The United States Hunter Jumper Association and the Emerging Athletes Task Force congratulate 2011 EAP National Training Session winner Jacob Pope on his Grand Prix debut at the Fairfield June Benefit Horse Show's $25,000 featured show jumping class.
Held at the Fairfield Hunt Club in Westport, CT the class drew 22 of show jumping's best, such as Peter Leone and Sydney Shulman, but Pope was more than capable of holding his own in their company. The EAP National Training Session, presented by Dover Saddlery ,helped to bring this natural talent to the attention of Heritage Farm's training duo of Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith where Jacob was soon offered a working student position.
Also taking notice of Pope was Judy Richter, from the EAP Task Force and a highly respected member of the show jumping community. It was on Richter's horse Blink that Pope entered the grand prix ranks and finished fifth overall. Richter said of the pairing, "Jacob gave Blink a beautiful ride. Since Blink hadn't jumped a big track in two years and Jacob never had, we inched our way along. Early in the week the1.20m went well as did the 1.40m and the Welcome Stake, so we decided to do the Grand Prix, not really expecting to go clean."
Pope added, "It might sound odd, but even though it was my first time, I wasn't actually very nervous going into the ring. I had confidence in Blink, and had ridden him earlier in the week in the Welcome stakes class (we placed 6th). So, even though he hadn't really been jumped much before this past week, if at all, since I rode him last September in the Gold Cup, I knew he could do it."
Pope continued "Judy Richter, Blink's owner, was very generous, as usual, in offering him to me to ride in my first Grand Prix. And she had told me that he is notorious for having the plain verticals down, so going into the ring I was more focused on knowing the course and trying to keep him clear. That was my focus – to go clear. I had so much to think about, I wasn't able to be nervous."
The challenging layout was created by none other than USEF seven-time Course Designer of the Year, internationally revered Richard Jeffrey of Dorset, UK.
"The course was challenging, for sure, but it was a great first Grand Prix because it kind of built in its difficulty as the course went on. The first couple jumps were a bit more inviting but became progressively more difficult until the last couple lines that we actually quite challenging and big – at least for me as a first time Grand Prix rider." Pope said.
Seven horse and rider combinations made the jump off, Pope and Blink happily among them. Still no nerves for Pope, "I think that riding equitation has given me a great foundation for riding jumpers. It has taught me many of the jumper techniques while emphasizing precision and accuracy. I was trying to be efficient, quick and smooth. That's what I was going for and coming out of the ring with a clear round in my first Grand Prix is a feeling that I will never forget. It was kind of unbelievable, and I still don't believe it. And we managed to do it on Judy's birthday too! I was so happy to have a clear round on Blink on her birthday!"
Richter summed up her feelings for Pope's performance, "Jacob is a very talented rider. His horses like him and seem to try hard for him. He has learned so much from all his trainers starting with Streett Moore and most recently with Andre as well as from all horse people around him. He could go far in our sport, and meanwhile we are having a lot of fun inching our way along. Speaking as Blink's owner, I find Jacob truly a joy to work with. He loves horses, including mine, so we were from the start on the right track. I could not recommend him more highly to owners and trainers who want the best for their horses."
USHJA wishes Jacob great success with all the new opportunities that continue to come his way.
For additional information about the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program, presented by Dover Saddlery visit the EAP site and questions may be directed to Meghan Carney via email or by calling (859) 225-6721.