with how it went.
On the course:
“I love this ring and the course. It all flowed really nicely and the ring is really spacious. It’s a really nice size and I thought everything flowed well and rode nicely.”
On competing in Traverse City:
“This is my first time competing here [in Traverse City] and I love it! The weather is nice, the show is really nice, and they are doing a good job with COVID-19 protocol. I really like it here.”
Raina Swani – Small Junior 3’3’’ Hunter 15 & Under Classic winner
“Knightly, or Lulu, is owned by my trainers Brendan Williams and Geoffrey Hesslink and I have been riding this horse since January. It’s been really good, she’s a great horse. She is a pretty good mover so I’m excited to show her off in the hack. I’d definitely say that her movement is one of her stronger qualities. She is a great jumper too.”
On her win:
“It means so much. Especially this year with everything going on with COVID-19, to be here is so special and this is one of the shows we have been working toward all year is great.”
On the course:
“I thought it was good. We showed a little in New York at Princeton Show Jumping and HITS Saugerties the past few weeks, so I had the opportunity to do a few national hunter derbies to get the feel of being in a big ring. I really liked the course and [Knightly] was really good in there.”
On showing in Traverse City:
“I love it! I love the showgrounds and I love the rings. It’s great!
Rider / Horse / Owner / Score
$3,000 Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under Classic:
Grace Debney / Quimby / Temple Equestrian LLC / 249
$3,000 Small Junior Hunter 16 – 17 Classic:
Libbie Gordon / High Society / Lindsay Maxwell / 256
$3,000 Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under Classic:
Augusta Iwasaki / Small Occasion / Elizabeth Reilly & Chris Iwasaki / 266
$3,000 Large Junior Hunter 16 – 17 Classic:
Sophia Mitchell / Chevito / Sophia Mitchell / 259.50
$2,000 Small Junior Hunter 3’3” 15 & Under Classic:
Raina Swani / Knightly / Brendan Williams / 255
$2,000 Small Junior Hunter 3’3” 16 – 17 Classic:
Elizabeth Nestor / Covert / Elizabeth Nestor / 251
$2,000 Large Junior Hunter 3’3” 15 & Under Classic:
Raina Swani / Stately / Shadowfax Equestrian LLC / 250.10
$2,000 Large Junior Hunter 3’3” 16 – 17 Classic:
Riley Hogan / Keebler / Donald Stewart / 255
$1,500 Small Junior Hunter 15 & Under U/S:
Ella Witt / Gavalia / Ella Witt
$1,500 Small Junior Hunter 16 – 17 U/S:
Madison Rauschenbach / Carluca / Donald Stewart
$1,500 Large Junior Hunter 15 & Under U/S:
Shea Alexa McCoy / LPF Woodford / Shea Alexa McCoy
$1,500 Large Junior Hunter 16 – 17 U/S:
Elizabeth Bunt / Camiros / Britt McCormick