On Friday, October 7, at the 2022 Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Nick Haness of Temecula, California, made his debut in the $25,000 World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Finals, sponsored by The Rein Family, a winning one.
The class featured seven of the country’s top professional hunter riders going head-to-head. Elizabeth Boyd, Michael Britt-Leon, Amanda Steege, Scott Stewart, Geoffrey Hesslink and Nick Haness qualified by being highest in the WCHR national standings. As the winner of the $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge, held earlier in the week on Wednesday, October 5, John French earned a wild card spot in the final as well.
All seven riders competed in the opening Playoff Round over a handy hunter course set by Ken Krome on a horse of their choosing. Their scores from round one of Wednesday’s $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge served as their first-round scores for Friday’s WCHR Professional Finals.
“I didn’t really think this year I had a chance [to do this class] because I did break my leg and had a hip replacement, so I came in really low [in the standings], and I didn’t even know that there was a wild card,” described French of his challenging show season. “I had a great week here with Babylon and Milagro in the Playoff Round. It’s nice that we have those two rounds before [the Final Four]. It’s not just coming into the show based on how you did all year. You have two big classes here that sort of solidify who makes it into the Final Four.”
Three teams of two judges oversaw the class, with Tom Brennan and David Beisel making up the first panel, Shane George and Bobbi Reber on the second, and Gavin Moylan and Dale Pederson sitting on the third. Each team awarded one score, and the average of those three scores represented the rider’s overall second-round mark. The riders with the four highest totals then advanced to the Final Four, where they took turns riding unfamiliar horses.
French was first to go in the Playoff Round with Kent Farrington LLC’s Milagro and set the tone with an average score of 89. Added to his 92.33 from Wednesday, he sat on a total of 181.33.
“It’s one of your goals of the year to come back here to this show and make that Final Four,” stated French. “You might say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do it again,’ but then when the time comes, it’s a really fun class to do.”
Next in the ring was three-time winner of this class, Boyd, and Rebekah Warren’s MTM Hand Him Over. They notched the high score of the round with a 91.66. Boyd’s first round score of 80.41 gave her a total score of 172.07, which would just miss the cut off for the Final Four. Britt-Leon and Private I, owned by Kelly Sims, scored 89. With his 84.5 from Wednesday, that gave him a combined total of 173.5. Previous WCHR Professional Challenge winner Amanda Steege and her trusted partner Lafitte de Muze, owned by Cheryl Olsten, followed with an 83.66. Combined with her 85.71, their two-round total of 169.37 would also just miss out. Seven-time winner Stewart was competing for the 22nd time in the class. He rode Betsee Parker’s Nottingham to a score of 86.66, earning a total score of 173.82.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to ride in the class still and to have a group of great horses and customers to get me here,” expressed Stewart. “I’m really thrilled to still be doing it.”
Hesslink and Trademark, owned by Shadowfax Equestrian LLC, scored 83.16 for a total of 162.82, which was not enough to advance. Last to go was first-timer Haness with Glade Run Farm LLC’s Jenkins. Their impressive score of 90.16 combined with their first-round score of 85 yielded a total score of 175.16.
“This has been an extraordinary year for my career, absolutely,” reflected Haness. “The WCHR program throughout the year and all the shows for qualifying were a lot. Obviously, it takes a lot of teamwork, great horses, trainers, owners, and sponsors, so this year I definitely have to thank all of them for all of that support leading up to this moment because without them that wouldn’t be possible.”
Britt-Leon, Stewart, Haness, and French returned for the Final Four on a clean slate, each jumping four courses, rotating turns on horses generously donated by their owners.
“I was super excited to do this format,” said Britt-Leon, who won this class in 2020 where they did not have to ride unfamiliar horses. “I came to this horse show really hoping to make the Final Four, because getting on at the gate and walking into the ring and the first trot step you take on the horse is in front of everybody and in front of the judges. It definitely tests us and can prove to be a little bit difficult.
“What I loved about tonight is everyone helps each other,” he continued. “We are communicating with each other on what we felt out there and what horse you’re going on next and watching them. It was pretty exciting.”
In the first rotation, Haness led the way after his ride on Etiquette, an eight-year-old Rheinlander mare by Cachassini provided by Elise Iafrate, garnered a 90.66 score. Haness then topped the second round with a 92.66 aboard Nabisco, a nine-year-old Zangersheide gelding also provided by Iafrate. His hot streak continued into the third round, earning 90.16 for his ride on Daniel Bedoya’s Singani, a seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding. As the only rider to score in the 90s with each ride, Haness capped off his evening’s performance with a 94.33 on Kynaz, a 12-year-old Warmblood gelding provided by Laura Shatzko. At the end of four rounds, Haness simply could not be caught, totaling 366.65.
“This is absolutely an incredible feeling,” commented Haness, who also finished the competition year as the WCHR Professional National Champion. “I feel very honored to be here amongst this group of riders and in this type of a finals. My expectations tonight were low, but I really wanted to do the class. I was excited to just make the top four after the stressful handy round tonight combined with Wednesday night’s performance. I really hadn’t thought this could be my outcome, but obviously I’m very excited and it's a dream come true.”
Second place went to Stewart, who earned scores of 88.33, 88.66, 90.66, and 91.33 for a total of 358.98. Third place went to four-time winner of this class, French, whose scores of 89.16, 91.66, 82.33, and 82.33 gave him a combined score of 345.48. Britt-Leon finished in fourth with scores of 89, 88, 55, and 89 for a final score of 321.00.
“I thought they were actually some of the best horses, really,” noted Stewart. “They were really all quite good. Thanks to all of the owners for letting us use them. They were super.”
Haness added, “Each one of them was super fun, and they were all nice horses. They jumped really well tonight. I think every horse went well for every rider for the most part, and I think we were all pretty grateful to have a nice time.”
For his win in the WCHR Professional Finals, Haness was presented with the All The Way Perpetual Trophy, donated by Elizabeth Busch Burke and Lisa Burke Horkan.
Elise Iafrate’s Nabisco was honored with The Far West Farms Perpetual Trophy as the horse with the highest cumulative point total in the four rounds of the WCHR Professional Final, carrying his riders to scores of 89.16, 92.66, 90.66, and 89.
A special honor and thanks were given to Rachel Kennedy for her hard work and dedication in finding the donated horses for the WCHR Professional Finals every year.
Presented yesterday, Duke of Argyll, owned and bred by Betsee Parker and ridden by Hunt Tosh, won the 2022 Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc. High Point American-Bred Horse Award.
Final Results: $25,000 WCHR Professional Finals, sponsored by The Rein Family
1. Nick Haness – 90.66, 92.66, 90.16, 94.33 – 366.65
2. Scott Stewart – 88.33, 88.66, 90.66, 91.33 – 358.98
3. John French – 89.16, 91.66, 82.33, 82.33 – 345.48
4. Michael Britt-Leon – 89, 88, 55, 89 – 321
Gorin-Byrne Persists to Win ARIAT National Adult Medal Finals
After 14 attempts, Tracey Gorin-Byrne of Wellington, Florida, clinched victory in the ARIAT National Adult Medal Finals. Having competed in the class since she turned 18 and excepting the years she got married and had her son, Gorin-Byrne put in her dues and persisted, often catch-riding a new horse each year. She has placed second twice, but 2022 was her year after she piloted Ustica, owned by Sweet Oak Farm, to scores of 85.83 and 88 for a total of 173.83.
Gorin-Byrne was in second place after the first round and tried not to let nerves sink in. “I was second last year coming back, and I ended up second,” she recalled. “I would have been just as happy to be second, but when the last person went, it made me really nervous. I couldn’t watch or be inside at all, just waiting to see what happened.”
Relying on Ustica’s talent, Gorin-Byrne picked up her second win of the 2022 Capital Challenge, having already piloted Checker 69 to the win in the North American Adult Amateur Equitation Championship.
“I was lucky enough to get to hop on and borrow her for a couple Ariat classes this summer and get to show her this week,” said Gorin-Byrne of the 11-year-old Warmblood gelding by Ustinov that is the usual equitation mount for Olivia Sweetnam. “She’s a lot improved every time I get to ride her, so sometimes it’s a little like a different horse, but she’s just learned so much. It’s really fun to see how she’s improved every single time.
“She’s just really brave, and she helps a lot,” continued Gorin-Byrne of Ustica. “She kind of covers mistakes, and she’s super rangy and really adjustable so you can come out of the corner and she’ll help you do whatever it is you want to do.”
It was the culmination of many years of hard work and tenacity, but Gorin-Byrne got to stand in the winner’s circle.
“I absolutely love Capital Challenge,” she expressed. “[The Ariat Finals are] a big deal, and I look forward to it all year, every year. I’ve always dreamed of winning it.”
Full results for the ARIAT National Adult Medal Finals can be found here