Peter Pletcher Amazes Again in WCHR Pro Finals for the Monarch International Title

Diana De Rosa


“It’s amazing every time,” commented an exuberant Peter Pletcher after winning his third Monarch International Professional World Championship Hunter Rider title, which took place on October 5TH during the eight-day Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD. The 2007 WCHR Professional Finals is sponsored by Stillwell-Hansen, Inc., presented by John R. Ingram Fund & the Ingram Family, produced by the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation (AHJF) and hosted at the Capital Challenge Horse Show.

“The first time you are freaked out. The second time it’s still unbelievable. The third time I can’t believe how exciting it still is to win this class. It never gets dull. You are just as nervous every time,” concluded Pletcher.

Pletcher, Magnolia, TX, claimed the victory ahead of three-time winner Scott Stewart, Wellington, FL and defending champion and two-time winner John French, Redwood City, CA after an initial three rounds of six riders was paired down to three. The scores of the final three was the closest margin in the history of this class. Pletcher’s score of 360.99 was mere fractions ahead of 2nd place finishers John French and Scott Stewart who tied for second with a score of 359.32, but the way the class is structured the score of the tie-breaker judges broke the tie (88 for Stewart to 89 for French) to give French the 2nd place finish, just one spot lower than the previous year when he won it all.

Finishing 4th was Liza Boyd (266.32), 5th was John Bragg (263.99) and 6th was Kirsten Coe (261.49).

THE COMPETITION

Riders had to qualify to compete in this class by earning points in WCHR recognized shows (of which there were 50 throughout the U.S. in eight regions: Southeast, South Central, Central Mountain, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest and Midwest). AHJF tallies the points based on each rider’s top four WCHR shows. The top six riders from each region and the top 10 riders in the standings are then invited to compete at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in the WCHR Challenge Class. Their top score in WCHR recognized divisions earned at the Capital Challenge is added to that total. Those points are then combined with the overall points to determine the final six.

The rounds were scored by three teams of two judges using the open numerical system. The judges were: Mark Jungherr, Amesburg, TX and Kip Rosenthal, Brewster, NY; Bobbie Reber, Wellington, FL and Shane George, Magnolia, TX; Brian Lenehan, Southern Pines, NC and Penny Waller, Santa Cruz, CA.

The riders alternated on riding six different horses which they each provided for the class. These included Peter’s mount Surella, owned by Mary Jane Stone, a 15.3h, bay, Warmblood mare. Cunningham, owned by Mary Slouka, is a 17.1h, Holsteiner stallion by Cassini 1 out of a Contender mare. Liza’s choice was Sienna, owned by Annie Gardner, a 15.3h, 9-year-old, bay, Dutch Warmblood gelding by Heartbreaker. Kirsten’s addition was Aston, owned by Heritage Farm, a 10-year-old, 16.2h, Dutch Warmblood, bay gelding. Raise the Roof, a 15.3h, 9-year-old, grey, Warmblood gelding by Mr. Blue owned by Cloe Baumrim was French’s choice. Scott chose True, owned by Glen Senk, a 10-year-old, 16.3h, Belgium Warmblood gelding. The alternate was Tripple Lutz, owned by Samantha Harrison, a 16.1h, 6-year-old, bay, Warmblood gelding.

The riders were allowed to briefly warm-up on their first horse but for all subsequent rides they had to go directly to the 3’6” course in the ring. And while the fences were the same for the first three courses, the order in which they were jumped changed each time. For the fourth round, the course was changed to a demanding Handy Hunter class and only the top three competed.

GOING FOR THE WIN

In the first round Boyd took the early lead (92.66) followed by Pletcher (90). In 3rd was defending champion French and Scott Stewart (both with a score of 89.66). Bragg was in 5th (89) and Coe in 6th (87.50). In the second round Boyd again dominated the class after her first and second round scores were combined (185.66). In 2nd was Stewart (180.66), 3rd Pletcher (179.33), 4th French (179.32), 5th Coe (175.83), and 6th Bragg (174.66).

The third round was critical as it would determine what three riders went into the final round. While it appeared that Boyd had a very strong possibility of continuing her lead a mistake in a broken line was her demise. She got too close to the oxer and received a score of 80.66 for a three round total of 266.32. Ultimately that score would put her just outside the top three in the 4th spot. That “chip” gave the other riders the break they needed. After the third round it was Pletcher who went into the final round on the leading score of 270.99, followed by French (269.32) for 2nd, Stewart was 3rd (268.66).

Afterwards Boyd jokingly commented “the six strides (which was the right distance to that fence she chipped) looked very far away so I did seven.”

The final results were an interesting twist because despite the fact that the class was changed to allow an additional two riders to qualify, in the end it was the three past winners who made it into the final three. They entered in reverse order and Stewart put in a strong performance which gave him a score of 90.66 for the round and with his previous scores he finished on 359.32. It was French who went next and another strong round with a slightly lower score of 90 tied his score with Stewart’s but the tie-breaker put him 2nd.

Now it was up to Pletcher whose final score of 90 was just enough to give him his third WCHR Professional Finals win.

AHJF President Geoff Teall later commented, “This class for me was almost the nicest so far. I like the fact that it included more people and new people and yet in the end it was the veterans and past winners who won again.”

CAPITAL CHALLENGE IS THE HORSE SHOW FOR HUNTERS

Three of the riders who qualified this year have competed in this class multiple times while the other three were competing for the first time. Even after all these years and multiple victories the veterans were still as determined to both qualify and win this very prestigious competition, which is the only one geared specifically for professional hunter riders.

“We are trying our best to stay at the top of the sport and maintain that for as long as we can. You always want to be the best and be the most competitive,” explained Stewart.

Pletcher agreed. “You want to stay at the top of the game and so you strive for it all year. You check those points over and over again and you email to see where you are in the standings. It’s a great goal. It’s just a rush and an added bonus to the sport.”

Thinking of all that it took to qualify against the best of the best Kirsten softly added, “The thought of trying to qualify for next year is daunting.”

While Boyd interjected, “You try to act as if it doesn’t matter, but it does!”

It’s the title that matters most but along with that title come a lot of perks. “There is no other show like this. There’s so much publicity that surrounds it. Just from winning it last year I got a book of all the articles throughout the year that have talked about the program and the win,” explained French.

The riders have the AHJF and Monarch International to thank for some of those benefits. As one sponsor of this class they in unison with the AHJF want to reward the riders not only with money but also with recognition.

AHJF/DOVER SADDLERY JUNIOR HUNTER CHALLENGE

Another secondary bonus was presented to the winner of another program the AHJF sponsors with Dover Saddlery. It’s based around the grass roots horse shows (non USEF) and a special series of classes guided by a specific set of rules and regulations. The East Region winner was Kathryn Miller, Gainesville, FL and the West Region winner was Ursula Wise, Polson, MT. Their wins earned them a complimentary trip to the Capital Challenge Horse Show and a chance to spend the weekend meeting the top professionals in the nation. They also had the opportunity to be photographed with the top six riders and to interact with their idols. It was a weekend that someone at their level could only dream about.

Ursula, 11, has only been riding for 18 months and takes lessons at Full Sale Farm with trainer Wanda Rosatti. She won on Sprite, a friend’s pony mare who Ursula says “likes red twizzlers. Kathryn, 12, has been riding for six years and now trains with Denna Johnson. She has four ponies that she regularly rides but it was on Pony Source (a pony who Kathryn says “licks you all the time, loves hot dogs and blows bubbles in the water trough”) owned by Full Partners Farm in Newberry, FL, that she earned the honor of traveling to the Capital Challenge.

While Ursula and Kathryn were thrilled with their victory it was their parents and trainers that really understood the depth of what they had won. “This is the most amazing opportunity for local kids,” commented Denna. “The kids have something to shoot for. This gives them a chance, especially those on a limited budget, to have the opportunity to see the best riders, trainers, course designers, judges, and so many more top people in the nation. There isn’t anything for the local kids to shoot for. This is the only opportunity they have to strive for something unique and special.”

Their glee was what those who qualified to compete in the pro finals also went through before they set out on their present path. It was a seed that was planted along the way that helped all the qualified six riders to get into a field that gives them the job they enjoy going to every day.

For Kathryn that seed was planted when her mom came to school to pick her up. “I figured it out right away and rolled down the window and screamed that I had won the Dover class.”

Who knows maybe one day it will be Ursula or Kathryn who will change places with Pletcher and all the other winners before them to claim the title of Monarch International Professional World Championship Hunter Rider.

AMERICAN HUNTER-JUMPER FOUNDATION

The AHJF is a member-supported non-profit organization formed to further the development of the sport of show hunter competition. Programs of the AHJF include the World Championship Hunter Rider Awards, the AHJF Emergency Relief Fund, AHJF Educational Programs, the AHJF Investment Plan, and the AHJF/Dover Saddlery Junior Hunter Challenge.

The AHJF also sponsors other featured events throughout the year, including the AHJF Hunter Classic Spectacular of Palm Beach (February 24, 2008) and the Legacy Cup at the Kentucky Spring Horse Shows, May 9-20, 2008.

At the Capital Challenge the Professional Championship honors were part of an overall World Championship Hunter Rider Awards Program, which included junior, professional, amateur-owner, adult amateur, children’s and pony hunter riders. The program was established by the AHJF to recognize and reward excellence among hunter riders. In order to qualify, a rider’s top four WCHR shows plus their performance at the Capital Challenge determined the ultimate champions.

A number of special awards were given out as well. Pam Baker, Bealeton, VA, was the winner of the Old Springhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. The Jeffery Katz Memorial Award went to Ovation, ridden by Scott Stewart, Wellington, FL and owned by Molly Ohrstrom, Middleburg, VA, who won the Rox Dene Award. The China Blue Farm Working Hunter Challenge went to Truly, ridden and owned by Scott Stewart. Jack Hammond, Sommamish, WA, won the Winter’s Run Sportsmanship Award.

MONEY, TROPHIES, PRIZES AND MORE

This was the 14th year that the AHJF had hosted the World Championship Hunter ider Professional finals. The winner not only received the trophy but also $3000 for the Pletcher Pro Incentive Award and the All The Way Trophy donated by Elizabeth Busch Burke and Lysa Burke Horkan. The Far West Farm Perpetual Trophy for the horse that earned the highest cumulative total was won by Raise The Roof. In addition the winner received a sponsorship from Monarch International’s Show Circuit Magazine, which designates money to be used specifically to ensure coverage of both the championship and of Pletcher as its winner. Press Link PR, an equine focused PR firm, handles that sponsorship.

A special thanks also goes to Capital Challenge co-managers Oliver Kennedy, Brookville, MD and William Glass, Bokeelia, FL, who invited the AHJF to host its Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, which has been home to these classes ever since.

For more information, the AHJF can be contacted at 335 Lancaster Street, West Boylston, MA 01583-0369, 508-835-8813, fax: 508-835-6125, or email: ahjf@earthlink.net. For complete results and photos go to www.ahjf.org.

Photo: Peter Pletcher aboard Aston after winning the 2007 Monarch International Show Circuit Magazine Professional World Championship Hunter Rider title on October 5th at the Prince, George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD. (l-r Ringmaster with Geoff Teall, Amanda Steege and Hannah Von Heidegger). ©Diana De Rosa Photo



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