Louise Serio won for the third time in the history of the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular, picking up this year’s victory with Jennifer Burger’s Rock Harbor on Saturday, Feb. 17 at the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
FEI jumper competition during week six was held at Equestrian Village, home to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, while the hunters took the main stage in the International Arena at PBIEC.
The Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular takes place during World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week at WEF as the feature “Saturday Night Lights” event. The United States Hunter Jumper Association founded WCHR in 1992 to recognize hunter riders, and the Hunter Spectacular debuted shortly after. Each year, hunter riders look forward to a chance to compete under the lights at PBIEC.
Thirty-six of the country’s top professionals, juniors and amateurs tackled the two-round course, which is offered at three heights (3’6”, 3’9” and 4’) and designed by Steve Stephens. The top 12 riders returned for the second round. Each of the competitors qualified for the class by winning either champion or reserve in one of the specified hunter divisions during WCHR week at WEF or through another WCHR designation.
The judges for this year’s Hunter Spectacular were Chris Wynne and Sissy Wickes in position one, Shane George and Rick Fancher in position two, and John French and Mary Lisa Leffler in position three. Overall placings were decided by combining scores from the first and second rounds.
After leading in the first round with a score of 89.50, Serio and Rock Harbor, an 11-year-old Warmblood gelding, returned as the final pair in the handy round. They scored 86.75 for a 176.25 total to win the class.
“My horse was awesome tonight,” said Serio of her partner of six years. “I thought he jumped really well. I’ve never done him in a night class under the lights. I thought he was really on his game.”
Serio won this class twice before, in 2005 with Costello and 2011 with Castle Rock. “You never know when you’re going to get back here again,” she said. “It’s very rewarding. Jennifer Burger, who owns Rock Harbor, has been a wonderful client for a long time, and she has been a big supporter, so to do it on her horse is really nice.”
Burger was thrilled with the win.
“I’m on top of the world. Louise is an unbelievable rider. She’s found me an amazing horse, and tonight was the crescendo of those two things coming together and the best it could be,” she said.
After winning this class the past two years, Wellington’s Scott Stewart and Catch Me, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Gochman Sport Horse LLC, had to overcome one mistake in the first round and a score of 83.33 to complete their three-peat. They made an amazing move up the standings from 11th to second place with the best second round score of 91 for a total of 174.33. Returning for the handy round, Stewart said he “had nothing to lose.”
“I had a little bit of a funny jump in the first round, so I was really happy that I made it back at all in the second round,” he explained. “I sort of just went for it. It was probably one of the best rounds I’ve ever had, especially for the handy. Everything just worked. The jump that he took a little look at in the first round was the jump I really sliced in the handy, and he was perfect about it. It all just worked out great.”
In her first time competing at WEF, Tracy Fenney traveled from Flower Mound, Texas, to finish in the top three of the Hunter Spectacular. She and MTM Outbid, an eight-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by MTM Farm, had an 85.33 in the first round for seventh place. A solid hand round score of 88.83 moved them up the standings to third with a 174.16 total.
“I was a little starstruck when I first got here,” Fenney admitted. “Showing against all of these guys is amazing. It’s a great class and a really fun crowd.”
The Saturday Night Lights series continues throughout the 12-week WEF circuit, held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. Hunter, jumper and equitation competition at WEF continues through April 1, offering more than $9 million in prize money. For more info., visit www.pbiec.com.