The final five-star class of international competition during Week 7 of the 2023 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) came to a close on Sunday afternoon with a win for German Olympian Daniel Deusser and Kiana Van Het Herdershof.
Fifty-three combinations readied themselves to contest Steve Stephens’ (USA) final test of the Lugano Diamonds-sponsored week as finishing touches were put on the first round of the $78,000 CaptiveOne Advisors CSI5* 1.50m Classic.
Deusser, ranked the number-nine in the world, produced a fault-free first round on both his winning mount and his second entry, Loui LN, with whom he finished in sixth place at the class’s completion. A total of 17 pairs successfully navigated the first round without penalty to advance to the short track, but eight of those contenders suffered from at least one downed obstacle as they put on the gas pedal.
Jos Verlooy went early in the class and set the pace as he with a challenging time-to-beat at 38.04 seconds, but ultimately settled for third place aboard Euro Horse BVBA’s FTS Killossery Konfusion. He finished in a dead heat with Alessandra Volpi (USA) aboard her own Gracieux du Pachis.
Deusser and the Stephex Stables’ 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Toulon x Lys De Darmen) are no strangers to the winner's circle at Wellington International, having won a handful of five-star events in the arena during 2021 and 2022. Kiana Van Het Herdershof was also selected as the Champion Equine Insurance Jumper Style Award winner by Laura Fetterman on Sunday.
“Kiana is a horse I’ve had for many years, and she is naturally very fast, so classes like this are her specialty,” explained Deusser. “If I am clear in the jump-off with her, I am normally always in the top five placings.”
According to Deusser, the course was well-suited for this mare and the pair have once again hit their stride.
“My jump-off started really well with the turn from fence two to three which is one of her strong suits,” he detailed. “She is never running blind, and she is always searching for the next jump. Then to the second to last fence I did a rollback that would’ve been very difficult to do with another horse. The thing about Kiana is you don’t have to slow her down in front of the fences so I can keep my speed throughout the whole jump-off.”
Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca split the difference between Deusser and Verlooy to land the second place finish aboard Dirka De Blondel. He piloted the Poden Farms’ 10-year-old Selle Français mare (Very Berlin De Castel x Lauterbach) to stop the clock in 36.52 seconds and finish only half a second off the winning pace of 36.02 seconds.
Saratoga Steals Win in CSI2* Grand Prix
Alise Oken, representing the host country, and Saratoga flew around the $50,000 by Ethel M. Chocolates CSI2* Grand Prix in the International Arena to close out WEF 7. Oken, and the 10-year-old Holsteiner mare (Chin Champ x Casall) owned by Hi Hopes Farm LLC, were unstoppable, finishing the speed portion of the course in a time of 38.86 seconds. The only partnership to post a time sub-40 seconds.
Second went to Chloe Reid (USA) aboard Crossover 4 clocking in at 40.79 seconds, and third place went to Canada’s Alicia Gadban-Lewis on Beneficial finishing on a time of 37.72 with one rail in hand.
Oken and Saratoga have a relatively new partnership but growing stronger every day. “I’ve had Sara for about a year and a half now. Last year we started doing some of the bigger classes and some 1.50m’s and she’s really excelled at that level. When I first sat on her I thought she had all the scope in the world and I’ve taken my time with her and I think she will jump some of the biggest tracks, but today we also went fast which was great so I’m really happy with the results.
“She is smaller but she has a huge stride so I can actually leave out numbers in all the lines and for how small she is she actually has a very big stride so it’s very advantageous for me. Especially in the jump-off, I was able to leave out in the first line and one other line, so I think that’s where I made up the time.”
Piper Benjamin Grabs Another Win in Adult Amateur Hunters
Piper Benjamin and Tansu wrapped up their WEF 7 week in the Rost Arena with a big win in the Adult Amateur Hunter 18-35, sponsored by Horseware Ireland. Benjamin has been on fire this week grabbing winning ribbons left and right, including the top spot in all three classes on Sunday.
Twenty hopeful entries entered the Rost on Sunday, but ultimately the pair to impress the judges the most was Benjamin and Tansu, a seven-year-old German Sport Horse, owned by Margaret Benjamin. They scored an 86 and an 85, as well won the under saddle, to clinch the championship title.
“He was actually bought for my mom to be an at-home horse and my trainer Carl Weeden ended up showing him in the 3’ greens last year and he won and did all these great things and we thought, ‘oh maybe he should be show horse.’ I showed him once last year and this was my second time showing him, so he’s been such a great surprise.
“When we got him, he was straight from Europe and he hadn’t shown or really done anything and within a year and a half he has blossomed into this beautiful green hunter.”
This horse’s strengths seem to be that, “He has a really good brain and he’s green, so he’s still very cautious looking at the jumps. He is really focused and his personality is the type that will do anything for you.”
Reserve Champion honors in the Horseware Ireland Adult Amateur Hunter 18-35 division were presented to Lily Barnard and her own Cantina after winning two classes over fences.