Finally Farm's debut on the 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival circuit in Wellington, Florida, brought many great performances, smiles and ribbons back to the barn. Week 1 of the 12-week circuit, held January 11-15 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, made for a great springboard for the rest of the season.
Earlier in the week, a special press conference included Finally Farm's Liza Boyd, who joined other top riders to discuss the excitement of starting the new show season.
Along with top show jumping competition, WEF features divisions for every level of hunter horse, including week six's $100,000 USHJA/WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular and week 12's $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. This year's circuit also includes the addition of two new $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby competitions.
Three-time USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship winner Liza Boyd looks forward to a great 2017 season with her horses and riders.
Boyd stated, "There are so many opportunities here for the hunters. The hunter format is growing; the pipeline for hunters is growing. The addition of the Young Hunter classes for the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds is really appreciated. It's a great opportunity for owners and really good for the industry. The National Hunter Derbies are really good for the young horses. There is nice prize money, and it's also a great opportunity for juniors and amateurs to compete and to learn. The addition of the South Ring is wonderful. There are just so many opportunities, starting from the cross rails, which my daughter will be competing in this year."
A new addition to the barn this year made his presence known. Stella Styslinger has leased Cassanto for the year from Heritage Farm, and they started out their partnership with the Large Junior Hunter, 16-17, championship.
Liza also competed Cassanto one day in the 3’6” Performance Working Hunter section, where their first- and second-placed ribbons in the field of 45 and 51, respectively, were good enough for a reserve championship.
"It was fun to show him and get to know him, so that I could help Stella later in the week and better explain how best to ride him," said Liza. "It was also nice having rider Brady Mitchell and trainer Andre Dignelli there. I was able to ask them more about him, and their advice was so helpful. One morning I flatted Cassanto in the ring before the show, and Brady gave me good tips to improve my flatwork with him. The better you flatwork is, the higher quality jump you’re going to get. So all of that advice was really helpful."
Liza was thrilled that Stella figured out Cassanto's ride quickly, as he goes much differently than her Small Junior Hunter O'Ryan, whom she's been showing for several years.
"Cassanto is different than O’Ryan and more like Brunello," said Liza. "So, I said before her handy, 'Think about how I ride Ike, leg into hand more. O’Ryan goes in a rubber bit, and this horse likes more connection, and she got him right away. They won the handy, and then they placed second in the under saddle and second in another over fences class. It's quite a competitive division with quality horses, so I was thrilled for her and feel so lucky to have Cassanto in the barn this year."
Quatrain and Elly Ficca continued right where they left off in 2016, with championship results. The pair earned two firsts and a second to claim tricolor honors in the 3'3" Junior Hunter.
Liza credited Elly's dedication and time in the saddle over the winter or their immediate success the first week.
"She practiced a lot in December, and she was dedicated and committed to coming to Camden to ride," said Liza. "Elly is really one of the most dedicated students. She worked with trainer Tamara Berkowitz, too, and did a lot of training without stirrups, and so we were able to go to the next level with her. She also got to know the horse better, which she started leasing last fall. She practiced some challenging handy courses at home because I wanted her to be over prepared. I made it harder in lessons so that when she came down here any questions she might have had would have been ironed out at home, and it all worked out so well."
Zola Thompson's hard work also paid off when she walked out of the ring with a blue ribbon in the competitive Medium Pony Hunter section. "With 36 medium ponies, it was a great ribbon," said Liza. "She's had her pony Elegance for a year now, and they've formed a strong partnership. I'm so glad she is able to spend another year with Elegance and not start a new pony at WEF. She and Jack (Towell) have worked really hard, and it was a big moment for her."
Over in the jumper rings, Lily Bennett showed off her talents with Zimba and Athina 18, earning the Children's Jumper, 15-17, reserve championship with Zimba and placing third in the Classic.
"It's really amazing considering that last year was her first year on the jumpers," said Liza. "She's learned so much over the past year. To go right into the de Nemethy ring, one of the largest and most impressive rings at WEF, and do so well was fantastic. I'm very excited as to how she’s developed as a jumper rider."
Maggie Hill has also come a long way from her start at WEF last year in the 2'6" classes. The Wyoming-based junior rider is now regularly winning in the Children's Hunters at 3' and on the cusp of moving up to the next level.
"Maggie is going to stay in Florida for the season and go to school here, so I'm excited to see where her riding goes this winter," said Liza. "Even though we hadn't seen her since November, she was consistent on all of her horses. After riding dressage at home, she's very fit and strong, so we just have some fine-tuning to do over the jumps, but she's right on track for a great circuit."
Maggie showed Parkland, Co Co Chanel and Tasty to excellent ribbons, including victory in the under saddle on Parkland. She was also seventh in the THIS Medal aboard Tasty, where she scored an 80 over a very techincial course.
Mary Carton Mitchener, of Charlotte, N.C., left the junior ranks and moved up to the adult section this year, taking consistent ribbons her first time out in the Adult Amateur, 18-35, section aboard Trinity.
"It was a great start for Mary Carton, and we look forward to the rest of the circuit," said Liza, who also guided Trinity to a reserve championship ribbon in the 3'3" Performance Working Hunter section.
Kelly Maloney and Justified jumped impressively in the Masters section, with two clear-round blue ribbons and fifth in the $10,000 Don Little Masters Jumper Classic.
Abigail Poss and Upset De Talma started their equitation season with solid performances and ribbons in the competitive Equitation, 15-17, section. Liza was especially impressed with Abigail's ASPCA Maclay performance, where she jumped a solid over fences round and was called back for the flat phase out of 71 entries.
Liza's daughter, Elle, finished her first week at WEF with lots of smiles and ribbons in the cross rails section, with assistance from international grand prix rider Uncle Hardin, who helped her to learn her courses.
"She’s gotten so brave now," said Liza laughing. "Trainer Charlie Moorcroft said, 'Look at her hunting those jumps! She looks just like her mom!' She's even been jumping in the ticketed warm ups, which is a step up for her. She's now cantering the entire courses and having so much fun. She loves being down here and taking care of her pony Otis."
This year Elle, a first-grader, is attending Upper Echelon Academy from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday where she has tutoring and classroom time with her peers.
"She’s making good friends, too, and is very busy down here," said Liza. "Then she comes to the barn and has her afternoon lessons with her grandfather, Jack. They take it all very seriously, and he treats her like a student/client, and she loves it."