“I feel like it’s a bit of a dream, like pinch me. I’m still a little bit in shock.” That is what the winner of the 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals had to say after her finish, and it is no wonder Liza Boyd thought winning derby finals twice in a row aboard Brunello was a long shot. She gave birth to her second child just two and a half months prior to the competition, giving her a very tight timeline to prepare herself and her horse Brunello, who is co-owned by Janet Peterson.
“I definitely had a plan, a little bit of a psychotic plan,” Boyd said with a laugh. “June 12, I rode for the first time, and I had the baby May 30. I really wanted that horse to jump for two months before the class so I started maybe a little early.
My mom caught me and was not too excited, but I felt fine,” Boyd continued. “I really didn’t want anyone else to jump him. I wanted him to have a good solid two months of jumping fitness.”
Once her crazy plan was underway, Boyd said her expectations of herself and Brunello at Derby Finals changed the more she worked with the horse.
“Honestly, I thought in the beginning after I just started back riding I really just want to be top ten. That’s my goal. I just had a baby. Then a week after that I was like definitely top three,” Boyd said at the press conference, eliciting a good laugh from second place finisher Jennifer Alfano. “I’ve got to do top three. I’m feeling a little bit better, top three we’re going to up this goal a little. Then a little bit more recently I said, ‘I’d really like to win.'”
Boyd did just that, out-jumping the competition over a challenging track with very large fences.
“I think all of us sitting here are lucky that we were all on a lot of scope. At the end of the day you need scope,” Boyd said of the top placing horses. “A lot of the derbies throughout the year you can get away without having a lot of scope, but I think tonight we were all really glad that we could ask on them. They could step up to the plate.”
Boyd certainly reached her goals set throughout the summer, and the competitor finishing second could not be happier for her. Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy performed brilliantly in the show ring to capture the reserve title, jumping up the ranks from seventh place, though Alfano assured that their warm up was anything but pretty.
“He didn’t school well, which is usually a good sign for him,” Alfano said of the notoriously quirky Jersey Boy. “Usually the worse school you have the better he is in the ring, which is a little hard mentally in the schooling area.”
Boyd backed up Alfano by recounting the story of a rare occasion when Boyd was not showing herself and got to watch Jersey Boy school.
“I’m always showing in the class with her so I never see her school, so when I was pregnant she had me come over to help her in a derby and I went: ‘Oh, Jen, does he always do this? This is terrible!’ He’s running sideways, and she said ‘Well actually, that was pretty good!”
Boyd is not the only one who finds the quirky chestnut gelding warm up antics a little intimidating.
“Emil [Spadone] was schooling me in Jacksonville one year, and I went in to jump one more jump. Once in a while he just makes a bid, and then he just crashes and rails go everywhere,” Alfano explained, “He lays down on the jump and standards were flying, and Emil was like: ‘Oh my God, what do we do?’ I said ‘We should probably just go’,” Alfano laughed.
Sure enough, Jersey Boy was on his game the moment he stepped into the Rolex Stadium.
“He was perfect. As soon as I picked up the canter and locked on the first jump I knew I was really home free,” Alfano said. “He just he gave it his all. He just he felt phenomenal. I was thrilled with him, and I was thrilled that Liza won. When she went and she was on top I thought: ‘It would be so great if we were first and second,’ and we were.”
Founder of the USHJA hunter derby program Ron Danta said the competition has been getting better and better every year since the first finals six years ago, and Saturday night’s class was no exception.
“You know the first year we started this, we didn’t have derby horses in the country. We had a mix of equitation horses, jumpers and hunters, and it’s been an amazing journey to watch the development of derby horses. It’s amazing in six years, its brought hunters to such higher level, so I’m very excited and proud of all you,” Danta said, motioning to Boyd, Alfano and third and fourth place finishers Sandy Ferrell and Morgan Ward.
Ferrell took third place aboard Mayfair, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Stephanie Riggio Bulger. Ferrell was impressed by the jumps and their height but said that after yesterday’s solid round she wasn’t worried about Mayfair’s performance.
“The bigger the jump the better with Mayfair. It actually gives him something to study because he’s so brave that with the little jumps he gets a little complacent and doesn’t really have to try. Here he had to try and keep trying,” said Ferrel.
Behind Ferrell was a tie for fourth place between Morgan Ward on her own 9-year-old Warmblood gelding Comissario, and Hope Glynn aboard Woodstock, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Olivia Hallman. Ward put in a high handy round score that, when combined with her classic round score, put her in the overall lead after 10 horses had gone, it also made her the Champion Junior Owner. Glynn’s handy round on Woodstock scored below Ward’s but when the overall scores were tallied Glynn and Ward were tied.