Upperville Colt & Horse Show has been an institution for equestrians and equine enthusiasts since 1853 when Colonel Dulany founded it to improve horse breeds and horse care. Today, the week-long historic show, AA-rated by the USEF (U.S. Equestrian Federation) is better than ever. From June 6–12, its 163rd renewal showcased great competition and celebrated Upperville’s leap into international show jumping with three FEI (International Equestrian Sport Federation) 4* (four-star) classes.
The FEI ranks competitive events with “stars” – five stars being the highest. Upperville’s three CSI4* (Concours de Sault Internationale four-star) were the $35,000 Speed Class, $40,000 Welcome Stakes, and the $216,000 Upperville Jumper Classic.
Entries for the FEI classes were outstanding, proving that, if you build it – and upgrade an already unique facility with world-class footing, amenities for riders, owners, spectators and vendors, and offer increased prize money – “they” will come. In Upperville’s case, “they” were international jumper riders – 34 starters in the Speed Stakes, 36 in the Welcome, and 29 in Sunday’s Classic – representing Argentina, Belgium, Canada, England (GBR), France, Ireland, and Mexico with many from the USA.
“This is really what I wanted for Upperville when I took over as president of the show – to bring back more of our top riders and some new riders that hadn’t been here before,” said Smith. “I’m really very happy the way this week turned out. The weather was beautiful. We had five new riders that came this year – they loved it and they want to come back next year. We heard from some people who wanted to come this year, but couldn’t, and they’re very excited about getting here next year. We try to treat our exhibitors and sponsors to great hospitality.”
Early on, Smith appointed new board member Trace Weinberg to lead the sponsorship committee and they set to work, tripling the sponsorships, which fill four entire pages in this year’s show program. Way too many to list here, but they are very appreciated for contributing greatly to the success of this show.
The Speed Stakes is a one-round, one-shot competition, but the Welcome Stakes and the Upperville Jumper Classic involve a qualifying first round followed by a jump-off over shortened course and adjusted Time Allowed. FEI rules require eight to jump off – a brilliant strategy that guarantees an exciting finish for spectators.
Aaron Vale has set records, in his storied career, for the most grand prix wins in a year. He’s a thinking horseman, who used to ride in steeplechase races, and 20-some years later still loves going fast and jumping humongous fences. To date, he has won three Jumper Classics at Upperville. He wasn’t the only one hoping for a fourth grand prix victory, especially with the FEI stakes so high. Vale had taken a two-year hiatus from the historic show to let his and Mallory’s first child grow up enough (now 2 ½) to handle the demands of a road trip from their farm in Florida.
This year, however, Vale’s determination to win had even more incentive – partly fatherhood, but also to rebuild. On June 3, the Vales’ home burned to the ground – nothing survived, not the career collection of trophies and rosettes, not the furniture, photos and other family mementoes from his late mother, but the most tragic loss of all in that conflagration was their beloved dog, Roo. They had a few clothes in their RV, which they managed to move away from the inferno that not only consumed their home, but also Mallory’s car.
On the heels of Devon’s grand prix, where Vale and Finou 4 had one rail to finish sixth, he went to work at Upperville – nothing like a good day in the “office’ – and rode with his customary all-out determination. He won the first two FEI classes: Thursday’s Speed Stakes on Quidam’s Good Luck, owned by Tony Glaus, and Friday’s Welcome Stakes with Finou 4, owned by Think Like A Horse LLC and Don Stewart. He was in the catbird position to score a hat-trick, but luck tends to be as decisive as skill sometimes.
Course designer Michel Vaillancourt, Canada’s Olympic show jumping silver medalist from 1976, had created superb tracks for Upperville’s FEI classes. In Sunday’s Classic, six went clear in the first round, but FEI rules brought the top eight back for the jump-off with a time allowed of 51 seconds. Vale went fifth, laying down a fast clear with Finou 4 for first in 37.200, leaving out strides where no one else had, saving time.
Mexico’s Eugenio Garza Perez, 19 years old, with Bariano, owned by El Milagro, took what he learned watching Vale’s round and to shave more increments to zip into first on 36.850. Paul O’Shea (IRE) went all out, carving such an uber-tight turn to the oxer-vertical combination in the middle that NLF Favorite slammed on the brakes and refused. O’Shea, secure in 8th place, opted to retire.
Up last was Adam Prudent (FRA), who grew up in Middleburg, the summertime base for his parents, Katie (Monahan) and Henri Prudent, and their Plain Bay Sales. Prudent and Vasco put in a great round in 37.550 for third place. “We came close – he’s such a fabulous horse, a good old boy,” said Prudent. “He was great. I am very happy with where I finished and very happy to be here.”
The winner admitted that they had heard only good things about Upperville, and the FEI classes provided extra incentive to check it out. “I could not speak more highly about this horse show,” said Garza Perez. “It’s an absolutely amazing horse show, the facility’s great. The organizers did an amazing job, and the footing is top. Bariano’s a really strong horse and he gives it his all. The course rode really nice, had a lot of questions in it and options – one of the biggest tracks I’ve jumped with him, so to have this result was really special.”
As for Vale, his two wins and second in FEI classes, added to prize money from other jumper classes, earned him the Leading Jumper Rider Award.
“You know, we tried,” said Vale, following the Upperville Jumper Classic. “I’ve had Finou for just a year now. He’s a sensitive-minded horse, and he’s really starting to settle and trust me in his training and it’s starting to pay off in the ring. Physically, he has so much ability. He jumps big fences. He’s got a huge stride. At the same time, he’s very elastic. You can add a stride, you can leave two out, so physically he’s got a lot of tools and now the brain’s starting figure it all out. He’s been going really well. He jumped awesome here. I’m excited about him.”
As the other reporters moved off to gather quotes for their stories, Vale added, “You know, people have been so amazing. They dropped off bags of stuffed animals for my daughter, little children’s bedding – truly, we lost so much of that stuff. Her collection – it’s only been two and a half years in the making, but it was a heck of a collection. People have just been so generous and so supportive – it’s just been… The horse community is not a large community, but it’s generous and I certainly appreciate everything everyone’s done to help us.”
Next year, one special week in June: join the community and enjoy Upperville.
For more information: www.upperville.com