Liza Boyd, of Camden, S.C., piloted S&L Just A Cobbler, an entry of S&L Farms, to the top of the field in the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby to conclude the last week of competition at the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival. The event was held over 12 weeks at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL, and awarding more than $9 million in prize money.
Boyd and her mount of four months bested 39 competitors out on the grass field at Equestrian Village at PBIEC with a total of 391.75 points.
Conducted in a normal hunter derby format, consisting of a Classic Round and a Handy Round, riders tackled Kenny Krome’s first course of 11 fences on Saturday to secure a spot in the top 25 for Round 2. Two panels of judges scored each trip, and additional points were offered for high option fences.
On Sunday, the leading 25 returned to the derby track for a Handy Round, which was also judged by two judging panels with high option points, however, bonus scores were additionally offered for handiness on course.
Boyd and S&L Just A Cobbler sat in sixth place going into the second day of competition with a 180.75, which was more than 8 points fewer than Hannah Isop and Red Ryder’s leading 189. The point different didn't faze the duo, however, as they clinched the leading title with a score of 211 in the Handy and remained unbeatable with a 391.75 total.
S&L Just A Cobbler is an 8-year-old KWPN gelding and consistent winner in the ring, having earned the championship tricolor with Boyd twice in the Green Hunter 3’9” division this circuit as well as a second place in WEF’s $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby ‘Hunt and Go’ during Week 4.
“This horse is a very different ride than we are all used to nowadays,” said Boyd. “He's more of a Thoroughbred type. I sort of just chuck the reins at him, and if he starts pulling at all, I just let go and he slows down. It reminds me of my childhood days with Monday Morning, and I love it. He's definitely a different ride than Brunello.”
Brunello was Boyd’s mount to win three consecutive USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015, leaving S&L Just A Cobbler with a big name to live up to.
“I feel so lucky to have got him at a stage where he's ready to be very competitive,” said Boyd. “I have to give credit to the riders who rode him before me, and I think that he's a good example of a horse that's come through our Hunter pipeline, from the Pre-Green division on up. My dad, Jack Towell, and I have always loved Cobbler, and I would always envy him when I would watch him show at places like the [USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship].”
In addition to their big finish at the end of the week, Boyd and the bay gelding placed third in Friday’s $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Hunt & Go on Friday and continued to prove their abilities throughout the weekend.
“He got better and better every day on the field, and I really appreciate that WEF had the Hunt and Go format on Friday for riders and horses to get out on the grass and get used to it," she said. "I noticed that the judges were really rewarding galloping [today], and that there were not a lot of places to go inside, or to be too handy, so I think I really wanted to show off a bigger stride. My strategy was to keep moving and make sure that the jumps held him off, so he would jump high.”
Jennifer Hannan, of Wakefield, R.I., took second-place honors aboard Kensel LLC’s Mindful and echoed Boyd’s thoughts.
“My horse loves to gallop, so it's actually much easier for us to do a handy-type class like this one,” said Hannan. “The course started to get a little challenging by the fourth fence, with a very up-and-down vertical at the top of the ring. There was a lot for the horses to look at, but after the trot jump, that’s where you could really start to get moving, and the judges were looking for us to do that.”
The duo also captured the blue in Friday’s derby and followed the same strategy going into today following a first round score of 179, and with a second round score of 205, gave them a 384 total to earn the second-place spot behind Boyd.
Samanatha Schaefer rode In The Know, an entry of her younger sister Madeline Schaefer, to the third place standing with a total of 383, following first and second round scores of 181 and 202.
“It's so fun to ride out there,” said Schaefer. “I try not to miss any opportunity we get to ride on the grass like this. I keep telling Maddie that I'm going to give him back, but I’m not going to. We have been doing derbies for two years now, and he always rises to the occasion.”
The three riders were excited about the additional hunter derby opportunities at this year’s WEF.
“The horse show has done a great job of introducing new opportunities for us, such as the National Hunter derbies on the field, and I would love to see one or two more derby classes next year,” said Boyd. “[Ultimately,] it's nice to be able to highlight our derby experience, and the more practice we can get as riders on the bigger fields the better.”
Following her memorable Easter Sunday, Boyd plans on donating her winnings to the Epilepsy Foundation, and expressed her gratitude for all the people involved in her big 2018 WEF win.
“I’m sitting in the winner’s seat right now because of Katie Wood, who works for me, and my dad,” said Boyd. “It’s a real team. This is a class I've always wanted to win, and I woke up with this special feeling this morning that it was going to happen. I'm usually the opposite, so I went into today with a good frame of mind. I think we as riders have to pump ourselves up in different ways, and after many weeks of showing, I had to give myself a goal and something to be grateful for. I’m glad it all worked out the way it did!”
Special thanks to Ava Lindsay for Jennifer Wood Media, Inc., for the press release.