East Dorset, Vermont — Jennifer Bliss of South Salem, NY, and Poker Face won the $5,000 NEHJA Hunter Derby held Thursday evening, July 17, at the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, VT.
Bliss was leading the field following the opening round with Poker Face, a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Tangelo van de Zuutheve that is owned by Bliss’ Harris Hill Farm. The pair earned a first round high score of 89 from judge Scott Williamson. Coming back in reverse order of standing for the handy round, Bliss and Poker Face returned as the final pair to go, once again earning the high score of 90. Their overall score of 179 bested a starting field of 38 entries, giving them the win by 10 points over second placed finisher Jimmy Torano riding HH Himself for owner Double H Farm.
“I was lucky because I did two horses in the class,” said Bliss, who also finished third with Sugarman with a two-round score of 167. “I was able to go first on Sugarman, and there’s a little bit less pressure on him. He’s a young horse and he’s just started doing the derbies, so for him it’s all about getting mileage at this stage of the game. I was lucky that I was able to canter around and get to know the track; I really knew how it rode when I came back on Poker Face.”
The close bond Bliss has developed with Poker Face, combined with the gelding’s ever-increasing derby abilities, helped push them to the top of the $5,000 NEHJA Hunter Derby.
“He’s gotten so smart about looking for the next jump and landing on the lead, so he landed on all the leads everywhere which was great,” Bliss said of her handy round. “He’s really good about coming back for the trot jump, so I was able to really gallop over from one ring to the next and then come back to the trot sort of at the last minute. I can trust him to do that.”
She continued, “We got him as a four-year-old, and I’ve actually been the one that’s brought him along and I’ve really been the only one that’s ever showed him. I know him really well and he knows me really well, so there’s definitely that element of trust that’s really helpful.”
Bliss also enjoyed the unique courses set for the derby, which incorporated the use of two rings and distinctive course décor, including kayaks and farm equipment as well as natural elements.
“The courses were beautiful,” Bliss remarked. “I love how they use two rings and it’s just really nice and open and flowing. They’ve got some really unusual derby jumps on the second half of the course, which is really fun and something you don’t see every week. I really enjoy this class.”
Bliss was especially pleased with her win as the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, to be held in Lexington, KY, draw near. In only his first year competing in the USHJA International Hunter Derbies, Poker Face has earned a trip to the Finals later this summer.
An ideal combination of brave and careful, Poker Face has been a natural derby horse since he began doing the 3’3” derbies two years ago. Derbies were still in their infancy when Bliss bought Poker Face, but success on the derby field was always in the back of her mind.
“He’s always been super brave from day one and super scopey, so it was something we always kind of had an eye for and hoped that he would do, but he’s really turning into a nice derby horse,” Bliss explained. “It was something you hope for, but you never know.”
From the beginning, Poker Face has been game for whatever was thrown his way. Bliss’ training with the talented gelding has focused on rideability, which has paid off tremendously in her handy rounds.
“He’s always been crazy brave; you can canter down to anything,” said Bliss. “He’s been like that since day one, but also very careful and just such a trier. He was like that when he was jumping 2’6” as a Baby Green horse, and he’s like that as a Second Year (Green) horse.”
While Poker Face is all business around the show grounds, Bliss revealed that he can be less than enthusiastic at home.
“He’s not a good practice horse, he’s not into it at home,” Bliss laughed. “We ride him out in the field, we trail ride. When he gets to the horse show, he’s a different horse. That’s something we’ve just gotten to know and learn to trust over the years. It used to worry me, but now I trust him so much and I know that when he gets to the horse shows, he’s perfect.”
The third week of the Vermont Summer Festival played host to World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) competition. Leading up to the $5,000 NEHJA Hunter Derby, Bliss showed Poker Face in the Second Year Green Working Hunter division, where the pair won three over fences classes. WCHR competition will continue through Sunday, July 20, as the top hunter riders and horses vie for valuable points towards WCHR Finals held this fall at the 2014 Capital Challenge Horse Show in Upper Marlboro, MD.
The six-week Vermont Summer Festival circuit continues with a full schedule of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition. Week three’s feature event, the $30,000 Otter Creek Grand Prix, presented by Hand Motors, takes place on Saturday, July 19, at 1 p.m. The six-week Vermont Summer Festival culminates with the $50,000 Vermont Summer Celebration Grand Prix on Saturday, August 9.
Each Thursday, the Vermont Summer Festival hosts the $10,000 Open Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, as well the weekly $5,000 3’3” NEHJA Hunter Derby series, highlighted by the $15,000 3’3” NEHJA Hunter Derby, presented by Land Rover Driving Experience, in week six.
Competition runs weekly from Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m. Admission prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday. 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.
$5,000 3'3" NEHJA Hunter Derby
|Rider||Horse||Owner||Round 1||Round 2||Total|
|1||Jennifer Bliss||Poker Face||Harris Hill Farm, LLC||89||90||179|
|2||Jimmy Torano||HH Himself||Double H Farm||83||86||169|
|3||Jennifer Bliss||Sugarman||Harris Hill Farm, LLC||82||85||167|
|4||Taylor Willever||Whisper||Taylor Willever||79.5||87||166.5|
|5||Katie Cooper||Sandlot||Cherry Knoll Farm||80.5||84||164.5|
|6||Cassandra Herman||Kabloom||Erin Hindle||79||82||161|
|7||Caitlin Venezia||Carthano Z||Jennifer Combs||77||83||160|
|8||Claire Kenna||Corice Z||Claire Kenna||81||77.5||158.5|
|9||David Wilbur||Silvio Song||Sara O'Connell||80||76||156|
|10||Pierre Rock Boivin||Corrador||Pierre Rock Boivin||78||77||155|