Wellington, FL – February 22, 2013 – Week seven of the 2013 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF), sponsored by Hermès, continued on Friday in Wellington, FL, with World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) competition featured in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). Today’s classes were for amateur-owner hunters.

Week seven of the FTI WEF runs February 20-24, 2013. The highlight USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular will be featured as the “Saturday Night Lights” main event. Also on Saturday is the Special Olympics Palm Beach County Equestrian Games.

International show jumping competition, including the $25,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic (Saturday, 1 p.m.) and the $50,000 Hermès Jumper Derby (Sunday, 3 p.m.) will be held on the grass derby field at The Stadium at PBIEC.

The FarmVet Amateur-Owner Hunter 18-35 3’3″ division was the first to name its champion on Friday in the International Arena. Breitling, a thirteen-year-old Thoroughbred, and owner Stephanie Riggio bested a field of Warmbloods for the championship title. Breitling and Riggio were first in two over fences classes and also won the under saddle.

Breitling and Stephanie Riggio
Breitling and Stephanie Riggio. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

Reserve champion was Columbus, owned and ridden by Kathryn Haefner.  The duo jumped to first and eighth places over fences and placed second to Riggio and Brietling under saddle.

Despite a refusal at the final fence during the last class for the division, Riggio is more than pleased with her gelding’s performance. “I have struggles with my nerves. Going into today, I knew that no one could catch me [after winning all three classes during day one of the division], but I got a little overzealous and choked a little bit,” Riggio admitted.

“I’m still so happy with Breitling and I can’t be too hard on myself. We were so consistent [Thursday] that I have to look at that and just be happy with it,” she said.

Riggio has rehabilitated several Thoroughbreds to give them second careers, but Breitling is the only Thoroughbred she owns that she actually competes with. “He never raced, but he’s still different [from my other horses]. He’s really smart, and has an amazing memory,” Riggio described.

“He’s an absolutely gorgeous mover, but his biggest asset is his great expression,” Riggio continued. “Everyone that sees him comments that he looks like he’s just having fun, and he is. If he were a human, he would be smiling the whole time he shows. He just loves his job and I think that definitely gives him a little edge.”

Breitling and Stephanie Riggio
Stephanie Riggio and Breitling in their winning presentation with Chuck Mayer and Janet Graham of Blue Ribbon Blankets and Whitney Allen of USHJA. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

The 36 and Over age group of the FarmVet Amateur-Owner 3’3″ Hunter division wrapped up competition for Friday. Winner and Daryl Portela were division champions after placing fourth under saddle, followed by second, second, and fourth place finishes over fences.

Reserve champion for the division were determined after a hack-off between Positano and Missy Luczak-Smith, Mac Arthur Park and Lynn Walsh, and Whispering and Deborah Perkins. Mac Arthur Park and Lynn Walsh emerged victorious from the hack-off. The pair were first and seventh over fences and placed seventh under saddle.

Daryl Portela and Winner
Daryl Portela and Winner. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

Portela and her ten-year-old Warmblood gelding have been raking in championship titles up and down the East Coast since late last year, earning top honors at The Devon Horse Show and the Washington International Horse Show and at multiple weeks of the 2013 FTI WEF.

“He has a great nature. He’s very quiet and sweet in the barn, but he likes to win. We’re both very competitive, so we just try to be really consistent every time we show,” Portela commented.

Daryl Portela and Winner
Daryl Portela and Winner in their winning presentation with with Chuck Mayer and Janet Graham of Blue Ribbon Blankets and Whitney Allen of USHJA. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

The CWD Working Performance Hunter division ran into the early evening on Thursday to allow for 104 entries to be seen in their final class. The division was split and awarded champion and reserve titles to two sections of horses and riders.

Section A champion was Gia and Peter Pletcher. Gia, owned by Shadyside Farm, was second under saddle and won two over fences classes in addition to placing second in the stake round. Reserve champion honors for Section A were earned by Ovation and Victoria Colvin. Colvin and Dr. Betsee Parker’s 13-year-old Warmblood gelding were second under saddle and jumped to third, second, and first place ribbons.

Pletcher was highly complimentary of Gia, a ten-year-old Hanoverian mare, who has been pulling double duty with her owner in Amateur-Owner divisions. “Gia was very competitive last year in [3’6″ Performance Hunters] and was also champion last week with her owner, Kate Gibson, in the older Amateur Owners,” Pletcher said.

“She has a beautiful jump,” Pletcher continued. “She’s very brave, yet she has a really hard try at each jump. She’s careful, but never spooky. And she’s a naturally beautiful mover.”

Peter Pletcher and Gia
Peter Pletcher and Gia. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

Louise Serio rode Castle Rock to the Section B championship title after winning the under saddle class and placing second, first, and sixth over fences. Castle Rock, a fourteen-year-old KWPN gelding, is owned by Bryan Baldwin. Reserve champion for Section B was Quatrain, ridden by Liza Boyd and owned by Finally Farm and Janet Peterson. Quatrain and Boyd were sixth under saddle and jumped to third, second, and first places.

Saturday night’s class will be the fifth time Serio has shown Castle Rock in the Hunter Spectacular class and they are previous winners of the class. “I think what makes Castle Rock so competitive is he has everything you’re looking for [in a hunter]. He’s beautiful, he has great style at the jump, he’s a beautiful mover and he tries to win every time he goes in the ring,” Serio described.

Louise Serio and Castle Rock
Louise Serio and Castle Rock. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

The Lucas Equine Equipment Performance Hunter 3’3″ champion was Well Adjusted, ridden by Erynn Ballard.  The ten-year-old Oldenberg gelding, owned by Linda Talan Jacob, was first in both over fences classes during day two of competition for the division. Reserve champion was Outta the Park, ridden by Peter Pletcher and owned by Lynn Walsh. Pletcher and Outta the Park were first and second over fences.

Thursday’s classes were surprisingly the first time Well Adjusted, trained by Heather Irvine, had been showing in Florida this season. “He’s just getting back, so it was great to have him walk right out there and win. He’s quiet, he’s easy and he just comes right to the ring,” Irvine described.

Irvine attributed Well Adjusted’s immediate success to the horse’s rider as well as his remarkable style. “He is really stylish with his jump and his expression is amazing. He wears his ears up and his two white legs just come up right around them. He’s very careful and he’s just a great horse, plus he has a great rider. Erynn does an excellent job with him,” Irvine stated.

Well Adjusted
Well Adjusted in his winning presentation with ringmaster Cliff Haines, Whitney Allen of USHJA, and trainer Heather Irvine. Photo © Anne Gittins Photography.

Cian O’Connor and Walk Tall II Top $6,000 Spy Coast Farm 1.40m Speed Challenge

Ireland’s Cian O’Connor is back in Wellington for the remaining weeks of competition at the 2013 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival after an exciting 2012 season. Following a fantastic Florida circuit last winter, O’Connor and his top mount, Blue Loyd 12, traveled to London to earn an individual bronze medal in this summer’s Olympic Games. Blue Loyd was recently sold to young Canadian rider Nicole Walker, and O’Connor is in Wellington helping the pair get acquainted as well as showing some of his new horses. O’Connor got his first win of the circuit in this morning’s $6,000 Spy Coast Farm 1.40m Speed Challenge aboard one of those horses, Walk Tall II, owned by Ronnoco Jump, Ltd.

Walk Tall II is an eleven-year-old Anglo European gelding by Kannan x Farhaan. He previously showed with Irish rider Keith Doyle and won last year’s Queen’s Cup in Hickstead. O’Connor got the horse just before coming to Florida, so this is their first show together.

Showing in Friday’s 1.40m Speed Challenge, O’Connor and Walk Tall II won it with the fastest of two clear rounds out of 20 entries. Jumping a course set by Steve Stephens of Palmetto, FL, their time of 67.713 seconds beat Daniel Michan and Darius 2 with the only other clear jumping effort in 68.887 seconds. Alex Granato and Gangsta finished third with the fastest four-fault round in 58.664 seconds.

“Walk Tall II is a very good horse,” O’Connor said after his win. “I hope he is a proper grand prix horse. I am going to use WEF to produce him for the bigger classes in the summer and I will be aiming him at the big grand prix at the end of circuit here. Like always, when you get a new horse, it takes time to gel and to figure out what bridle and how much leg pressure and so on. Today I dropped him down to the 1.40m and just cantered around and he won it very easily.”

“The course was difficult enough,” O’Connor noted. “The last double caught out a lot of horses. It was a spooky blue double. A lot of horses were clear until then and faster and knocked it down, so I just went for a neat, clear round and it paid off.”

Walk Tall II and Cian O'Connor
Walk Tall II and Cian O’Connor. Photo © Sportfot.

O’Connor arrived in Wellington last week and has plans for several of his own horses in addition to helping Blue Loyd and his new rider.

“One of the main reasons I am here is to help Nicole gel with him,” O’Connor explained. “That is fun because I get to still work with the horse and see him go. She is getting on really well with him, so it will be good fun to watch them progress in the coming weeks. Then, in order to keep myself busy, I brought some horses as well, so it should be a good couple of weeks.”

“I have a different string this year,” the rider detailed. “I have a very nice horse named Splendor who will probably jump in the Nation’s Cup next week. He was double clear and fifth in the 1.50m last Sunday. I have him and then I have some good young horses that I am producing for the future as well.”

Also showing on Friday, fellow Irishman Darragh Kenny won the $6,000 Spy Coast Farm 1.40m jump-off class riding Alexander, LLC’s Everest de Muze.

Week seven of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival will continue on Saturday with a full schedule of hunter and jumper competition, including the final classes for the junior hunters and amateur-owner 3’6″ divisions to determine who qualifies for tomorrow night’s USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular. The highlight jumper class is the Suncast 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic at The Stadium at 1 p.m. For full results, please visit www.showgroundslive.com.

Final Results: $6,000 Spy Coast Farm 1.40m Speed Challenge
1. WALK TALL II    CIAN O’CONNOR    RONNOCO JUMP LTD: 0/67.713          
2. DARIUS 2    DANIEL MICHAN    DANIEL MICHAN: 0/68.887          
3. GANGSTA    ALEX GRANATO    ALEX GRANATO: 4/58.664          
4. IMPRIMIS    DONALD CHESKA    WINDSWEPT FARM: 4/59.215          
5. WONDERGIRL    LAUREN HOUGH    LAUREN HOUGH: 4/59.775          
7. ACTIVO    VANESSA MANNIX    VANESSA MANNIX: 4/64.855          

Photo Credit: Photos © Anne Gittins Photography, An Official Photographer of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival, www.annegittins.com, and Sportfot, An Official Photographer of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival, us.sportfot.com. These photos may be used only in relation to this press release and must include photo credit.