Feb. 24, 2024 – Ocala, FL – The skies parted and the sun shone as the over the Grand Prix ring on the penultimate day of the sixth week of competition at HITS Post Time Farm. The HITS Ocala series spans across ten weeks with all levels of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition available including highlight events such as jumper classics, hunter classics, grand prixs, and varying levels of hunter derby. Against a stacked field of competitors Andre Thieme (GER) soared to the top of the $75,000 Purina Animal Nutrition Grand Prix. Bernardo Costa Cabral (PRI) built another intricate track as 29 combinations geared up to gain entry into the jump off. Twelve contenders advanced onward to the Cabral’s short course but it was an all-male podium in which Thieme led the way. He successfully advanced all three of his mounts into the jump off and put forward another two clear rounds and a four-fault effort, but explained his plan all along was to produce the best effort with his 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Periguex), Paule S . 

“I was really happy today with all three of my horses,” he detailed. “My chestnut mare, DSP Chakaria, is on her way back so I already knew in the jump off I wouldn’t plan to go fast with her. I knew the first one was the horse to get it done and I took all of the risks I could.”For Thieme, HITS is the perfect venue to strengthen his string, as he brings along everything from young horses to seasoned mounts returning to work.

“The horse that won here today is a little nervous so I’m very happy for him to have held it together so well today,” Thieme described. “He is just starting to do the grand prixs; the second horse is on her way back from a small injury, and the last horse is pretty new to me. So this is really the perfect place to be with all of them.” 

Harold Chopping (CAN) and the Rein Family LLC’s 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Quadros), Quadrant 3, made a valiant effort to take the title but their time of 39.73 seconds wouldn’t rise up to Thieme’s blazing fast 37.11 seconds and the duo settled for the reserve honors. Jonathan McCrea (USA), a winner earlier in the week at HITS Post Time Farm, piloted Windsor Show Stables’ nine-year-old KWPN mare (Kannan), Kannascha, into third on a time of 41.98 seconds.

The $15,000 STX Speed Series leaderboard once again showed Madison Kondracki at the top, now sitting even more comfortably in the lead with a whopping 50.5 total points after her win on Friday with her own 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Clinton), Gold Rush VLV. Jonathan McCrea’s second place finish with Windsor Show Stables’ 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Diamant de Semilly), Olily van D’Abelendreef, was enough to boost him into second place on a total of 16 points, while Tracy Fenney held on to the third place position with a total of 12 points. Morgan Ward and Comissario Guide the Way in $5,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby 

Making their second headline in as many weeks, Morgan Ward and her longtime partner Comissario once again were the trailblazers in Friday’s $5,000 SmartPak USHJA National Hunter Derby. Against a field of 14 top hunter combinations, the 19-year-old Warmblood gelding (Calido) once again proved why he is Ward’s go-to hunter derby mount as he displayed effortless handiness in the second round. The pair found their way to the lead despite some difficult weather conditions and made the win their third of the season. 

“Today’s round was nice and there were a lot of related distances in the first round,” Ward explained. “With the way the weather was, we were riding one jump at a time, but it worked out and I was really happy with it.”Once again, the young professional paired up her win with a second place ribbon earned by newer mount, Morlynn Farms’ 13-year-old Warmblood gelding Cashmero.

“It was great finishing top two today and it’s nice having Cashmero in the derbies as well now,” she added. “Heis such a great jumper and has such a good expression. I think he is enjoying them as well.”The class’s top three was rounded out by David Wilbur and Stone Lane Stables LLC’s 10-year-old Warmblood mare (Colman), Cool Girl.

Saturday saw the second half of hunter derby competition with the running of the junior/amateur edition of the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby as well as the $1,500 Bit O’Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby and the $750 Tiny Bit O 2’0” Hunter Derby. 

Zoe Pan bested a field of 22 combinations in the afternoon’s pinnacle hunter event as she and her 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cunningham), Captivo, captivated the judges in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby. 

“Today I thought we did a really great job,” she stated. “He was ready from the start and I was just confident in my decisions. It just ended up right for us.” Pan used her experience from the equitation ring to her advantage during her round, and the change in plan seemed to be the right call.

“Yesterday, in the Dover Medal, there was a similar turn and I didn’t like the way we pivoted,” Pan added. “I didn’t want to put him in the same position today, so I thought a nice, round turn to be conservative would be best to set him up.” 

Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center’s 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding Casall), Liberty Road, followed suit into the second place position with Molly Gfroerer in the irons, while Grace Taylor and Back Forty Equine LLC’s Traveler’s Way navigated to third. Then it was onwards into smaller derby competition as Teagan Owens and Molly Johnson’s 12-year-old Warmblood gelding, Nero van de Helle, claimed the lion’s share of the winning’s in the $1,500 Bit O’ Straw 2’6” Hunter Derby.

Saturday’s hunter derby competitions drew to a close as Olivia Healy and Katherine Siderewicz’s 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Jack of All Trades, posted one final leading score for the win in the $750 Tiny Bit O’  2’0” Hunter Derby.