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Horse show is packing ’em in

Nancy Hamlett, Record-Courier staff writer

Eighteen hundred spectators packed the stands Sunday at HITS Tahoe resulting in standing room only for the second week of Grand Prix jumping.

Tom Struzzieri, president and owner of HITS, is thrilled with the support from the community.

“HITS Tahoe is a very important player. The word is getting out,” said Struzzieri who just returned from a sister HITS show in Culpepper, Va. “HITS Tahoe is the talk of the town, and this is the start of something great. HITS Tahoe is on the map.”

Week two of the new horse show venue in Minden culminated on Sunday with Resort Sports Network’s Kids Day, presented by the Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department and the Douglas County Library.

More than 800 children attended the day of arts, crafts and games, while the news network videotaped the activities. Lloyd Higuera, general manager of KGVM, the official broadcast station for the day, hosted a live broadcast from the show, including interviews with parents and children as they enjoyed exhibitions and demonstrations.

n Young singer. Immediately prior to the Grand Prix jumping, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Posse gave a demonstration of mounted crowd control. A special honor guard then presented the flag while Mackenzie Cauley, a 4th grade student from Minden, sang the National Anthem.

“A kid singing for Kids Day – it’s appropriate,” said Struzzieri. “And Mackenzie did an excellent job.”

Nineteen horses entered the $50,000 EMO Grand Prix, with Figaro, owned and ridden by Leslie Steele, topping the field and taking home $15,000 for the first place share of the prize money.

Figaro, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood, was one of five horses to jump clean in round one and return for the jump off. Second in the order, the team cleared the jump off course with no faults in a time of 45.375, setting the time to beat. The next three horses tried to catch the pair, but although there were two more fault-free rides, no one came close to Figaro’s time.

Gigi Hewit from Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico, riding her horse Quidamselle, was clear in 49.602 for second place and $11,000. Steve Bond of Hidden Hills, Calif., on his Fabius, tripped the timer at 49.046 for third and $6,000.

This is the fourth Grand Prix that Figaro has entered since coming off an injury nearly three years ago.

“He wasn’t supposed to get better. Everyone said he was finished, but I wouldn’t give up on him,” said Steele. “His recovery shocked everyone. He is a great horse and every day that he comes in the ring is a blessing to me.”

According to Steele, Figaro’s athletic ability enabled the pair to set the sizzling time in the jump off.

“I can leave strides out, he’s so careful,” said Steele. “He does it himself. You couldn’t run him through a jump. He’s a 9-year-old in 12-year-old clothes.”

Steele said that the Grand Prix victory is a great cap to an excellent week, her first at HITS Tahoe. She rode Technicolor, a 7-year-old Belgian warmblood to a victory in the $5,000 PHCA Jimmy Williams Classic on Saturday, taking home $1,500 for owner Nancy Markwell.

n Ultimate high. “I love my job, but this is the ultimate high,” said Steele after her victory gallop in the Grand Prix. “This is for me what it is all about. This makes all of the long days worth it.”

Buddy Brown designed the 17-element spectacular course, setting jumps in places that allowed the crowds to see show jumping up close.

He was happy with the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd and pleased with six horses going clear on the first round.

“Every horse has some strong and weak points. Instead of building it huge, I built more jumps than is normal in the Grad Prix. I asked a few more questions in a little longer course,” said Brown.

Steele plans to spend the next two weeks at HITS Tahoe, but isn’t sure if she will enter Figaro in the Grand Prix classes.

“I play it by ear. I let him tell me how he feels. If he feels okay I let him go. If he doesn’t feel okay he doesn’t have to go,” said Steel.

The third week of HITS Tahoe begins on Wednesday, July 11 at the show grounds on Stockyard Road and ends with the $50,000 Coldwell Banker Itildo Inc. Grand Prix starting at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 16.

Struzzieri said that, not only has the attendance helped local charities, but that spectator participation results in better performances.

“Horses and riders enjoy jumping in front of a crowd, it builds the excitement,” said Struzzieri. “It’s great that the community is helping us. The word is getting around that Minden is supportive of HITS. This is going to be a healthy relationship.”