Costello squeaks by Take Away for victory in 2005 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular

Winning the American Hunter Jumper Foundation Hunter Classic Spectacular is important to any hunter rider but for Louise Serio this time was especially important. Just the day before one of her young clientsWinning the American Hunter Jumper Foundation Hunter Classic Spectacular is important to any hunter rider but for Louise Serio this time was especially important. Just the day before one of her young clients

Story originally posted by Staff

Awards – Coolers – Ribbons at the 2005 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular on February 19, at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL.

Winning the American Hunter Jumper Foundation Hunter Classic Spectacular is important to any hunter rider but for Louise Serio this time was especially important. Just the day before one of her young clients (Rachel Geiger) lost her mom Jeannie in an unexpected turn of events and Louise made a decision that she was going to try and win for Jeannie. And so on Saturday, February 19, 2005 in Wellington, FL with sadness in her heart but determination in her ride, Serio and Costello negotiated two spectacular performances for a total two round score of 178.500, mere fractions ahead of second place finisher Take Away ridden by Havens Schatt. Pleased with her victory but still in shock, Serio felt a sense of accomplishment when Costello was announced as the winner. This was Costello’s first appearance in the tenth annual Hunter Classic which had been dominated by Strapless for the past four years.

Serio, Kennett Square, PA, only just recently started riding Costello, who she says, "gets really high and round at the jumps. He has a huge stride and he is great to jump."

President of the AHJF Geoff Teall watched Costello’s round from the announcer’s booth and was equally impressed with Costello’s performance. "There was consistency and brilliance in both rounds. Every jump was a great jump."

What made Costello’s performance even better was that you could see that Serio wasn’t holding back. Serio disclosed that Costello always needs you to put your foot on the gas a little to get him in gear (something that was not apparent from their ride). But no matter, she was going for it, which was clear by the way they boldly galloped down to every fence and by the beautifully formed bold, big arc of a jump that was the result of each jumping effort.

In fact, Costello appeared to have energy to spare despite the fact that, "He is a bit lazy. You have to make sure that you get a little over paced to start with," explained Serio.

Even second place rider Schatt knew it would be a challenge. "Louise’s horse was so accurate and so brilliant."

When Serio and Costello were on the field claiming their ribbon and prizes suddenly a bunch of friends and supporters dashed out on the field to share the joy of the moment knowing how special and important this win was to Serio. "I have a great group of people that help me," explained Serio. "I couldn’t do it without them."

Later Serio commented, "It was a little bittersweet. I wanted to win for Rachel." Jeannie’s passing was totally unexpected and it was a hard blow to family and friends alike. Serio was quiet for a moment before commenting, "I wanted to win this for Jeannie."


Serio competed in a field of 25 of the finest hunter horses and riders in the nation. All had to qualify throughout the weeklong hunter classic at the Winter Equestrian Festival, February 16-19. Costello was the fifth horse to go in the first round and his score of 89 put her second to 34-year-old Schatt, Ocala, FL, riding Take Away, who scored 89.625. Their closest rival was Rio Renoir, ridden by Holly Orlando, Wellington, FL, to a score of 86.500 with Ken Smith, Wellington, FL and High Cotton’s 86.437 next in the order. The remaining four riders included Remedy (85.875) ridden by Danny Robertshaw, Camden, SC; Without Question with Rob Bielefeld, Wellington, FL, (85.500); Chopard ridden by Scott Stewart (85.437), Flemington, NJ and Moulin Rouge (85.250) ridden by Natalie Johnson, Greenwich, CT.

After the scores for the first four riders to return were announced (Moulin Rouge-75.250, Without Question-84.250, Remedy-76.250, Rio Renoir-82.750), it was clear that Costello was in a good position as the fifth horse to return. And when his performance over the second course was as good if not better than the first round attention was focused on the announcer. Their 89.5 second round score and two round tally of 178.5 put the pressure on the rest of the field and especially on their closest rival. Take Away was last to go in the order and ahead of him was High Cotton (84.75) and Chopard (83.75). When Schatt and Take Away entered the ring it was clear they were the only pair who could "take away" the victory from Costello. And while there score of 88.625 was close, and left the audience waiting patiently not knowing who had won, it was just short a quarter of a point (178.250) and left the lead with Costello. Take Away placed a very close second.

The third place ribbon went to High Cotton (171.187), Without Question 4th (169.750), Rio Renoir 5th (169.250), Chopard 6th (162.187), Remedy 7th (162.125), and Moulin Rouge 8th (160.500). After the class was over if Schatt was disappointed it wasn’t obvious and Smith’s third place finish was appreciated and expected.

"I was real pleased with him tonight. The plan worked out as well as we thought. I was very satisfied with the outcome. It was about as good as my horse could go," explained Smith.


A large part of the aura of this class is the fact that the horses can gallop around in a huge arena. Course designer Patrick Rodes, who was also one of the judges, kept in mind the problems posed by jumping under the lights in a huge field and on grass when designing the course.

"It’s a big area and I think it will be spooky," said Rodes before the class. "So, I’m thinking about where to position the jumps to make it as inviting as I can."

Overall this class receives accolades from anyone who talks about it. Smith, commented, "It’s just a special class with the best of the best competing. Just to be a part of it is special."

Says Teall, "It’s what it means to the sport. When you see all these spectators here for the hunters … just to see all those people and the level of the class was so high." Teall was referring to the fact that the arena was packed with people sitting on the grass overlooking the arena and filling the tents, especially the Jockey Club tent where the VIP dinner and silent auction was taking placing raising the funds used throughout the year for the many programs the AHJF offers and the prize money given out at its functions. People were bidding on a variety of items including a custom designed and fitted gown from Badgley Mischka and two tickets to their Runway Show among a host of other items.

Executive Directory Michele Perla, who overseas the evening from behind the scenes noted, "It was a great evening. The party was a huge success, especially with the changes initiated this year (which included a more elegant setting in the tent, an exquisite meal, a silent auction and a champagne toast following the event). It began with the purpose of raising the profile of the hunters and it continues to achieve that goal.


This class has become the class to be in for hunter riders and it is because of the AHJF that this wonderful night competing under the lights in the beautifully decorated International Arena over an immaculate course watched by thousands of spectators took place. Since 1997 when the first AHJF Hunter Classic took place it continues to be the party of the season for hunter enthusiasts and those acquiring an interest in this discipline that not too long ago was struggling to survive.

The AHJF was formed in 1992 because of the need to support and reward hunter riders and horses. It is a member-supported non-profit organization. The AHJF was formed to further the development of the sport of show hunter competition by providing a national office to organize, coordinate and support hunter rider and show jumping equestrian competition. Programs of the AHJF include the World Championship Hunter Rider Awards, the AHJF Emergency Relief Fund, AHJF Educational Programs, the AHJF 401k and Profit Sharing Plan, and the AHJF/Dover Saddlery Junior Hunter Challenge. The AHJF also hosts the Legacy Cup (which this year will take place May 11-22 at the Kentucky Spring Horse Show in Lexington, KY) and the Monarch International Show Circuit Magazine Professional WCHR Finals (which takes place October 7, 2005 in Upper Marlboro, MD and last year was won by Peter Pletcher). All new this year is a very special event called the World Championship Hunter Rider World Cup Team Hunter Challenge which will take place Saturday, April 25, 2005 and will pit Team USA (Peter Pletcher, Scott Stewart, Louise Serio and John French) against Team Europe (Rodrigo Pessoa, Marcus Enning, Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton).

The first AHJF Hunter Classic took place in 1997 and continues to be its major fundraiser. New this year were three additional trophies. The Strapless Challenge was proposed by the S. Craig Lindner Family after their horse Strapless won the class four years in a row. Now it’s Costello’s turn to try and duplicate Strapless. The prize to any horse who achieves this goal is a beautiful bronze and a cash incentive of $75,000. Another new trophy is The Mark R. Gregory Memorial Trophy for Excellence which was presented to In Return owned by Caroline Moran as the Best Conditioned and Turned Out Horse in the first round of the Classic.

There was also a new award for the winner. Serio received the "Let’s Dance Trophy," which was established by the AHJF in honor of friend and horseman Eugene R. Mische for his support of the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular which is annually held at his horse show and on his horse show grounds.

It is with the support of Mische that this event has become so important to the hunter world. Rodes did a good job of explaining the significance of this class when he commented, "I think it is a wonderful event. To highlight the hunters in that ring – it’s great to see and it’s great to judge. The AHJF does a fabulous job of promoting this event. It’s probably the best hunter event in the country. You don’t get to show hunters on the grass very often, much less in a beautiful field like that and for that much money."

Rodes was referring to the fact that Serio won $12,000 as a result of her first place and after that was subtracted from the total purse of $46,600 the money was split between the remaining 11 riders and the top four professional riders. For her win, Serio also won a CM Hadfield’s H20B Saddle from Hadfield’s Saddlery, which is made out of water buffalo, the Dark Continent Perpetual Trophy courtesy of Jim Green, a custom jacket by Personalized Products and a cooler donated by Grazing Field’s Farm, Inc.

For information about the Hunter Classic, the AHJF or its programs, contact the AHJF at 335 Lancaster Street, West Boylston, MA 01583-0369, call 508-835-8813, fax 508-835-6125 or email

cutline: 11-13 – Awards – Coolers – Ribbons at the 2005 AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular on February 19, at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL. Diana De Rosa Photos