After a successful winter in Florida, the Finally Farm team returned home to Camden, South Carolina, just in time for the Camden Spring Classic, April 1-5.
Maddy Thatcher's Sterling continued his new career in the USHJA International Hunter Derby events, where in his second start he placed third in a competitive class with Liza Boyd aboard.
The class was dominated by Kelley Farmer, the USHJA International Hunter Derby Lifetime Money-Won Leader, with her string of top derby mounts.
"It turned out to be a smaller class, but when you have Kelley in it with five, it's very competitive," said Liza with a smile.
In the Classic Round, Liza said Sterling, a First Year Green horse, earned valuable mileage while also trying his best to please.
"This horse show is an old-fashioned show with a hill where spectators sit," she said. "Sterling is still green about things outside the ring. He never spooks at the jumps, but he does get distracted with people around the ring. He never does anything wrong, but he stares and might rub a jump. With 100 people sitting on the hill, it was a lot to take in. So I trotted in the ring, and I could feel him kind of freeze."
Liza said the first half of the course was on the side away from the hill, but eventually they made their way to that side of the ring. She reassured Sterling by giving him a soft but steady ride while also choosing to take one of the lower height fence options to keep his confidence. They placed third in the Classic Round and entered the Handy Round with Kelley in the top two places.
"I knew Kelley would do every high option on every horse in the Handy Round, so I decided to do the same," she said. "He was great and very settled in the ring. He had huge handy scores. I felt at this point I had to go for it, and he has to learn. If he made a mistake he’d learn from it and be a better horse. But he was quite good. He tied for second, but because I didn't take that high option in the first round that was the tie breaker. But second or third to Kelley and Mindful, we’ll take that!"
When Liza works with a green hunter, she focuses on giving the horse confidence but also slowly provides them with the freedom to make more of their own decisions. She said Sterling is a fast learner who is becoming more focused in his job. By the second round of the Camden Derby, she was able to feel that he no longer worried about the people.
"This horse show was great for him and his education," she said. "It sets him up well for Devon (Pennsylvania), for example, where you have the fair and lots of people walking around and standing by the rail. Now that he had such a good experience in Camden, I don't think it would be asking too much for him. But we have two more derbies, one in Aiken (South Carolina) and one in Tryon (North Carolina) before Devon, so we'll see how those go. With the green horses, you have to take one day at a time."
Pony Lane Farm's newest hunter Topaz also shined in Camden. With Liza aboard, the liver chestnut earned the 3' Pre-Green Hunter Championship and also won the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Stake class.
"We're really excited to have this talented horse in the Pre-Greens this year," said Liza. "Our biggest challenge will be keeping this scopey horse sharp over the small fences until the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship next August. He's going to go on and do more; he will be a great Amateur and Derby horse in the future."
After many ribbons in Florida in the 3'3" Junior Hunters, Grayanna Grigg and Beaujolais moved up to the 3'6" Junior Hunters and clinched the championship.
"We felt like she was ready to move back up in Camden," said Liza. "Grayanna has really matured in her riding. She made a mistake in the first class each day, but she didn't let them get to her. She really dug in and pulled through and didn’t let it happen again. That's a great example for riders to emulate. When things don’t go well in the first class, don’t fall apart, because you can still come back. And she did!"
Grayanna and Beaujolais also clinched second place in the Junior/Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic.
Even half of the U.S. continent isn't a deterrent to dedicated young rider Maggie Hill. The 12-year-old from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, joined the Finally Farm team this winter. She plans to spend time riding with trainers Margie Boyd and Jessie Lang in Wyoming while also meeting Finally Farm trainers at the East Coast shows.
Maggie, who focuses on eventing and dressage at home, leased Cayenne from Suave Pony LLC and traveled to Camden on her spring break to show. She was rewarded with the Pre-Children's Hunter championship and the Pre-Children's Equitation reserve championship.
"One of her trainers in Wyoming is my sister-in-law Margie, and Maggie came over and had lessons with me over the winter. She and her family fell in love with the area while they were here, so she decided to lease a horse and join us at some shows," said Liza.
While Cayenne was leased as a Children's Jumper, he's versatile enough for Hunters and Equitation, so Liza chose to have Maggie tackle the latter in Camden.
"Maggie has a great foundation and just needs to learn the finesse of Hunter riding," said Liza. "We wanted to teach her the Hunters, from the courtesy circle to striding and finding distances, and some things eventers don't do, such as under saddle classes. She had a lot thrown at her, but she was like a sponge and soaked it all up. She'll go on to do more Jumpers, but the Hunters are a great foundation for becoming a better Jumper rider."
Finally Farm welcomed back Kelly Malone to the team during Camden. Kelly previously trained with the Towells but retired her last competition horse. "She now has a mare ready to show that she bred. Justified did the 1.0m classes because they hadn't jumped in a month, but they'll be moving to the Adult Jumpers very soon. It was great to have her back!" said Liza.
To view some of the wonderful photos from Camden, including a special Easter shoot from photographer Nichole Sloan, please view the gallery below.