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Professional Hunter Champions Crowned As Competition at the 2023 Capital Challenge Horse Show Heats Up

October 3, 2023 - Upper Marlboro, MD

John French and Amazing Grace
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Nick Haness and Pavlova
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Geoffrey Hesslink and Drumroll
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Nick Haness and Estimated Prophet
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Maria Rasmussen and Worthy
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Nick Haness and McQueen
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Vivian Yowan and Knowingly
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Nick Haness and Queen Celeste
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Jennifer Hannan and Sandori
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Christopher Payne and In Suspense
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Geoffrey Hesslink and Monarchy
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Jennifer Hannan and Notorious
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Christopher Payne and Showman
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Jennifer Hannan and Frosted
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Meghan Knapic and Fontaineblue
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Competition during the 30th anniversary of the Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, continued on Tuesday, October 3, with 15 champions awarded in the professional divisions.

The first tricolor of the day went to John French and Amazing Grace, owned by Eva Mackenzie, in the Green Hunter 3’6” Section A division, sponsored by Peter Pletcher and PJP Farm. French piloted the 10-year-old Warmblood mare by Red Star M to the championship title with wins in Monday’s over fences and handy rounds, earning scores of 88.50 and 87.50 respectively. The pair were also second in the under saddle class and scored 84.50 for fourth place in Tuesday’s stake class.

“She’s just getting better and better, and she’s really peaking at the right moment,” stated French, who has had the ride since May. “I didn’t know what to expect, not having done indoors with her, but she seemed to really like the ring. She’s my kind of ride, super light in the mouth with a great balance to her canter. I was really happy with her.”

French was pleased to kick off the 2023 Capital Challenge Horse Show with a win.

“Winning here is especially great because this is where I grew up – in Maryland,” stated French who is now based in Wellington, FL. “It’s one of the toughest shows since everybody wants to come here, so for her to start off winning was nice.”

The reserve championship was awarded to Day Won, a six-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, ridden by Liza Boyd of Camden, SC, and owned by Mary Caroline Nolan.

In the B Section of the Green Hunter 3’6”, sponsored by Lee Sadrian and the Kellogg Family, Nick Haness of Temecula, CA, and Pavlova, owned by John & Stephanie Ingram, LLC, took top honors after tallying wins in all three classes on Monday, as well as a third-place finish in the stake on Tuesday with a score of 85.50. Haness and the eight-year-old Oldenburg mare by Diatendro earned impressive scores of 90 and 91.50, picking up the blue ribbons in the over fences and handy classes.

“She’s exquisite,” said Haness, who got the ride on Pavlova earlier this year in Wellington, FL. “She’s a wonderful mare. She’s very fun to ride and a very athletic horse. She really knows when it’s time to shine. She’s a true champion. She feels great here, she’s into it, and she loves the indoor atmosphere. The jumps are impressing her, and she’s jumping beautifully.

“It always means the world to be able to win at Capital Challenge,” he continued. “It’s such a special show. It’s the best of the best, so to win here is super exciting.”

Holly Orlando of Wellington, FL, rode Kalvarie, a 12-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding by Aganix du Seigneur, owned by The Kalvarie Group, to the reserve championship after winning the stake class with a score of 86.50.

The Green Hunter 3’9”, sponsored by Lannie Lipson, was the next division champion to be crowned in The Show Place Arena, with the award going to Drumroll, ridden by Geoffrey Hesslink of Shelburne, VT. Scott Stewart of Wellington, FL, and Jordan, a 10-year-old Selle Français gelding by Tsunami de Hus, owned by Sophie Gochman, were presented as the reserve champions.

Hesslink and Drumroll got the division started with a bang, scoring 90.75 for a win in Monday’s over fences class. They followed that up with a second-place finish in the hack, and then sealed the deal with two wins on Tuesday in the stake and handy with scores of 86 and 88.

“I don’t have enough good things to say about Drumroll,” enthused Hesslink of the nine-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Diamant de Semilly, who is also ridden by owner Caroline Signorino. “I’ve watched him for a number of years under the guidance of Kelly Mullen and John Roper, and I always knew he was really special. From the moment we got him this summer, he's been nothing but amazing, and basically, has won every time he’s showed. I’m really lucky to ride him. Drumroll felt amazing here. He has a huge stride, and he is as brave as they come.”

Of all their successes together so far, Hesslink puts this accolade right toward the top of the list.

“It means everything to me to be champion here,” he said. “Since I was a kid, Capital Challenge has been my favorite horse show ever. I think there is such prestige and an importance to this show that makes everything and every win feel so special. We always try to peak for this show.”

Estimated Prophet cashed in on the championship in the High Performance Hunter division, sponsored by Windsor Stables, Michael Britt-Leon, and Kelly Sims, with Nick Haness in the irons. It was the pair’s consistency that paid off as they earned a second over fences with a score of 86.75, a third in the handy with a score of 86.50, and a third in the under saddle class. Their performance was highlighted by a win in Monday’s over fences class with a 90.

“Estimated Prophet is a really fun horse to ride,” shared Haness of the nine-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Cornet Obolensky, owned by Roaring Fork Farms LLC. “To show him here in the High Performance feels like a breeze for him. He’s very athletic and scopey. It feels great for him to start the indoor circuit with a championship.”

Cannon Creek, a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Cancara, ridden by Hunt Tosh of Milton, GA, and owned by the Wheeler family, was awarded the reserve championship.

The deserving winner of the High Performance Conformation Hunter division, sponsored by Alex Hamer and Buxton Farm, was Worthy, ridden by Maria Rasmussen of Royal Palm Beach, FL. Rasmussen guided the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Cannavaros, owned by Sunset View Farm LLC, to a second-place finish over fences on the first day of competition with a score of 85.50. Worthy also finished fourth in the model. On the second day of competition, the duo continued to excel, earning scores of 85 and 86.5 in the over fences and handy classes, along with a first-place finish on the flat.

“Worthy is awesome; I don’t even know what else to say,” smiled Rasmussen of her partner of four years. “He goes in there and tries his heart out every single time, and he always wants to go out and win the class. He felt super. He just kept jumping higher, and higher, and higher, and having more fun with it.

“It means everything,” she continued of her achievement. “It is hard to win here! It’s a big deal. This is the hardest of the indoor horse shows starting out. It means a lot.”

Reserve championship honors went to Only Always, an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding, owned by John & Stephanie Ingram LLC, and ridden by Nick Haness.

Nick Haness added yet another tricolor to his collection in the Green Conformation Hunter division, this time with McQueen, a nine-year-old KWPN gelding by Cornet Obolensky, owned by Walkenbach Equestrian LLC. Scott Stewart of Wellington, FL, finished as the reserve champion aboard California Love, an eight-year-old Holsteiner stallion by Clarimo, owned by Rivers Edge.

It was almost a clean sweep for Haness and McQueen, just narrowly missing out on the win in the model for second-place honors. They earned winning scores in the over fences classes of 85.75, 86.75, and 89 in the handy, and also strutted to the top of the under saddle.

“McQueen is a wonderful horse,” noted Haness of the flashy bay. “I’m very excited for this new adventure with him as his rider. This is really our first big show with him, so for him to come out and be a champion again after a successful year is very rewarding. We’re excited to just keep adding to our collection.”

In the covered arena, the over fences portion of the hotly contested Performance division took centerstage. The competition then concluded in The Show Place Arena with the under saddle class. In the end, two sections of champions were awarded.

Vivian Yowan of Wellington, FL, rode her own Knowingly to two blue ribbons over fences on her way to the championship, with super scores of 87.10 and 92.

“Knowingly is probably one of the nicest horses I’ve ever sat on,” said Yowan of the nine-year-old KWPN gelding by Casiro she got from Kelley Farmer and the late Larry Glefke this past winter. “He is incredible. He is the kind of horse that gets better and better as he goes, so I honestly thought in every round he just got better and jumped higher. This is probably my favorite horse show, so it is extra special to win here.”

Glade Run Farm LLC’s Queen Celeste was the other champion crowned in the Performance Division, earning Haness’s final tricolor of the evening. Their scores of 89, 89.50, and 90 over fences, plus elegance under saddle, were met with only blue and red ribbons.

“She is the most amazing girl,” expressed Haness of the 12-year-old Holsteiner mare by Cassini I he has been partnered with for two years. “She’s been champion all over the country. She’s kind of a crowd favorite. The way she jumps is just picture-perfect. She’s a mare, and I think it took me a minute to understand and be on her side. Once we became good friends, she’s given me her whole heart and all of her athleticism. She’s really so easy to ride. You basically don’t get in the way of her and let her do her thing. She knows when it’s important. She was quite a famous horse and well known on the show circuit before I got to ride her, so to be in her realm of riders in her career is very special.”

Queen Celeste’s victory put the exclamation mark on a prolific day for Haness.

“It never gets boring to have great days here at Capital Challenge,” he said. “It’s a show we all strive to be successful at, so there’s a lot of pressure leading into this week, and it feels great to have such an amazing week with so many different horses.”

The Performance Hunter reserve champions were Caristo, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Casall, owned by John and Stephanie Ingram, LLC, and ridden by Kate Conover of Ocala, FL, and Bonne Starlight, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Bonne Chance, owned by Caroline Hoover, and ridden by Samantha Schaefer of Westminster, MD.

Additional professional hunter champions were awarded as follows:

Green Hunter 3' Colts & Geldings
Sponsored by Boggs Hill/Mr. & Mrs. Tim Goguen
Champion:  Sandori, ridden by Jennifer Hannan and owned by Shaw Johnson Price
Reserve Champion: Forsini, ridden by Havens Schatt and owned by Hannah Toohey

Green Hunter 3' 7 & Over
Sponsored by David Belford & Christopher Payne, New Hope LLC
Champion: In Suspense, ridden by Christopher Payne and owned by Haylee Jerkins
Reserve Champion: Ciao, ridden by Vivian Yowan and owned by Findlay’s Ridge Group

Green Hunter 3' 6 & Under
Sponsored by Jennifer & Roger Smith
Champion: Monarchy, ridden by Geoffrey Hesslink and owned by Shadowfax Equestrian LLC
Reserve Champion: Milo, ridden by Kate Conover and owned by Alexander Hamer

Green Hunter Mares 3'&3'3"
Champion: Notorious, ridden by Jennifer Hannan and owned by Stephanie Bulger
Reserve Champion: Tangelina, ridden by Amanda Steege and owned by Cara Garito

Green Hunter 3'3" Section A
Sponsored by Hunt Tosh, Inc.
Champion: Showman, ridden by Christopher Payne and owned by Stephanie Ring
Reserve Champion: Kindred, ridden by Tim Goguen and owned by Rushing Dreams Farm LLC

Green Hunter 3'3" Section B
Sponsored by Hunt Tosh, Inc.
Champion: Frosted, ridden by Jennifer Hannan and owned by Rindy Dominguez
Reserve Champion: Small Crown, ridden by Morgan Thomas and owned by Evelyn Bay

Professional World Champion Hunter Under Saddle
Sponsored by Arcadia Farm
Champion: Fontaineblue, ridden by Meghan Knapic and owned by First Blue LLC
Reserve Champion: Ciao, ridden by Vivian Yowan and owned by Findlay’s Ridge Group

The 2023 Capital Challenge Horse Show schedule on Wednesday, October 4, is action-packed, featuring the $25,000 KASK/Vogel Green Hunter North American Championship, sponsored by The Wheeler Family, as well as the $25,000 World Champion Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Challenge, sponsored by The Gochman Family, and the $10,000 WCHR Developing Pro Challenge, sponsored by John R. Ingram Fund. Grand champions will also be named for the professional divisions, while competition continues through October 8.