North Carolina rider takes horse show grand prix |

North Carolina rider takes horse show grand prix

by Nancy Hamlett

Jenni Martin from Apex, N. C., riding Rio Grande, double-cleared the jump course of the $50,000 Rio Vista Grand Prix at Sunday’s HITS Tahoe to take home the blue ribbon and the $15,000 first place share of the prize money for Rio Vista’s owner Augustin Walch of Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

Coming off a win in the $15,000 Open Jumper Prix on Friday, Martin said that the win in the Grand Prix peaks a successful week for her and the Hanovarian stallion. Martin and Rio Grande have been partnered for only six months, and HITS Tahoe is one of their first major competitions.

“He (Rio Grande) started out in the warm-up a little lazy today, and I thought he was going to be a lot to work with – and in the first round he was a lot of work. But in the jump-off, he really picked it up. Rio was excellent today. I had an excellent week,” said Martin, who also placed first and second in Saturday’s $5,000 Pacific Coast Horseman’s Association (PCHA) Jimmy Williams Classic riding Gallant Gentleman and Granesta.

Martin’s partner, Steve McAllister, grinned after Martin’s big win in the grand prix.

“Jenni has been in the (grand prix) ribbons, but this is her first big win. This is just fabulous for her,” he said.

All of the jump courses for the first week of HITS Tahoe, including the Grand Prix, were designed by Conrad Homfled, a member of the Bronze Medal American Team at the 1978 World Show Jumping Championships and the Gold Medal Team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Homfled set a course time limit at 79 seconds for the Grand Prix’s 12-jump course.

Nineteen horses entered the competition, with eight horses clearing the course without any jumping or time faults. The course for the jump-off was shortened and the standards raised. Now the horses and riders were competing for the fewest faults in the shortest amount of time.

Rio Grande covered the course with long, powerful strides, beating out second place Yerington rider Julie White on Sunrise. White had two horses in the Grand Prix and went clear with both in round one. Raphael, owned by Heartland Farms, had 12 jumping faults in the jump-off to finish seventh. On Sunrise, White had a clear jump-off and was the class leader until Martin and Rio beat her out by just .548 seconds.

More than 1,200 paid spectators packed the bleachers at the Grand Prix event, with newcomers to the sport mingling with seasoned exhibitors. It was a supportive crowd that groaned when a horse knocked down a standard and clapped enthusiastically after each round.

“I’ve just watched this on TV, so seeing it in person is awesome. You don’t really see all of the details or feel the excitement on TV,” said Debbie Trulin, a local horse owner.

Ken Jochim and his wife Pam came from Carson City to watch the conclusion of HITS Tahoe’s first week. “If the crowd gets any bigger they are going to need more bleachers,” said Jochim “We love watching horses, and this was spectacular. Now that we know that there are events all week long, we’ll probably come during the week as well.”

Eighteen members of Carson Valley Sertoma sold tickets and directed parking at Sunday’s event. Sertoma is one of the organizations that will benefit by the HITS program of sharing gate receipts with local service groups.

“We were surprised by the turn out, especially since this is just the first week,” said Pat Cardinal, a member of Sertoma.

Al Ness coordinated advance sales for Sertoma.

“The attendance exceeded our expectations, and I’m sure HITS management’s as well. We’re looking forward to the next nine years and more of HITS Tahoe,” he said.

HITS Tahoe continues through July 30 with classes starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday of each week. The highlight of week two is Kids Day on Sunday, July 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with free admission for all kids 12 and under. Presented by Douglas County Parks and Recreation and the Douglas County Library, the day will offer face painting, clowns, games, pony rides, books, crafts and more.

Also on Sunday, July 9 is the $50,000 EMO Grand Prix starting at 1 p.m. Martin and Rio Grande are entered.

“I promised Rio if he won today he wouldn’t have to go on Friday, so we’ll compete just Sunday next week,” said Martin, who said that she didn’t want to burn out the 14-year-old stallion. “He’s a little bit older and he knows his job. Now that I’m getting the ride on him, I feel comfortable, and I don’t need the class money. He paid his way for the whole time now.”

Spectators exiting the show grounds were animated about the spectacular sight of horses clearing 4-foot, 6-inch jumps with spans just as wide.

“People won’t want to miss this,” said Cardinal. “This is an exciting spectator sport for everyone.”