When Liza Boyd heard about the new format for the $5,000 WCHR Professional Finals, she had a premonition that this might be her year. The six top riders in the WCHR Professional National standings qualified to compete over two rounds on unfamiliar horses and then rode their own horses for the third and final Handy Round.
"I brought Quatrain here specifically for this class and the Pro Challenge," she said of the 9-year-old Westphalian gelding she owns with her parents and Janet Peterson. "I'm so fortunate to have him, and I know him so well and trust him."
That familiarity turned out to make all the difference in the Handy Round, as Boyd earned the night's highest scores of 95, 95 and 95 to clinch the victory with an overall score of 274.66. Her solid performances aboard the borrowed horses Crack On and Corduroy in Rounds 1 and 2 had put her third going into the Handy Round, just within striking distance.
"So, Quatrain won this class for me, for sure," said Boyd. "He's amazing, and I'm so proud of him. He's really coming into his own, and I kind of knew early on in the week. He got an 88 and won the handy in the High Performance section, it was pretty much a no-brainer that I should ride him."
Boyd's trip to the winner's circle had a few nail-biting moments, though. She had to place eighth in the WCHR Professional Challenge on Wednesday to qualify for the Professional Finals, but after a rider error in the first round she just squeaked into the second round in 12th.
"I've never worked so hard for an eighth-placed ribbon," she said with a laugh.
Scott Stewart, of Wellington, FL, took the lead in the first round aboard the borrowed mount Contelido and maintained that position with a second solid round aboard All The Right Moves.
He returned for the Handy Round with Fashion Farm's Declaration, but a slip on the turn from fences 1 and 2, and a few bobbles later in the course, earned a score of 76 in the round and a 257.66 overall for sixth.
"I chose Declaration, who I've had for a really long time," said Stewart. "He's usually really, really good in the handy rounds-until tonight. I don't know what set him off. He's usually perfect. I'll have to try again."
Amanda Steege, of Far Hills, NJ, was the sole rookie in the field of veteran professionals, and she moved up in the Handy Round from fourth to second overall with a stellar performance aboard Zidane.
"This is the first year that I've shown him," said Steege. "I show him in the High Performance, and I did my first [USHJA International Hunter] Derby Finals on him this year. [Owner] Susan Darragh shows him in the Modified Adults. He's totally dependable, and I knew he would help me out when I needed it."
Peter Pletcher, of Magnolia, TX, returned to the Handy Round in sixth place, but an impressive performance with Eva Bisso's Aura vaulted him to third place overall with a score of 87.33 and an overall total of 262.49.
The 2013 WCHR National Professional Champion Kelley Farmer, of Keswick, VA, finished fourth overall with 261.16. John French, of Woodside, CA, dropped down in the standings to fifth during the Handy Round (257.83) after Lily Blavin's Sander stepped off his lead.
With just 6.5 points separating the six riders going into the Handy Round, those third-round performances shuffled the standings tremendously, providing for an exciting finish for competitors and spectators.
This year's horses were generously donated by: East Coast Sport Horses (All The Right Moves); Georgy Maskrey-Segesman and Savannah Dukes (Contelido); King's Wood Farm, LLC (Corduroy); Old Willow Farm & Emma Heise (Crack On); Katherine Boettcher (Lamont); and Alexis Graves (Copperfield 39).
Contelido, the horse donated by Maskrey-Segesman and Dukes, earned this year's Far West Farms Perpetual Trophy awarded to the high-score horse of the competition. Contelido, trained by Karen Healey, achieved an average of 90.83 with rides by Stewart and Farmer.
With this victory, Boyd, of Camden, SC, will have her name engraved on the All The Way Perpetual Trophy. She also won prizes from USHJA/WCHR sponsors Blue Ribbon Blankets, the Official Cooler Sponsor of WCHR and Charles Owen Inc., the Official Helmet of the USHJA.