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Trying to make a good impression

Boyd, four other riders to bring Hunters to a new audience

Posted: September 22, 2010 1:54 p.m.
Updated: September 22, 2010 1:52 p.m.

In a day and age in which professional athletes too often follow the trail of money and put “me” instead of “we,” five of this country’s best Hunter jumper riders will forsake a trip to one of the sport’s premier events in favor of trying to do something for their sport with a world-wide audience following their every move.

While not an official event, The International Hunter Derby will be a demonstration event at the 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG). The 16-day event comes to the United States for the first time when the competition begins Friday at the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) in Lexington.

Camden’s Liza Towell-Boyd, winner this past April’s $10,000 Chronicle of the Horse-USHJA International Hunter Derby at the South Carolina Equine Park, is one of the quintet of U.S. riders who will take to the dressage complex at the KHP for the seven-day demonstration event which opens Oct. 4.

Like a demonstration sport in the Olympics, the Hunter discipline is hoping to carve a niche for itself in the WEG, as well as, possibly, in future Summer Olympic Games. Boyd said there is no better stage on which to showcase their sport than at the WEG, which are held every four years.

“At this point, Hunters are not an Olympic sport and they are not part of the World Equestrian Games,” Boyd said. “A certain number of countries have to compete in it for it to be included in the Olympics or the World Equestrian Games. Right now, Hunters are an American sport.

“This exhibition is to show the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) and a lot of the Europeans just what we do, show off our sport and show how well the Hunter Derby has taken off in this country and, hopefully, one day, it will become an international sport.

“I feel so honored to be one of the riders and to represent our country.”

Boyd will be joined by four fellow riders --- including Jennifer Alfano, who was second to Boyd and her winning mount, Brunello, in Camden and 2009 USHJA Hunter Derby Finals winner John French --- and one alternate in Lexington.

While the other Team USA riders were making their case for a spot on the squad, Boyd was playing catch-up. Rather than being in the saddle, she was changing diapers as she and her husband, Blake, tended to the couple’s newborn daughter, Ellen, born late last year. The first-time mother was away from the sport for three months before returning to ride Brunello to victory in the $42,000 American Hunter Jumper Federation Hunter Classic Spectacular in Palm Beach, Fla., in February.

“I had to prove myself more than most people this year. I really wanted to make the WEG, so I had to prove myself. Winning at Palm Beach was great,” she said.

Needing to build up her point total in order to secure a spot for the WEG team, Boyd said winning in her hometown at the Camden Spring Fling feature played a large role in the process.

“Winning in Camden was huge,” Boyd said of the victory at the SCEP. “I really can’t thank Camden enough. Having that class helped me to qualify.”

This will be the second time in less than two months that Boyd and Brunello will have competed in an event at the KHP. In August, the pair finished third in the $100,000 Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals in the dressage ring last month. Hunt Tosh won the event aboard Lonestar.

“It just started back in 2008. It’s Hunter classes, but it’s more technical courses while tries to incorporate the fox-hunting style where you have coops and gates,” Boyd said of the course set-up for the $100,000 event. “They are trying to integrate that into the Hunters now, but they also have the tight turns and ‘handy hunters’ of the jumping ring.
“It’s a little bit more exciting for your audience to watch, who don’t understand some of the technical aspects. With hunters, it can be a little like figure skating where it’s the teeny, tiniest little details that matter which your average person, who doesn’t know the hunter world can’t really pinpoint that and see it. This is a little more ‘black and white.’

“You need to make the tight inside turns and be quite handy. And, they have auction jumps where you get rewarded if you jump the higher jumps. It’s quite exciting. It’s a great thing for our hunter industry.”

Boyd and Brunello have developed a nice rapport since the duo won the Hunter Jumper Triple Crown --- The Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania Horse Show and The Washington International --- in 2007. Now, the bond between the 12-year-old chestnut Hanoverian and rider is even stronger.

Earlier this summer, Janet Peterson, from Landrum, purchased Brunello, along with Boyd and her father, Jack Towell, who is the owner/trainer for the family’s Firetower Road-based Finally Farm. Boyd is happy the deal came together and that she was a part of it.

“The (former) owner (Caroline Clark Morrison) wanted to sell him and we just did not want to lose him. We wanted to keep him in the barn,” she said. “I knew that I had the finals coming up in August and we had a goal to make the WEG. It’s amazing that she (Peterson) helped out. I’m really grateful to her for doing that.”

Knowing she had her spot on the American team wrapped up before heading to Kentucky last month, Boyd rode free and easy while acclimating Brunello to the arena. But come Oct. 4, it will be an entirely new challenge given all the different disciplines which will also be competing in the same part of the facility.

“There are going to be a lot of demonstrations there and it is going to be a very spooky atmosphere for the horses,” Boyd said. “Someone said there could be reining and roping going on in the arena next door to us. It’s going to be stressful for the horses and for us. But the committee and the riders have picked seasoned horses which shouldn’t be affected by the atmosphere there. You sure don’t want to take a young horse there.”

Though a demonstration event, there will be scoring over the course of the seven days for the Hunter Jumpers.

“They will be scoring, even though it won’t have the stress of the $100,000 Derby, it’s going to be just as exciting because we all want to put in a really good performance,” she said. “All five of us are competitive. That’s why we are good at what we do.”

And, Boyd will hardly be the only person from Camden trying to get the sport’s proverbial foot in the WEG door.

“Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta (chairman of the ASHJA high performance hunter committee) are advocates of it,” Boyd said of her fellow Camdenites. “Ron helped start the Hunter Derby. Danny will be judging and commentating there.”
Boyd said the competition will be like a regular Hunter Derby.

“The event will be scored and even though it won’t have the stress of the $100,000 Derby, it’s going to be just as exciting because we all want to put in a really good performance. All five of us are competitive. That’s why we are good at what we do.”

Boyd said the response from those in the industry, whom she has had conversations with, has been positive. In fact, she said, one of her clients said they were going to the event to watch the show jumping, but had cleared their schedule to make sure they take in the Hunters, as well.

How important is this demonstration event to Boyd and her four fellow riders? They will skip the prestigious Capital Challenge Horse show, which is being held that same week in Maryland, and all its financial opportunities to spend the week spreading the word of Hunters to the world equine community.

“It’s an honor for it to be here (in the USA). And to be going there and being a part of it, is going to be real exciting,” Boyd said of being in Kentucky rather than at the Capital Challenge.

“(The WEG) runs at the same time as the Capital Challenge Horse Show. That event produces a lot of income and is a big show for all five of us to miss. But all of us have said that this is the chance of a lifetime.We owe it to our industry and our sport, which has been so good to us.’

“We owe it to the future of our sport to go there and do this. I’m just 31 years old. I’m going to be in this sport for a long time, so I want to see it excel. We’re all on the same page as to what we have to do.”

There is no doubt that Team USA in on board and committed to their sport. After seven days in Lexington, Boyd and company are hoping their message will have reached its intended audience and will pave the way for the Hunters to take their rightful place in the world equine community.

“It’s just a really great thing for the sport. Hopefully, it will let the Europeans see what we do and maybe, they’ll start doing it,” Boyd said. “All our horses come from there; they’re bred in Europe. I think this will open up a lot of doors and help us make some connections.

“We’re all trying to give back to our sport and we hope to see it happen one day. It could be 10 years from now, that’s part of the process. But, one day, it will be and it will be something to put in the scrap book that I was part of the first demo which, hopefully, launched it into an international sport.”

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