Mill Spring, N.C. – June 1, 2016 – The Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) hosted its first $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby of the season during Week Five of the Tryon Spring series on Saturday, May 21, in the George H. Morris Arena. Among the two panels of judges was top professional hunter rider and trainer Steve Heinecke of Sock Inc. along with Leslie Emerson, Otis Brown Jr. and Heidi D’Angelo.
Heinecke is a USEF-licensed R judge in the hunter and hunter/jumping seat equitation discipline categories. His officiating history displays years of experience and includes some of the most prestigious and respected horse shows and facilities throughout the country such as the Fairfield Hunt Club, Hampton Classic, Saint Louis National Charity Horse Show, Mid-Atlantic Equitation Championships, RMI Jubilee, Winter Equestrian Festival, Aiken Fall Festival, Tryon Fall series and, most recently, the Tryon Spring series.
The class brought together many of the world’s top hunter combinations, which went head-to-head in an exciting two-rounds of hunter derby competition.
“As a judge, I like to see brightness and pace,” said Heinecke. “My perspective as a judge comes from being a rider and exhibitor. If a horse jumps a ten and then he shakes his head, that doesn’t bother me. I don’t want to see a horse go around and be quiet and dull.
“One thing I noticed between some of the horses was the ones that went across the ground in a very relaxed, smooth and proficient way and jumped their best at the jump — ears forward and looked like they enjoyed their job,” continued Heinecke. “Then there were other horses that looked like they were scurrying — like the rider was chasing them across the ground — and they’d get to the jump and they were rushed. The difference between a score of 90 and below an 86 was that the 90 did everything effortlessly versus anything below an 86 meant it was contrived and rushed.”
In the end, Kelley Farmer and Jane Gaston’s Baltimore impressed the judges enough in both the classic and handy rounds to take home the blue ribbon with a total score of 394.
“Kelley and Baltimore had beautiful rounds,” said Heinecke. “One thing I noticed, and as a rider I strive for, but as a judge I like to see is — you’ve got 12–14 jumps in the first round, and her horses jumped them all the same. Their legs are always in the right position and the horses just jump great. Some horses come in and six jumps they jump great and then four jumps they jump mediocre and one jump they jump bad, one fast, one slow — not Kelley. She rides them all the same, and that’s hard to do!”
Farmer piloted the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding to a win in the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show just one week prior. In 2015, Farmer also took top honors in the first USHJA International Hunter Derby ever hosted at the TIEC facility with Mindful.
“[Baltimore’s] been nothing but an absolute superstar,” said Farmer. “He has really stepped up to the plate on all occasions and is just a super horse. He never lets you down and if he doesn’t win it’s not his fault. He tries so hard for you in the ring and he always seems to do very well. He’s extremely careful and light on his feet so you can really do whatever you want with him in the ring.”
Jennifer Bliss and Poker Face, owned by Harris Hill Farm, LLC, claimed the second place prize with a combined score of 378, while Erica Quinn collected third place aboard Need I Say, owned by Kelley Farmer, with a total score of 375.
“In the hunter derby ring, I like to see horses with some spark,” said Heinecke. “That’s why Kelley’s so successful. At every jump, she puts it all out there.”
Heinecke will continue to add to his judging resume this upcoming summer and fall where he will be judging the third week of the Bleheim June Classic in California, the Virginia State 4-H Championship Horse and Pony Show at the Virginia Horse Center in September and the New England Equitation Championships at the Eastern States Coliseum in Massachusetts in October, to name a few.
“I love judging,” said Heinecke. “I think judging makes me a better exhibitor. I like watching good horses jump. I thought the professional divisions were excellent at Tryon all week. I judged the main hunter on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and I saw some really nice horses. I saw a lot of good trips. It was great; I really enjoyed it. It makes me a better exhibitor, a better rider, a better trainer and just overall makes me more proficient.”
In addition to his judging schedule, Heinecke is also regularly competing and training with Sock Inc. clients and horses as their spring and summer show season gets underway. The Sock Inc. team will be competing at the Tryon Spring and Summer series through June and July and then will head to Lexington to compete at the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows series in July and August.