Fence by Fence from the Derby Fi­nal

Rid­ing Cuba, Tori Colvin faced a handy course de­signed for scope and smooth horse­man­ship at the 2017 USHJA In­ter­na­tional Hunter Derby Cham­pi­onship.

Practical Horseman - - News - By Tri­cia Con­a­han

This year’s USHJA In­ter­na­tional Hunter Derby cham­pion, Tori Colvin, shares how she nav­i­gated the chal­leng­ing handy round and course de­signer Alan Lohman com­ments on the skills he was hop­ing to test.

Some­times a lit­tle self-doubt can do the trick. Tori Colvin was half­way through a beau­ti­ful handy round on John and Stephanie In­gram’s Cuba when the take­off on Fence 6, a big oxer right in front of the VIP stand, was a lit­tle slower than she ex­pected. Cuba jumped well but rubbed the rail. Tori thought she might have lost her op­por­tu­nity to win the derby cham­pi­onship. “And I thought—me be­ing my­self—well, that is the end, it’s over,” Tori ex­plained. “Be­cause I like to be per­fect and it wasn’t per­fect, so I thought we didn’t have a chance. Which was prob­a­bly ben­e­fi­cial be­cause af­ter that I rode like I thought I was now go­ing to get sec­ond. I rode it to be as handy and as tight as I could to get ex­tra points.

“I al­ways try ex­tra hard, but that ex­tra ex­tra kicked in and I tried to be ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

Tori’s de­ter­mi­na­tion cre­ated a handy round score of 309 and a com­bined score of 584.25 to se­cure the win in the 2017 U.S. Hunter Jumper As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tional Hunter Derby Cham­pi­onship for Cuba, a 10-year-old bay warm­blood geld­ing who just be­gan com­pet­ing in der­bies ear­lier this year. And it was the first win in the derby cham­pi­onship for Tori, 19, who turned pro­fes­sional in 2016.

The cham­pi­onship in­cludes a clas­sic round and a handy round, both held in the Rolex Arena at the Ken­tucky Horse Park in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky. This year, the cour­ses were de­signed by Alan Lohman and Danny Moore, and the handy course was in­tended to re­ward trips that dis­played both ath­leti­cism and con­trol.

“A smooth ride will ex­cel,” Alan ex­plained. “You have enough high op­tions so a rider who is go­ing to do a nice smooth ride and get the best jump from the horse will do well.”

The fi­nal was the cul­mi­na­tion of more than 75 derby events dur­ing the qual­i­fy­ing pe­riod. Of the 84 horses com­pet­ing in the

cham­pi­onship this year, 25 horses ad­vanced to Sec­tion A of the handy round Aug. 19. Six judges, in three judg­ing pan­els of two, scored each horse-and-rider pair. Rid­ers earned an ex­tra point from each panel for each high op­tion that was taken and could earn up to 10 bonus points from each panel for hand­i­ness. The com­bined score from both rounds de­ter­mined the win­ner.

Tori was sit­ting in third place go­ing into the handy round be­hind John French on two mounts, Cen­ter Court and Sky­hawk. Her handy round score was the high­est of the evening and in­cluded handy bonus points of 9, 9 and 10 from the three judg­ing pan­els.

Judge Danny Robertshaw said that Tori’s ride in the handy was ideal in that she picked up a good gal­lop at the in-gate and never changed her pace, even through­out the tight turns. “That is where Tori ex­cels—not one fence was dif­fer­ent from the next. She rode it all the same,” Danny ex­plained. “And that made a dif­fer­ence. A lot of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand this—that be­ing handy is one thing but be­ing handy and still be­ing a hunter is an­other.”

Danny added that Cuba matched Tori’s style and con­sis­tency through­out the course. “He jumped ev­ery­thing the same. He was crisp and high over the jumps,” he said. “If that was the first horse you ever saw do a handy round, you would say that looks fun, that looks sim­ple. And of course, it’s not.”

Tori re­cently started rid­ing horses for the In­grams and trainer Tom Wright out of Nashville, Ten­nessee. She said the win was even more spe­cial as the In­grams had bought Cuba ear­lier in the year and no one on the team re­ally knew how the horse would per­form un­der the bright arena lights at the derby cham­pi­onship.

“That class was a tough one be­cause they don’t re­ally know him yet and I don’t know him as well as I would have hoped. I rode him be­fore the class and I thought, ‘I think he is good.’ The prob­lem was we didn’t know what to ex­pect. We

didn’t want him to be too quiet and have a rail or have him too fresh and have him spook un­der lights,” she said.

Here is a fence-by-fence break­down of the handy round, in­clud­ing Tori’s thoughts on how she nav­i­gated this chal­leng­ing course and Alan’s com­ments on the horse-and-rider skills he was hop­ing to test.

Fence 1: Nat­u­ral Log

Height: 3 feet 10 inches

Con­struc­tion: A hol­low log ly­ing on its side with nat­u­ral flow­ers in­serted in holes in the log. Stan­dards made from up­right logs. Smaller branches and brush at ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: I set this fence a good dis­tance away from the in­gate. I also judge, so I wanted to make sure the judges have a lit­tle time to see the horses as they en­ter and the horses have a lit­tle time to get go­ing. Then af­ter Fence 1, there were two tight turns, so I wanted to let rid­ers get a lit­tle more horse to help make those turns if they chose to take them.

Tori: When I came into the ring, I wanted to get a nice gal­lop for the start and then stick to that pace. I got to that can­ter quickly.

I wasn’t quite sure when I was walk­ing the course what I was go­ing to do. Turn­ing left and then rolling back right to Fence 2 was dif­fi­cult, but we watched a cou­ple peo­ple do it and no­body got ex­tra scores for tak­ing the risk. So I took the op­tion to jump it on the right side, ride past Fence 2 and then roll back to the left to the next jump. It was a nice first fence, invit­ing. You could gal­lop up to it and know the horses’ front ends would come up. And Cuba jumped it spec­tac­u­larly.

Fence 2: Ken­tucky Fence

Height: 3 feet 8 inches

Con­struc­tion: A white flat-board fence with three ver­ti­cal pan­els set on a zigzag. Gray stone, red-tinted barn wings as stan­dards. Brush and flow­ers set for the ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: I de­signed the roll­back to the op­tion at the Ken­tucky fence be­cause I wanted to give the rid­ers op­tions to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves and show hand­i­ness early on in the course. It was an airy jump, a lit­tle more ver­ti­cal. I gave them a row of flow­ers and brush at the bot­tom to en­cour­age a bet­ter jump.

Tori: When we walked the course, I was dis­cussing this fence with Tom, and he wanted me to do the panel on the far left (fac­ing the fence). I wanted to do the panel on the far right. It was the hand­i­est be­cause I could then have a tight right turn in­side Fence 1 to Fence 3.

Af­ter the log at Fence 1, I had a nice handy gal­lop, pulled Cuba to­gether a bit and put my out­side leg on him to make sure he was pay­ing at­ten­tion. I made sure he stayed on his lead by keep­ing light con­stant pres­sure with my right leg. I jumped the panel on a slight an­gle to the right, and he jumped it nicely.

Fence 3: Nat­u­ral Trel­lis Oxer

Di­men­sions: High op­tion on right, 4 feet 3 inches; low op­tion on left, 3 feet 9 inches; 4 feet 3 inches wide

Con­struc­tion: Stan­dards de­signed to look like a nat­u­ral Asian-style trel­lis with nat­u­ral rails. Planters filled with ferns in front. Brush at ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: This was an­other early op­tion for hand­i­ness. That was a hard turn in­side Fence 1, prob­a­bly

one of the harder turns on the course with a big-op­tion fence. It gave the horses one more chance to show off their scope. I tried to keep the course nat­u­ral with a cou­ple ex­cep­tions, so this fence was an ex­am­ple of what you might see out on the hunt field.

Tori: Cuba has end­less scope, so be­fore the course started we planned to do all the high op­tions. And tak­ing the high op­tions was also the hand­i­est. Usu­ally, I like to go as handy as I can.

One down­fall is some­times I like to go too handy! Cuba kind of cuts in a bit through the turns, which is prob­lem­atic for me. So when I land, he cuts in and if I turn at the same time, we are ba­si­cally turn­ing on a dime at a 4-foot-3 fence. Then you don’t have any pace to make a pretty jump, so I had to make sure I didn’t do that.

He jumped that fence on a slight an­gle and jumped ex­tremely well. I got popped a lit­tle loose on that one as he jumped high.

Fences 4 and 5: Gray Stone In-and-Out

Height: Both ver­ti­cals, 4 feet

Con­struc­tion: Two gray stone ver­ti­cal walls, each with a row of gray blocks on top. Set one stride apart. Min­i­mum ground line; a lit­tle brush with red flow­ers.

Course De­signer Notes: This was de­signed to be an early test of the horses’ care­ful­ness. I liked hav­ing that op­tion of a tight left turn in front of a tree back to it. It re­quired a lit­tle bit of a bold horse with that solid in-and-out, but also a horse who would be care­ful with those blocks. I had set a lot of solid jumps on this course, but this in-and-out was in­tended to help the judges judge the class.

Tori: I am not the big­gest wor­rier. I re­ally go with the flow. At this point, I had jumped the third jump and I was just think­ing to my­self, OK, just make sure the next jumps are as good as the first three.

I landed from the third jump and im­me­di­ately turned left to make that turn in­side the tree. I was al­ready putting my­self on a left-to-right an­gle to­ward the first ver­ti­cal of the in-and­out. I jumped in and rode it on a slight bend, so I ended up on the left side of the sec­ond ver­ti­cal. It was a tight one stride so I wanted to give my­self a lit­tle bit more space and the bend helped with that.

I saw a good dis­tance in, which I wanted. You want space, not get too deep or un­der it be­cause then your horse will hang his legs if you don’t have the best jumper. Cuba would have jumped it amaz­ing ei­ther way—but I still wanted a good dis­tance in just to be on the safe side.

Fence 6: Green and Off-White WagonWheel Oxer

Di­men­sions: High op­tion on right, 4 feet 6 inches; low op­tion on left, 3 feet 10 inches; 4 feet 3 inches wide

Con­struc­tion: Tra­di­tional stan­dards with small wagon wheels at the top. Green and off-white speck­led rails filled with hedges in front. Brush on ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: The horses had some turns early on, then that tight inand-out. Now I wanted them to get go­ing again, let them gal­lop and let the rid­ers get the horses in front of their leg. I set that big oxer so they could get down there and hope­fully have a nice jump in front of the VIP tent.

Tori: I landed off the in-and-out go­ing a lit­tle left so I had to straighten out a bit be­cause the high op­tion for the next fence was on the right. And as soon as I landed I started to pick up more of a gal­lop af­ter those short turns. For me, hand­i­ness means also keep­ing a nice gal­lop where you can on the course.

This was the one par­tic­u­lar fence on the course that I was wor­ried about for a rub. I was ex­tra care­ful with that—you were head­ing right into the stands. It was a big jump, airy with not as much brush as the rest, so I wanted a good gal­lop to get right to the base of the jump. But it came up a lit­tle

slower than I had hoped—I would have liked to have had a bit more im­pul­sion. He jumped it great but he had a slight rub.

Fence 7: Trot Fence

Height: Ap­prox­i­mately 3 feet

Con­struc­tion: Three ver­ti­cal pan­els of nat­u­ral split-rail fenc­ing with brush at the base. Set on an­gles as a snake fence.

Course De­signer Notes: Af­ter the gal­lop, I wanted them to come back to the trot fence. We see a lot of trot fences with split rails, so I wanted to make it a bit dif­fer­ent by adding the op­tion with the snake fence. They would get hand­i­ness points for do­ing the right side. It was a nice, invit­ing, nat­u­ral trot fence. They needed to be a lit­tle care­ful, but the rails were se­cured at the top, so I didn’t think we would see many rails there.

Tori: I did the panel on the far left with a tight roll­back from Fence 6. That was a big oxer to ride to then come down to the trot—re­ally dif­fi­cult—plus an in­side turn to the trot fence. I made sure I got my trot be­fore I turned be­cause we saw some peo­ple hav­ing difficulty there. I re­grouped and he came back very eas­ily, bet­ter than ex­pected, he was very soft.

I posted to it and sat the last few strides. Usu­ally I sit down so that I am bal­anced and I get the cor­rect dis­tance. If you post all the time, some­times you get a half stride or you can’t ad­just as much as you’d like.

Fence 8: Nat­u­ral Branch Ver­ti­cal

Height: High op­tion on left, 4 feet 6 inches; low op­tion on right, 3 feet 9 inches

Con­struc­tion: Tall nat­u­ral wall with a turf rails top. Stan­dards made out of nat­u­ral tree limbs. Brush and flow­ers at the base.

Course De­signer Notes: I thought all the horses would do the turn right in­side Fence 12. That would be a smooth turn for them to the ver­ti­cal. It was a solid ver­ti­cal— I didn’t want any­thing too del­i­cate here as I’d al­ready tested the horses’ care­ful­ness ear­lier. We put the turf rails, which don’t come down very eas­ily, on the top. So the rid­ers would be able to keep rid­ing through that tight turn to that ver­ti­cal and ride for­ward.

Tori: Ev­ery course has a “free” jump. In a jumper class it is a triple bar. So this fence was a free jump for me. The con­struc­tion was nice, it was filled, there was a grass rail on top so you couldn’t hear a rub. It was less spooky com­pared to the rest of the course. It had an easy turn. The left side was the high op­tion, right next to the rail. I knew I could gal­lop him right up to the base. Right af­ter the trot fence, I picked up a gal­lop and turned as tight as I could and caught it on the for­ward gal­lop. It was a gift.

Fence 9: Whiskey Bar­rel Oxer

Di­men­sions: 4 feet high, 4 feet 6 inches wide

Con­struc­tion: Stan­dards made with bar­rels. Row of bar­rels in front of an oxer made of stan­dard rails. Brush and yel­low flow­ers at ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: This was a right turn to a nice long run to the oxer. We had slowed them down a bit, now I wanted to get them go­ing again as the ex­cite­ment builds on the course. The rid­ers had room to get rolling and show a good jump here.

Tori: The last four years at derby fi­nals I haven’t had much luck—the last two years I didn’t have the best trot jump. So af­ter the trot jump I was a lit­tle re­lieved.

On these last four jumps that you could jump on a gal­lop—they were kind of fun, al­most like a jump-off. You could pick up your gal­lop and stick with it the whole rest of the course. Turn­ing from Fence 8, first I made sure he didn’t swap. I could get my horse or­ga­nized and then pick up a good gal­lop. I kept the pace I wanted through that turn then caught the oxer for­ward. I used a lit­tle ex­tra leg at take­off to get him across the width. Cuba jumped this one quite well. The com­men­ta­tor said, “Wow!” His hind end was pretty spec­tac­u­lar—he used it bet­ter here than on any other jump.

Fence 10: Hay Wagon

Di­men­sions: 4 feet 1 inch high, 4 feet 3 inches wide

Con­struc­tion: A smaller ver­sion of a hay wagon. A row of straw bales was set at the base and in the wagon. No rails.

Course De­signer Notes: It was get­ting down to the end of the course. We wanted to see a gal­lop again and a turn in­side a tree and for the rider to keep go­ing for­ward to the hay wagon.

Tori: I planned on land­ing from the oxer at Fence 9, turn­ing im­me­di­ately and then lin­ing up a straight ap­proach to that hay wagon on a left to right an­gle—that would mean ex­tra handy points and give me a lit­tle more room for the turn to Fence 11. I tried to ride it handy and for­ward. Luck­ily, it came up out of stride.

Fence 11: Wagon-Wheel Oxer

Di­men­sions: 3 feet 10 inches high, 4 feet 3 inches wide

Con­struc­tion: Gi­ant wagon-wheel stan­dards, hedge with nat­u­ral rails. Brush at ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: That fence was de­signed to slow them down, to show hand­i­ness, a tight turn op­tion in­side the tree. But the good ones were able to make that look smooth and ef­fort­less.

Tori: My fa­vorite thing in the handy is to turn ex­tra tight. That was a spe­cific place where I was ready to slice the an­gle hard. As soon as I landed from the hay wagon, I wanted to turn to that jump, but with Cuba, I wanted to make sure I landed first! Make sure all four feet were on the ground first. Then keep the lead and turn.

It was one of the small­est jumps on the course, not that wide. It was nice to have at the end of the course be­cause some­times when Cuba gets tired he gets slow off the ground and doesn’t go across as you would like. I had to make sure he came off the ground be­cause if he had hit this, it would have made a loud noise. I have never used more leg in my life.

Fence 12: Stone Pil­lar Oxer

Di­men­sions: High op­tion on left, 4 feet 6 inches high; low op­tion on right 4 feet high; 4 feet 6 inches wide

Con­struc­tion: Turf rails set above a stone wall. Stan­dards in­cluded three “roofs” over a stone pil­lar. Rows of brush as ground line.

Course De­signer Notes: We wanted a good hand gal­lop down to Fence 12, which had a nice ramp so it is invit­ing to gal­lop to it. lt had nice turf rails, which the horses re­spect. A lit­tle bit of air be­tween those turf rails tends to en­cour­age the horse to jump up. I wanted the rid­ers to feel that they could gal­lop a lit­tle bit and get a good jump in front of the spec­ta­tors.

Tori: That last fence … thank you course de­signer! It was a grass rail so you wouldn’t be able to hear any rubs. That meant I could squeeze as hard as I wanted to on take­off and just get him over that fence. I could ride him right up to it and know that he was go­ing to jump well.

We did a derby in Florida and on the last jump Cuba kind of fell over be­cause he got too tired, he wasn’t fit enough. I had that in the back of my head. I knew I needed enough en­ergy and im­pul­sion to get over. I got a bet­ter can­ter than I had had, lots of im­pul­sion, but not long—a bouncy for­ward hand gal­lop with a lot of en­ergy. As I turned to the fence I said to my­self, “Get it to­gether. It is go­ing very well. Let’s make sure we jump this last jump per­fect.”

The Fin­ish

Course De­signer Notes: I left that last jump far enough in front of the out-gate so that the rid­ers were not pulling up and stop­ping abruptly. The horses don’t need to be pulled up by the gate with their mouths wide open. Judges don’t re­ward that and it is not a pretty pic­ture for spec­ta­tors. I want it to be smooth, so it is a nice grad­ual end. Then you get the scores in and hope it was a good class.

Tori: When I landed I thought, “That was pretty nice. Thank you, Cuba. That went so well.” But I didn’t think I was go­ing to win. With this round I knew it was good—but I have had such bad luck at derby fi­nals. And I thought John (French) was go­ing to come in and have an un­be­liev­able round. (Ul­ti­mately, John was un­able to hold the lead on ei­ther of his mounts. His first ride in the handy, Cen­ter Court, had one bad fence, putting them out of the com­pe­ti­tion. John’s other ride, Sky­hawk, who was last to go, had a block down at the first com­po­nent of the in-and-out.)

The crowd was a bit louder than I thought, and I wasn’t pre­pared for that. So Cuba put his head up and I was wor­ried he would get frisky—he knew he did well. Af­ter­ward, he got to do the pic­tures and the rib­bons. When I rode the vic­tory round, he was even a bit fresh—fresher than when he did the handy. And then I think he was happy as he got a lot of car­rots.

FENCE 1: This year’s USHJA In­ter­na­tional Hunter Derby Cham­pi­onship win­ner, Tori Colvin gal­loped up to the invit­ing 3-foot-10-inch hol­low log.

Spec­ta­tors con­grat­u­late Tori and Cuba.

FENCE 2: Tori jumped the panel on the far right be­cause it was the hand­i­est, al­low­ing her to make a tight right turn to Fence 3.

FENCE 6: Af­ter the short turns to Fences 2, 3 and 4, Tori gal­loped to this 4-foot-6 airy oxer in front of the VIP tent. Though she would have liked to have had more im­pul­sion to it, Cuba jumped it great any­way but had a slight rub.

FENCE 4: Course de­signer Alan Lohman said the tight in-and-out be­tween Fences 4 and 5 was a test of a horse’s care­ful­ness. The solid walls re­quired a bold horse, but one who had to be care­ful not to hit the blocks on top, which could eas­ily shift.

FENCE 9: Turn­ing from Fence 8, Tori kept her pace to the 4 feet high and 4 feet 6 inches wide Whiskey Bar­rel Oxer and caught a for­ward dis­tance. Cuba used his hind end bet­ter here than over any other jump.

FENCE 12: The last fence on course had turf rails, which most horses re­spect. That al­lowed Tori to ride with im­pul­sion to the fence and get to its base so that Cuba could jump it well.

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