Wellington, Florida, USA – March 04, 2022 – The highlight class on Friday, March 4, of the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) week 8, sponsored by Premier Equestrian, was the $25,000 Hermès Under 25 Semi-Final Grand Prix. Sixteen-year-old Caroline Mawhinney (USA) triumphed over a field of 66 competitors with her own Stella Levista.
The top young talent in show jumping showed up for the Hermès Under 25 Semi-Final Grand Prix, the third grand prix event of the series, which offers a variety of opportunities for U25 riders to experience grand prix competition against their peers. Nick Granat (USA) and Steve Stephens (USA) set a challenging course that included a triple combination and an open water, over which just nine of the opening field finished clear.
As the pacesetters in the opening round, 21-year-old Isabella Russekoff (USA) and Balou’s Fly High, owned by Suave Pony LLC, were the first to tackle the jump-off course. They set a quick time of 39.85 seconds with a clear round that would hold up for third place.
Russekoff has a long-term partnership with Balou’s Fly High; she started riding the 15-year-old Oldenburg stallion by Balou Du Rouet x Grandeur seven years ago.
“He has taken me from the 1.20m to the two-star grand prix level, so we know each other really well,” affirmed Russekoff. “When I come in here, I feel really confident that I can go and put in a solid round. I know he will try his hardest, so I just have to try my hardest.”
The Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix Series gives young riders the chance to compete on the grass Derby Field, in the Global International Arena in a team environment, and under the lights in the Semi-Final before the top 30 riders qualify for the $50,000 Final Grand Prix during WEF 10.
Russekoff noted, “I love jumping under the lights. Actually, two years ago in this same class, he jumped clear as well and that was our last under the lights competition. I think it’s really fun and special that the U25 division gives us the opportunity to prepare for the upper levels.”
Francis Derwin (IRL) and Scarlett du Sart Z, owned by Vlock Show Stables LLC, were next into the jump-off. They blazed through in 35.87 seconds, but a rail down for four faults left them in fifth place. Summer Hill (USA) riding hers and Andrea Simpson’s La Belle SCF also had four faults in 39.37 seconds to place seventh. Hallie Grimes (USA) and Ace, owned by Can We Keep It? LLC, notched five faults in 47.35 seconds to finish eighth. Gigi Moynihan (USA) and Christy Johson’s Erle were clear in 40.31 seconds, which netted them fourth place. With four faults in 36.95 seconds, Natalie Dean (USA) and Dotcom d’Authuit, owned by Marigold Sporthorses LLC, would finish in sixth place.
Next in were Mawhinney and Stella Levista. They zoomed through the short course in 35.56 seconds with no faults to go straight to the top of the leaderboard, and with two remaining that were slower or had faults, they held the winning spot.
Caitlyn Connors (USA) and Falcon de Hus, owned by Caitlyn Connors LLC, slid into second place with a speedy clear round in 39.63 seconds. Last in the jump-off was Stella Wasserman (USA) riding her own Iphigeneia de Muze. They had eight faults in 46.77 seconds and finished in ninth place.
“First I want to thank Scotty Keach for giving me this horse,” said Connors (USA) of the 13-year-old Zangersheide gelding by Florian De La Vie x Adlantus As FRH. “I actually only got him about a month ago and I haven’t been riding him very much, but the partnership has been going super well. I really enjoy riding him and working with Scotty.”
Connors, who is 21 years old, has participated in the Under 25 series for six years. She remarked, “It was super exciting tonight to be able to get in there and have a top three placing. It was even more exciting to be able to do that for Scotty who is trusting me with this horse of his; I’m really glad we were able to pull that out from under our belts.”
Talking about the course for the class, Connors explained, “The course was no joke tonight, that’s for sure. I know that my horse has the scope, so I just needed him to trust me. It’s Nations Cup week, so there are a bunch of new jumps that are spooky, and the water jump is there. The triple [combination] was very see through and tall, and a lot of horses struggled with that. I’m so thrilled with the way he was able to handle this course. I had no doubt in him; it was just a matter of if I could hold it together. I’m really happy with how it went.”
For Mawhinney, the jump-off plan consisted of making the most of the turns and using the footspeed of her “tiny, but mighty” horse.
“My horse is naturally really quick across the ground, which I knew going in,” she said of her 14-year-old Hanoverian mare by Satisfaction FRH x Levisto. “We don’t have that much stride, so I tried to win on the turns and just get the strides done that I could. For example, from fence two to three a-b, the eight strides was very difficult, but I made sure I got it done so I could be waiting and quick around to the vertical. She’s just really fast in general.”
Mawhinney and Stella Levista have had major victories in their two-year career together already, including riding for the gold-medal-winning United States team in the 2021 FEI Youth Nations Cup Jumping Final. This win ranked high as well.
“It means a lot to win this grand prix here tonight,” she said. “I was definitely a bit nervous going in, but I trusted her. I want to thank my amazing trainer Jessica Mendoza, my groom Elaina, and my amazing family for coming to support me.”
Final Results – $25,000 Hermes Under 25 Grand Prix Series Semi-Final
1) Caroline Mawhinney (USA) & Stella Levista – 0 / 0 – 35.56
2) Caitlyn Connors (USA) & Falcon de Hus Z – 0 / 0 – 39.63
3) Isabella Russekoff (USA) & Balou’s Fly High – 0 / 0 – 39.85
Source: Press Release by Jennifer Wood Media, Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions / WEF – Winter Equestrian Festival
Photo: © Sportfot