The Vermont Summer Festival hosted World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week, showcasing several of the country’s top hunter riders and horses, from July 16 to 20 in East Dorset, VT.
Division championship titles were awarded to professional, amateur, and junior riders all hoping to qualify for the WCHR Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show this fall. The top 10 nationally ranked riders in each WCHR division, as well as the top six riders from each WCHR region, are invited to compete at the Capital Challenge Horse Show for WCHR Finals, which run from at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD.
Professional divisions were the first to award prizes, with Jennifer Bauersachs and Chantara taking home the championship title in the First Year Green Working Hunter division. Chantara, an eight-year-old Holsteiner mare by Corrado I, is owned by Lee Kellogg-Sandrigan. Reserve champion for the division was Casimir, ridden by Brooke Baldwin-de Grazia and owned by Lannie Lipson.
Bauersachs also earned the top finish in the Performance Hunter 3’6” division with Safe Haven, owned by Victoria Grauer and Copperline Farm LLC. Safe Haven is a nine-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding by Crelido. Dana Hart Callanan rode Kalifornia Dreamin’ to the reserve championship for owner Carly Snyder.
Jennifer Bliss not only won week three’s $5,000 NEHJA Hunter Derby on July 17, she also picked up three division championships along the way. She and derby winner Poker Face were champions of the Second Year Green Working Hunter division. Poker Face, a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Tangelo van de Zuutheve, is owned by Bliss’ Harris Hill Farm.
“We had such a successful week – I wish every week could be like that! It doesn’t all come together that often,” said Bliss, who operates Harris Hill Farm in South Salem, NY. “In my experience, week three in Vermont tends to be a really competitive week because of it being WCHR. I think a lot of people come specifically for that week. There’s a lot of really top riders (in Vermont that week), which I think makes it very fun.”
Bliss was also champion of the Pre-Green Hunter 3’ and 3’3” divisions with her horses, Cooperstown and Sugarman, respectively. Cooperstown is a five-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Clinton I while Sugarman is a seven-year-old gelding.
After winning WCHR Northeast Regional Champion in the Developing Professional category several times, Bliss has her sights set on the national championship this year.
“It’s a really fun program and a great goal for hunter riders,” Bliss remarked. “It highlights a lot of the top shows in the (country), and I think it rewards consistency throughout the year. As a professional, sometimes your mounts tend to change and you end up showing different horses, but WCHR gives you something to focus on solely as a rider.”
Amanda Steege, who operates Ashmeadow Farm out of Bedminster, NJ, and Ocala, FL, agreed with Bliss, noting that WCHR Finals are always a goal for herself and her clients.
“We typically show a lot in Florida, but the rest of the year we do maybe one or two horse shows a month, so my clients and I have taken on WCHR as a goal because it rewards you for going to a select number of quality horse shows,” Steege explained.
Steege was reserve champion to Bliss in the Second Year Green – High Performance Hunter combined division with Susan Darragh’s Zidane. Steege also topped the Green Conformation Hunter division with Calvary, Jessica Tindley’s seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Count Grannus. The Green Conformation Hunter reserve championship went to Costar, ridden by Thomas Brennan and owned by Shelby Trible.
Steege has been coming to the Vermont Summer Festival for nearly 20 years, and enjoys coming back to East Dorset each summer with her barn.
“I’ve been coming to Vermont since the 90s!” Steege said. “We love the town – there are great places to stay and eat. I know my customers really like Vermont because they can bring their whole family. Billy and Jennifer Glass and the Ammermans really make Vermont feel special and make you feel welcome. They give out nice prizes and make presentations really special.”
In addition to her win with Calvary, Steege also topped the Performance Working Hunter 3’3” division with Maitre D’, an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding by Celano owned by Wendy Salomon. Reserve champion was Jennifer Combs’ Carthano Z piloted by Caitlin Venezia.
In the amateur divisions, trainers Scott Stewart and Kenneth Berkley’s clients rode away with multiple division championships for Rivers Edge Farm. In addition to their students’ wins, Berkley took home several reserve championships in the Pre-Green Hunter divisions. He rode William Hill and Cruciani, both owned by Rivers Edge, to a tie for the reserve championship of the Pre-Green Hunter 3’ division and finished as reserve of the 3’3” division with Trust, another Rivers Edge mount.
Krista Weisman and Reality were awarded division championship honors for their top finish in the Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’6” division. Reality, owned by Krista and Alexa Weisman, is an 11-year-old Mecklenburger stallion by D’Olympic. Reserve champion for the division was Castlewalk, ridden by Nancy Hooker who, like Weisman, trains with Stewart and Berkley.
The Amateur-Owner 3’3” Hunter 18-35 champion was Stephanie Danhakl and her own Enough Said, an eight-year-old Warmblood gelding. Taylor Willever and her horse, Whisper, finished as reserve champions for trainer Troy Hendricks.
In the Amateur-Owner 3’3” Hunter 36 & Over division, Danhakl’s barnmate, Glen Senk, finished as division champion with Loyalty, his eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Triple. Asscher and Lanie Lipson, who trains with Brooke Baldwin-de Grazia, were reserve champions.
Kate Ross, who trains with Valerie Renihan, and Friday Night, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Cornet Obolensky, were crowned division champions of the Small Junior Hunter division. The 2014 Adirondack-Green Mountain Challenge winner, Elle Young, and her own Boris were reserve champions.
In the Large Junior Hunters, it was Annabel Revers and Beechwood Stables’ MTM Hands Down that rode away with the championship prize. MTM Hands Down is an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding, and the pair train with Mitchell Steege. Reserve champion for the division was News Flash, owned and ridden by Tyler St. Bernard.
The 3’3” Junior Hunter division awarded its WCHR division champion for the first time at the Vermont Summer Festival during week three, honoring Mackenzie Michaels and Showgirl, owned by Louisa Attenborough, as the top competitors. Bobby Braswell trains Michaels and Showgirl, a 13-year-old Bayerischer mare by Lord Inci Pit. Reserve champion was Color Up with owner-rider Jacqueline Watts in the irons.
The Vermont Summer Festival offers a full schedule of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition from at Harold Beebe Farm. This week's $10,000 Open Welcome Stake Series, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, will be held Thursday, July 24, with the $30,000 Mount Equinox Grand Prix, presented by Purina Horse Feed, taking place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 26. The $5,000 3’3” NEHJA Hunter Derby takes place on Thursday, July 24.
Competition runs weekly from Wednesday through , beginning at Admission prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday. and , admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children. 100% of the gate proceeds benefit area libraries, including Manchester Community Library.
For over 20 years, the Vermont Summer Festival has attracted exhibitors and their families to the Manchester region in southern Vermont. Known for its wide variety of area amenities including restaurants, outdoor activities, and lots and lots of shopping, Manchester-area businesses warmly welcome horse show competitors to the area each summer.
The Vermont Summer Festival is a proud member event of the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame, the Marshall & Sterling League, and the North American League (NAL). Please e-mail us or visit our website for more information about the Vermont Summer Festival.
Photograph by David Mullinix Photography