Jennifer Ritucci and Country Rose Rise to Top $5,000 Schneider’s Saddlery USHJA National Hunter Derby at Vermont Summer Festival
East Dorset, VT – July 21, 2022 – World Champion Hunter Rider [WCHR] week is underway at the Vermont Summer Festival, where the $5,000 Schneider’s Saddlery USHJA National Hunter Derby took center stage on Thursday. Kicking off the day, over 30 top hunter horse and rider combinations navigated their way over a Hunt & Go style derby course. Capturing two impressive scores of 91, New England native Jennifer Ritucci rode Country Rose to the day’s top honors.
This was Ritucci’s first Hunt & Go Derby, and her young mount Country Rose stepped up to the plate beautifully. “I have heard of them, but I have never actually had it intertwined into one round,” she explained. “Country Rose was great over the format – she was super brave, and nothing seemed to be an issue at all. She has only done one handy round before, but there were challenging enough turns for her. It helped keep her focused with such a long course and so many jumps. She was really having fun and looking for the turns, so that was really cool.”
Jennifer Ritucci and Country Rose. Photo: Jess Windhurst Photography
In a Hunt & Go style derby at HITS Vermont, every horse and rider combination complete their first-round classic round, and immediately continues on to the handy round by cantering directly into the connected ring. This week riders started their classic round in Hunter Ring 2, then they cantered into the Main Hunter Ring on a bending line where they began their tight turns and rollbacks. The handy course featured two high-options, as well as another two-stride combination, and ended on a trot jump right next to the exit gate.
“I thought the course rode great – I thought they gave a lot of nice options in the handy,” noted Ritucci. “I love the two-ring format – It’s a good opportunity to go in and show your horse’s gallop off, but I thought the course was designed lovely. I think the bending line they set was a perfect setup for going through the gap without the horses getting distracted because you can land and get your shape right back and continue.”
Jennifer Ritucci and Country Rose. Photo by: Jess Windhurst
Ritucci and Country Rose were fourth to last in the order of go, which proved to be an advantage for the new duo. Immediately stepping into the ring for the classic round the pair impressed the judges. Their beautiful style over fences and classic hunter form captivated the panel and garnered them a score of 91. Continuing their effortless ways into the handy round, the pair’s tight inside turns, nice forward gallop, and picture-perfect trot jump captured another top score of 91, for a 182-point total – including all four high-options and the top spot in the class.
“She is a 7-year-old mare that we leased from Redfield Farm for one of our adult customers at the end of the Florida season – this is probably her fourth horse show doing the 3’3'' classes,” said Ruticci. “We decided to do this class in preparation for the Pre-Green Incentive Finals. She will start doing the adult divisions at HITS Saugerties [in September], so we just wanted to finish up her training and get her rideability a little bit better.”
Ritucci concluded, “Vermont is one of my favorite horse shows – we come every year. I think they have always done a nice job, and we have always been big HITS supporters, and we love to come and support. All of our customers love it here – the town is great, and they have done a great job with the footing, so we will definitely keep returning.”
Geoffery Hesslink and Trademark. Photo: Jess Windhurst Photography
Finishing behind Ritucci in second place was last week's $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby winner, Geoffery Hesslink. This week Hesslink piloted the Shadowfax Equestrian LLC mount Trademark to the red ribbon. The pair held the lead for half the class with scores of 87.5 in the classic round and a 90 in the handy for a total of 177.5, until Ritucci and Country Rose took their turn at the end. Rounding out the third spot was Abigail Sapp riding Cara Z, who finished just behind Hesslink with a total of 175.25.
Abigail Sapp and Cara Z. Photo: Jess Windhurst Photography
Competition at the Vermont Summer Festival will continue until August 14, with feature hunter events ranging from the weekly $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby and $1,000 Platinum Performance Hunter Prix to the 2’ Hunter Derby and the Bit o’ Straw Classic. Hunter classics will be featured throughout the weekend as riders vie for valuable year-end points and qualifications for the 2022 Marshall & Sterling Insurance League Finals, as well as WCHR points during Week III.