Inside Week II at Pin Oak
The 74th Annual Pin Oak Charity Horse Show wrapped up Week II, March 27-31, at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, Texas, with Hunters and Jumpers taking center stage during this prestigious USEF Heritage horse show.
With the second and third weeks being USEF Premier shows and USHJA World Championship Hunter Rider events, the Hunter competition was formidable.
Junior rider Bella Kay showed everyone how it was done in the $30,000 Walsh & Albert USHJA International Hunter Derby, which was run in the Hunt & Go Format. In this class, the riders contested the Classic Hunter phase in the Memorial Park Hunters Mega Ring I before trotting directly over to Mega Ring II for the Handy phase.
Thomas Hern’s formidable Hunt & Go course included 14 fences, with eight in the Classic round and six in the Handy, and it was the juniors and amateurs who rose to the top on this beautiful Friday evening.
Kay, 16, and her Symbolic jumped to the victory, with amateur Didi Mackenzie taking second aboard MTM Do Right. Fellow amateur Isabella Littlejohn piloted Miramar to third place.
Kay purchased Symbolic, a black Hanoverian nicknamed Andy, three years ago. The pair began in the Children’s Hunters and have worked their way up steadily under the direction of trainers Becky, Jenna and Kylie Vanerstrom of Talisman Stables. This was their first USHJA International Hunter Derby victory together.
“I did a Hunt & Go for the first time in (Wellington) Florida, I think Week 4, in the International Ring, and it was interesting,” said Kay. “It’s definitely much harder, because it’s a much longer course. My horse got a little tired, but he gave 100 percent today. He loves to play and knows when he’s done a good job, and he was very proud of himself.”
Kay, who finished second in last week’s $30,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby using the standard format, went late in the order this week for the Hunt & Go, so she was able to fine-tune her plan after watching some competitors have rails down.
“This week, with the Hunt & Go, it really worked out,” she said. “The options were really big, and I knew he was capable of doing them, but there were so many rails that I didn’t really need to do them. I just wanted to go around and have a solid round, because it’s what I needed to do to be in the ribbons. And that was my goal. I wasn’t thinking I’d do anything better than last week, when I was second!”
For Kay, winning her first International Derby at Pin Oak means a lot. “This is my favorite show in Texas,” she said. “I started out showing here in the ponies, then the 3’3” and last year was my first year in the 3’6”. Last year, I was sixth in the derby this week, and that was the only derby ribbon I’d had before. It’s just so much fun. The show is managed so well, and the ribbons and prizes are so beautiful. It’s really good money for Hunters, and the derby doesn’t get pushed to the side—it’s a big deal, which I like.”
Bella, of Argyle, Texas, also thanked and credited her mother, Gina Kay. “She makes everything possible, and without her, I wouldn’t have my horses, and my horses complete my life,” said Bella. “So, she makes that happen.”
Amateur rider Didi Mackenzie had a week many riders only dream of happening. In addition to having her best USHJA International Hunter Derby placing to date, she also finished first and second in the Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic, and both of her horses, MTM Inside Scoop and MTM Do Right, earned 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunter championships in the section that was California split.
“As many years as I’ve been doing this, you very rarely have a day like this,” said Mackenzie. “And that’s why it’s so special. Especially to be second in one of these International Derby classes—I’m beside myself.”
Mackenzie said during Pin Oak Week I that she didn’t believe it could get much better, as her Inside Scoop, nicknamed Coop, earned the section championship and won the classic, and Do Right, nicknamed Dude, placed ninth in the USHJA International Hunter Derby. But it did.
“Today was a very special day. I’m a little bit in shock,” she said following the derby victory gallop. “My horses were so good to me. The horses and the people who support me—I’m just so fortunate. I can’t even begin to express how fortunate I am. I just love them.”
Mackenzie, of Flower Mound, Texas, has brought both horses up the ranks from the start, doing most of the work herself with her husband, Kenny Mackenzie, who owns and operates Quail Hollow Tack. She also credited trainer Colleen McQuay for always being there for her, as well as long-time barn manager Manuel Tamayo. “Normally, I have words for everything, but I don’t have words for this,” she added.
Kelley Buringa was all smiles after her own derby victory gallop on Friday. She guided Bottom Line Equestrian, LLC’s Valentine to the win in the Baggett Family $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby.
Valentine and Buringa won the Classic Round with a score of 91 and then returned last, earning a 94 in the Handy to cement the overall win.
“He just moved to us a little over a month ago. He’s a very special horse, and this was our first derby together. We just had our very first class together last Thursday,” she said. “He was just spot on today. There was, of course, some pressure coming back on top, and I knew I had to make the inside turn to the trot fence since everyone else had done it. But he was right there with me every step of the way. It was a really fun class.”
In the first round, Buringa said she was a little nervous, but knowing she was on a talented horse that could win she had the confidence to go for it. Returning for the Handy Round, Buringa said Valentine gave her a great feeling, was bold and gave her the confidence to make exacting rollbacks and the inside turn to the trot jump.
“This is my second derby win. I’m usually the bridesmaid,” she said laughing. “My first derby victory was in Scottsdale, Arizona. So, this was my first Texas win and my first Pin Oak win, so it was a great way to start the year. They do a great job here, and it was a fun class and nice one to win.”
Hollis Hughes Grace’s Hoopla, ridden by Peter Pletcher, placed second in the USHJA National Derby and also earned the championship in the 3’3” Green Hunters.
For Grace, this week at Pin Oak ended a long drought when she guided the flashy chestnut Royal Danish Warmblood to the Adult Amateur Hunter, 36-49, section tricolor
“The last time I was champion at Pin Oak was in 1995, in the Welsh Pony Adult English Pleasure division,” she said laughing. “The show was held at the Sam Houston Racetrack tht year. I have been blessed with some reserve championships over the years, but the championship has eluded me for a long time! It feels good that I can check that box again and not feel cursed.”
Two For Two
During Saturday night’s featured $30,000 Hildebrand Fund Pin Oak Charity Grand Prix, Mathis Schwentker and NKH Caruso continued their winning streak that began on Thursday when they captured the $25,000 Walter Oil & Gas Corporation Pin Oak Grand Prix.
Schwentker, who rides for Christian Heineking, topped both classes with room to spare. He finished Saturday night’s class 1.2 seconds ahead of Jordan, ridden by Jill Gaffney (who won the $10,000 1.45m Welcome Stake), and 2 seconds ahead of Daniel Bedoya aboard Quattro on Thursday.
“I’ve been riding this horse for about six months. I came over from Germany to help Christian when he was off because of his broken leg,” said Schwentker. But, now he’s getting better and is in better shape. He was third in the Welcome yesterday! Now he’s back in business, and that’s good.”
Schwentker’s previous victories with Caruso include two $30,000 Smartpak Grand Prix classes on the HITS Coachella Desert Circuit in California, as well as the $70,000 Back on Track Grand Prix, also held there.
“He’s a fighter,” said Schwentker of the 15-year-old Caruso. “He’s a very experienced horse and gives everything. He’s a great horse to ride. And the whole team was standing behind me, and it was great.”
Schwentker, 26, will return to Germany after the Omaha International. “I worked before in a private stable, and when I go back I’ll start my own business,” he said. “My parents have a small farm there. I’m excited to see my family and friends, but I really like it over here and the shows are great. Also, with Christian and his family, it’s really fun. I also like the lifestyle here.”
Barbara Bailey’s Rhyme Time is just beginning his show career, but handler Rob Moyar has high hopes that the 2-year-old Best Young Horse winner will become a star in the performance ring later in life.
“He’s out of a futurity winner, Sands Of Time, and has the Jones Hall Thoroughbred line. The stallion is C. Quito, who showed in the amateurs,” said Moyar.
Bailey, who owns the mare and bred Rhyme Time, chose C. Quito for his talent and tractability, which Moyar already admires.
“It’s his attitude. He comes out, and he tries and is very attentive,” said Moyar of the Belgian Warmblood. “He knows his job and is sweet. We’ve been really impressed with his coming of age. He’s really starting to blossom, and we think he’s going to be a nice-sized colt to go on and be a performance horse, which Is what we’re ultimately breeding for.”
Pin Oak II was Rhyme Time’s debut in the show this year after he earned the reserve championship in Zone 7 as a yearling. “Best Young Horse isn’t bad,” said Moyar with a smile.
Bailey also noted that Rhyme Time is following in the footsteps of his half-sister, West End Girl, who as 3-year-old won the 2018 Pin Oak Best Young Horse Circuit Award. “It’s really neat now that her younger brother is coming out and doing so well,” said Bailey. “We’re thrilled.”