"Derby Friday" was the them for Finally Farm for the past two weeks during the Aiken Spring Classic II in South Carolina, and the Equus Events Tryon May III Horse Show in North Carolina.
"We've had an amazing run of derby successes two weeks back-to-back," said trainer Liza Boyd of their wins in four USHJA International and National Hunter Derby classes.
The Friday of each show featured the Derby classes, and during Tryon, Liza won both derbies.
Friday May 19 began with the USHJA National Hunter Derby with 31 entries. Show managers opened two rings for the class, allowing ample room and a different venue where Maggie Hill's Shamrock showed off his winning talents.
"It was neat because we had this huge ring to ride in, and the course designer brought in basically all the same jumps used in the International Hunter Derby," said Liza. "Because of the three-day events held there, they even had cross-country jumps incorporated into both derbies. They were really interesting and definitely types of fences I’d never jumped before. One they made into a lower option fence, but it was super wide and stout and had no standards. Amazingly, all of the horses jumped it great."
Liza and Shamrock won the Classic Round and earned the Overall victory in a competitive field of entries. "He’s matured this past winter, and I want to credit Maggie, who leases him now," said Liza. "She's done an amazing job and added the finishing touches."
Over the winter, Liza and Maggie, of Jackson, Wyoming, focused on flatwork and gymnastics with the 8-year-old chestnut Hanoverian, which strengthened his topline and encouraged him to jump with more power from behind. Earlier in the week, Liza and Shamrock also won a 3'6" Performance Working Hunter class with a score of 89.
Their victory set the stage for the USHJA International Hunter Derby, held in the George H. Morris Stadium. Again, the course featured cross-country fences and unique additions, such as whiskey barrels.
"This was a great course and great preparation for the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships since it was held in a stadium setting and included all the different jumps," she said.
Liza had two rides in the Derby, the veteran Cassanto and her newest partner, Clemens, a 7-year-old bay Oldenburg owned by Finally Farm and Westerly Farm. And, it was Clemens who rose to the occasion.
"During the Classic round, he trotted into the ring and put his head up. He'd never seen anything like this before," said Liza. "I had to hold his hand, but as he went he got better and better. He was overwhelmed but trying so hard not to mess up. My plan was to do all of the low options and qualify him for Derby Finals. After the Classic, he was sixth, right where I wanted him to be, and Cassanto was third."
Liza returned aboard Clemens for the Handy Round and again sought to have a solid round. As she went around the course, Liza realized Clemens was confident and focused, so she chose to add in the high option fences.
"As I went, he was so good I ended up doing all four high options. I incorporated some tight turns as well, and I couldn't believe how smart this horse is," she said. "Everything you teach him he figures out immediately. Physically, he's not as strong yet, so does get tired, but I was thrilled to score a 90 and 89 before high options and handy points were added."
On the afternoon of Friday on May 12, Liza and O'Ryan topped the USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Aiken Spring Classic II after Lindsay Maxwell won the USHJA National Hunter Derby that morning at Tryon Spring II.
"Lindsay set the standard by winning the USHJA National Derby at Tryon that morning. I have to thank her because Jack (Towell) went up to train her, and came back to Aiken for the International Derby here. I said, 'Thank you for sending Jack home in a good mood!''
Maxwell rode Catalyst to the victory in a competitive class of 25 entries. "Jack had helped her once before at Aiken and enjoyed his trip to Tryon," said Liza. "He said, 'Wow, she’s really competitive.' It turned out the horse that went before her scored a 90, and Jack gave her some options for doing inside turns. And she said, 'I’m going for the 92.' Jack said, 'I like this competitive girl!' She went in and went for it, and won that derby and was great."
Maxwell's banner show also included the addition of a new partner, as Finally Farm and Archie Cox congratulated her on the purchase on Largesse from Hunt Tosh and the Wheelers.
Down in Aiken, O’Ryan and Liza also topped the derby card in a challenging class. Boyd went first on Stella Styslinger's Cassanto in the Classic Round and was the pacesetter.
"When we walked the course, the bending lines all seemed to walk forward," she said. "It was interesting because it's not a huge ring, but it's not quite like a derby field. I got into a good gallop for a derby, and it turned out I just had too much gallop. The first line was a forward nine, and as I got down there I thought, 'What's happening?' Three strides out I had to pull on the reins and was deep out. It was a little unfortunate to go first."
After riding Cassanto, Liza had O’Ryan at the end of the class and knew more of the plan she needed. Since she knows O’Ryan well, her strategy in the Handy was to go for the win, take some hard inside turns and most of the high options.
"Stella couldn't make it to Aiken, so we felt having Cassanto and O'Ryan do the derby was a good preparation for Devon," she said. "Devon will have some spookier jumps and a more challenging course, so this was a good class to get them tuned up for her, as well."
At Tryon, Devin Seek showed Cassanto and O'Ryan and took championship honors in both Junior Hunter sections. "She did a wonderful job, and it was so nice of her. I want to thank Don Stewart for sharing her for the weekend," said Liza.
Other Finally Farm champions during Tryon and Aiken included: Lindsay Maxwell's Technicolor in the 3'9" Green Hunters; Co Co Chanel and Maggie Hill in the 3'3" Juniors; Frederica and Meg Schall in the Adult Amateur, 18-35, section; Quatrain and Elly Ficca in the 3'3" Juniors; Trinity and Mary Carton Mitchener in the 3'3" Amateur-Owners; and Otis Spunkmeyer and Elle Boyd in the Short Stirrup.
Zola Thompson and Elegance also won the Pony Hunter Classic, and Joann Loheac's Callahan won the USHJA Green Hunter Incentive. Technicolor also earned the overall Grand Hunter title for the two weeks of Aiken.
"I feel good that everyone did so well over these two weeks," said Liza. "For some, it was a great prep for Devon and others made great strides in their ongoing goals. We look forward to Devon next week and continuing the momentum into the summer."