Melissa Strawser and Darwin De Mars Sweep Jumper Action at HITS Culpeper

Culpeper, Va. – August 28, 2022 – It was a perfect hat trick for Melissa Strawser during the Constitution Classic at HITS Culpeper as she swept all three of the major jumper classes with Darwin De Mars. They kicked off the week with a win in the $5,000 HITS Open Welcome on Wednesday, and then went on to win the $10,000 HITS Open Prix on Friday. With two victories already in hand, Strawser felt confident headed into Sunday’s $20,000 HITS Open Prix, and it paid off as they topped the three-horse jump-off, leading the lap of honor for the third time.

Melissa Strawser and Darwin De Mars

“Darwin did well here in July too, and he really loves this arena,” smiled Strawser. “When we first got him, we didn't know how fast he would be, and in July, we found another gear. I knew he already had liked this arena, and I went in with a little confidence at the beginning of the week. We had to lay down some fast jump-offs – Friday was a fast class! He was just right there willing to do it. I think I had a little advantage knowing that he liked the facility and having the support group – my mom was here to watch this week, which was great. It was really fun!”

Darwin De Mars is a 9-year-old Selle Francais gelding that Strawser began riding last fall, and their partnership has been steadily progressing over the last year. “When I got him, he just wanted to jump huge over every fence,” she explained. “I knew if we wanted to move up he needed to learn to jump a little smaller and jump across the jump a bit more. I took it really easy this spring and did a lot of 1.35m, and then just moved up in March to the 1.40/1.45m. We had a lot of success, a lot of clear rounds, and then starting in July we asked him to start to go faster at that level. He just picked right up on it, and he's gotten very competitive. I've had him less than a year and I feel like I'm finding more and more gears as we go together.”

.Tracy Magness and Chopin Du Chateau Hollogne Z

Strawser used one of the extra gears to her advantage on Sunday as the pathfinder in the $20,000 HITS Open Prix, returning first for the jump-off. With two quick riders behind her, she knew she would need to be clear and fast to score the win, and that’s exactly what she executed, tripping the timers in a faultless 42.849 seconds. Tracy Magness was next with Chopin Du Chateau Hollogne Z, and while they were clear, they were just shy of Strawser’s time for second place. With a rail at the first fence, Cian McDermott and Newcastle picked up the third-place prize as Strawser returned to the ring for her third blue ribbon of the week.

Cian McDermott and Newcastle

“I knew I had to go pretty fast in the jump-off because Tracy is a really fast rider and she came behind me,” noted Strawser. “I thought I had a really good jump-off. I was maybe a little conservative in the beginning, but we had a really good turn back to the last line, and we galloped up the line, so I felt like I'd made up a lot of time.”

HITS Culpeper is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and Strawser has been attending the show for exactly 25 years. “HITS Culpeper is one of my favorite shows,” she commented. "I showed here during my first Pony Finals in 1997. I've been coming for a long time, and we love the town and the facility. It's such a great big ring to ride in, and it's a lot of fun. It gives you a lot of options when you're doing your courses to gallop, which I always think is nice!”

Melissa Strawser and Darwin De Mars

Sunday marked the conclusion of the Constitution Classic at HITS Culpeper, but riders will have the opportunity to return in September for the Culpeper Finals, featuring another $20,000 HITS Open Prix, as well as the Culpeper Equitation Classic and the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby. For more information or to submit your entries click here.

Melissa Strawser and Darwin De Mars