Shadbellies flapped in the wind and braided manes could be seen from every angle across HITS in Saugerties, New York on Friday, June 7. Twenty-five competitive horse-and-rider combinations aimed for the top prize in the USHJA $5,000 National Hunter Derby, but it was Michael Desiderio who scored highest to receive his second national derby victory in as many weeks, this time atop Cromwell. 

The derby course was set in a hunt-and-go format, where the first part of the track resembles a traditional classic round and competitors continue straight into the second half of the course with more handy elements. The decorated obstacles included bright, flower-lined fences, a greenery-filled coop, hay bales, and a USHJA trot fence. 

Michael Desiderio stands for presentation. Photo by ESI Photography

“It was fun,” said Desiderio of his trips around The Ring. “It was a good class and a nice course. There were a lot of options. The jumps were great, and the footing was excellent.”

Desiderio and Cromwell, a 15-year-old Warmblood gelding by Mighty Magic owned by Debbie Bianco, have a longstanding partnership and have notched numerous top placings. In fact, the pair recently secured a third-place finish in theUSHJA $5,000 National Hunter Derby during HITS-on-the-Hudson II. While Desiderio’s winning mount on that occasion was Cocolores, also owned by Bianco, this time around, Desiderio piloted Cromwell to an incredible score of 94 in the classic portion of the round and a 90 as they continued into the handy for a final score of 184 and the win. 

“I’ve had the ride on Cromwell a little bit longer than Cocolores,” explained Desiderio. “Cromwell is more of a traditional hunter. He’s a different style than Cocolores but equally competitive and very game. He’s one of my steadies that I’ve had for years. Once you have him dialed in, he’s competitive and he’s as good as any.” 

Hannah Isop and Clem Brecourt. Photo by ESI Photography

After a successful start, Cromwell will finish the week with Bianco in the irons for the adult hunters. From there, he will have a well-deserved break and pick it back up later this summer.

“Winning is great,” expressed Desiderio. “You don’t win everything, so you try to ride the wave when you can and then just try to keep it going.”

Following Desiderio was Hannah Isop aboard Clem Brecourt, a 12-year-old Selle Français mare by Opium de Talma owned by Tracy Freels. The pair earned a score of 90 in the classic phase and an 89 in the handy portion for a final score of 179. 

Laura Bowery and Permission. Photo by ESI Photography

Laura Bowery took third place riding Permission, an 11-year-old Westphalian gelding by Los Angeles owned by Cathy Sacher. Bowery and Permission were not far behind Isop and Clem Brecourt with scores of 87.75 and 91 for a total of 178.75. 

The day kicked onward as junior and amateur riders geared up for their turn across the elegantly-designed track. A total of twenty-seven entries contested the course for the $5,000 USHJA Junior/Amateur Hunter Derby, which followed the same format as the morning’s debut event. At the completion of the hunt-and-go, junior rider Eleanor Pieters, 15, of Chepachet, Rhode Island, and Tibri’s Goodfella posted the highest total score of 179 to take the top honors. 

Eleanor Pieters and Tibri’s Goodfella. Photo by ESI Photography

“He is actually my equitation horse,” Pieters explained of Tibri LLC’s seven-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding by Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve. “He just started the equitation in the middle of the Florida season but he’s really developed quite quickly into learning his job. Clearly, he’s really gotten it after today!” 

While unsure of how her younger horse would handle the hunt-and-go format, Pieters found that the handy phase of the track turned out to be their best performance. 

“I really liked today’s handy portion of the track and was impressed with how good he was about his inside turns because they are still pretty new for him,” she detailed. “I wasn’t sure at first about the format because sometimes the horse will start to build throughout a long course like that, but he stayed really soft throughout the entire thing.”  

Eleanor Pieters stands for presentation. Photo by ESI Photography

Brenda Tannenbaum and Redwood, an 11-year-old KWPN gelding by Nabab De Reve owned by Ashfield Stables, jumped into second place with a score of 173, while Scarlett Samuels and Exclusive, The Tristar Group’s 15-year-old KWPN gelding by Verdi , rounded out the top three with a final total of 171. Closing out competition in The Ring was perhaps the cutest of the day’s derbies as 12 tiny combinations prepared for the $2,500 USHJA Pony Hunter Derby. 

The finale event changed formats to host all 12 riders in the traditional classic round format with pairings returning in order of the lowest to highest score for the handy round. With a first-round score of 88 points, Helena Timpany, 16, of Monroe, Connecticut, and Unbelievablue held the pinnacle position as they returned last for the handy round. Earning a consistent score of 80 for their final efforts, the pair produced the final derby win. 

Helena Timpany stands for presentation. Photo by ESI Photography

“He is such a great pony with a big personality,” laughed Timpany of the Elan Farms’s 10-year-old Pony gelding by Blue Who. “Sometimes he is goofy in the ring and sometimes he goes around amazing, like he did today. 

“We have done well together in pony derbies and at Pony Finals, but his personality is my favorite,” she continued. “He does such funny things; he has two little spots on his nose and when he was younger, he would smile if you touched both spots, and he always smiles for treats. He just loves affection.” 

Helena Timpany and Unbelievablue. Photo by ESI Photography

Timpany also tallied a second-place finish with Clovermeade Brave. She piloted Rabbit Hill Farm’s nine-year-old Welsh Pony Cross mare by Clovercrofts Hereo Of The Heart to scores of 83 and 78 to earn the second-highest two-round total. Emi Richard and Samantha Teller’s eight-year-old Warmblood gelding by Woodrow Carisbrooke, Why Not, earned the final position in the victory gallop as hunter derby competition concluded for the day. 

Competition continues on Saturday, June 8, with the $75,000 SummitMax Grand Prix, featuring in the Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Stadium. Additional highlights include the Alliant Exhibitor Brunch during the grand prix, as well as exciting hunter, jumper, and equitation classes across the venue.