Cassanto and Liza Boyd solidified their partnership at the Aiken Spring Classic Masters, April 19-23, in Aiken, South Carolina, and the results were gratifying. The pair picked up the overall victory in the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby and earned the 3'6" Performance Working Hunter Championship.
Cassanto is a relatively new ride for Boyd, whose student, Stella Styslinger, is leasing him for the year. Boyd and Cassanto contested their first classes together on the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit, and this was their derby debut.
For the USHJA International Hunter Derby at Aiken, Liza's plan wasn't necessarily to win, but instead for them to gain confidence in one another.
"My plan with him was first and foremost to have a good experience," she said. "I wanted to ease him into another pressure situation (after Florida) and work on our partnership. Because of that goal, I wasn’t jumping all of the high options and was simply hoping for a nice ribbon and good experience."
After a solid Classic Round performance, Liza and Cassanto stood in second place going into the Handy Round.
"Havens Schatt was leading and so far ahead that I thought I was riding for second place," said Liza. "Havens had done all of the high options in the first round and handily won it. In the second round, my plan was to be handy but not risk jumping a big oxer and having it down. I stuck to my plan and did it. I was very handy and only jumped one high option vertical, and, as it turned out, that was a wise decision. Daniel Geitner was second to me by 1 point. It's a good thing I did the one high vertical. It's funny how strategy comes into play in these classes.
"It was good for me to do a derby and move forward," added Liza. "It was a competitive class and very exciting for the spectators, I think. For Cassanto, it was a good atmosphere, with lots of spectators and energy. I'm very happy with how it all turned out. We have plenty more classes to build on this spring, with lots of opportunities and stepping stones. I think I have him figured out now."
Liza also finished sixth overall aboard Lindsay Maxwell's Technicolor, a new ride for her.
"I was really proud of him. He's only 7 years old, and I don’t know how many derbies he's done, but it can't be too many," she said. "Lindsay was also champion on him in the 3'6" Amateur-Owners. She rode vey well and was first or second in every class. He's such a quality, beautiful horse. I think he really loved this horse show, where there are 20 strides between the fences, and he loved galloping on that field. Lindsay is a good rider and knows her horse well, so it was fun to watch them out there together."
Casallo and Erin McGuire reunited this spring after the gray warmblood returned from a lease. They placed 11th overall in the USHJA International Hunter Derby, "He's a wonderful horse, and Erin has so much fun with him," said Liza. "He's available for lease again, and I'm sure he won't be in the barn long!"
The Finally Farm team also cleaned up in the 3'3" Junior Hunters, where Maggie Hill and Shamrock topped the Junior Hunter Classic, Quatrain and Elly Ficca earned the section championship and Maggie took the reserve on Co Co Chanel as well as second in the Classic.
"Elly was really good on that big field and understood how to gallop and go forward out there," said Liza. "Quatrain jumped beautifully and had a great time. Maggie was reserve and won the Classic on Shamrock. He loves her, and it's so interesting for me to watch them. He’s really found his calling with her and being a Junior Hunter. I think he'd still be good with me in the derbies, but I can see how happy he is doing this job. He just loves it and is so overqualified. They are a great match."
Sarah Isgett returned from the University of South Carolina to resume her summer showing with Finally Farm. She earned the Adult Amateur Hunter, 18-35, championship aboard Finally Farm's Fieona.
"It was their first show back, and they were great. They improved each day," said Liza. "She's such a hard worker and team player. I want to credit USC coaches Boo Major and Hillary Dobbs. They've done a great job, and riding all those different horses has been great for Sarah. She's riding so well."
Liza also enjoyed time in the show ring aboard a fancy new prospect named Gratis. The 5-year-old gray earned the Baby Green Hunter Championship for owner Karen Lackinger.
"She sent him to me just before Aiken and had bought him in an auction in Germany sight unseen," said Liza of the Hanoverian (Gray Top--Akazie). "She studied his pedigree and bought him to be a future derby horse. I'm really excited to have him in the barn, and for him to do so well in his first horse show is thrilling. He has a great brain. I haven’t jumped him very high yet since he's so young, but he feels very scopey and eager. She bought him to bring him up the hunter pipeline, and it will be so much fun to bring him along. He’s a pleasure to work with, cute and willing, and seems to have the right balance and talent to be a derby horse--that natural god-given canter, with a good rhythm. I'm super excited."