East Dorset, Vermont — Jennifer Bliss of South Salem, NY, played to Poker Face’s strengths to win the $15,000 3’3” NEHJA Hunter Derby, presented by Land Rover Experience, during the sixth and final week of the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, VT.
Having claimed the $5,000 NEHJA Hunter Derby during week three of the Vermont Summer Festival, Bliss and Poker Face returned to the winner’s circle for the grand finale. It wasn’t an easy win, however, as Sloane Coles of The Plains, VA, proved to be stiff competition.
Following an impressive and brave trip with Cobalt, Coles held the top score of 90 while Bliss and Poker Face were in close second, having earned a score of 89.
The top 12 from the original 31-horse starting field returned for the handy round, competing in reverse order of standing. The stage was set for a dramatic showdown between Coles and Bliss as they negotiated the natural obstacles unique to the Vermont Summer Festival, including a dauntingly large wood pile and a tractor tire roll top, set by course designer Doug Russell.
Bliss and Poker Face were cool under pressure, flowing between the two rings comprising the hunter derby arena, and bravely jumping each obstacle. The judges were impressed, awarding Bliss a handy score of 90 for a two-round total of 179. Coles and Cobalt were last to challenge, but a handy score of 88, added to their first round score of 90, left them with a total of 178 to finish one point shy of Bliss.
“Sloane was great and really put the pressure on,” said Bliss, 29. “We are both young professionals. We did the ponies and the juniors together, so it’s fun for us to be young professionals together and enjoying some success.”
Of the course, Bliss noted, “I love the courses here, it is so unique how they use both rings and it is so open and flowing. The jumps are beautiful and really different looking, and it’s always really fun to do the hunter derbies here. We love coming to Vermont, it’s such a nice horse show, and it’s the perfect set-up for next week.”
For Bliss, the win was a perfect send-off to the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, which she will contest with Poker Face from August 14-16 in Lexington, KY.
“We did week three here and then we gave the horses a little break, and then we came back here to get them in the groove again for Kentucky,” said Bliss, who operates Harris Hill Farm LLC. “I feel like they are all in a really good spot. It’s a nice boost of confidence to do well.”
Bliss’ partnership with Poker Face has played a huge role in their success. Of the nine-year-old chestnut Dutch Warmblood gelding that she purchased as a four-year-old, Bliss said, “We love him to death. He is like a part of the family; he really is. We have such a nice relationship. I know him so well and he knows me so well. We’ve been together for a long time now, so it’s nice to have that element of trust.
“He’s a bit of a quirky character, but he has really come into his own this year,” continued Bliss. “He’s always been super talented and a great jumper, but he’s gotten so consistent and so reliable this year. We used to worry about him making green mistakes in these classes, and now I have to make sure that I don’t mess up. Now the tables have been turned!”
Of the qualities that make Poker Face a great hunter derby horse, Bliss described, “He’s super, super brave; he always has been. He will canter down to anything. His technique is naturally pretty perfect. As he’s gotten older and more mileage, he’s gotten more rideable and learned the game.”
While Bliss and Coles nailed down the top two spots, Rindy Dominguez took third with Eclipse with a two-round total of 164. Lauren Schweppe and Sandrimo earned 158.75 for fourth while Frank Perla rode Samuel to a top five finish for owner Kathleen Mitchell.
The Vermont Summer Festival offers a full schedule of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition. The sixth and final week of competition culminates in the $50,000 Vermont Summer Celebration Grand Prix at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 9.
Competition begins each day at 8 a.m. On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children. 100% of the gate proceeds benefit area libraries, including Manchester Community Library.
The Vermont Summer Festival is a proud member event of the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame, the Marshall & Sterling League, and the North American League (NAL). Please e-mail us or visit our website for more information about the Vermont Summer Festival.
$15,000 NEHJA Hunter Derby, sponsored by Land Rover Experience
|Rider||Horse||Owner||Round 1||Round 2||Total|
|1||Jennifer Bliss||Poker Face||Harris Hill Farm, LLC||89||90||179|
|2||Sloane Coles||Cobalt||Julie Coles||90||88||178|
|3||Rindy Dominguez||Eclipse||Rindy Dominguez||83||81||164|
|4||Lauren Schweppe||Sandrimo||Meadowood Farm, LLC||78.75||80||158.75|
|5||Frank Perla||Samuel||Kathleen Mitchell||79.5||78||157.5|
|6||Sloane Coles||Autumn Rhythm||Nilani Trent||88||68||156|
|7||Patricia Allison||Rhinebeck||Patricia Allison||80||74||154|
|8||Abby Bertelson||Eclypso||Abby Bertelson||77.5||72||149.5|
|9||Joanne Kovacs||Obadiah Finn||Alexine Lesko||78.5||69||147.5|
|10||Jennifer Bliss||Sugarman||Harris Hill Farm, LLC||82||64||146|
|11||Lisa Rex||Cuba||Alexis Roderick||78||60||138|
|12||Haleigh Landrigan||Cabana Boy||Gill Tobias||79||40||119|