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Penn National Keeps Saddlebreds/Hackneys In Front Of The Public


by Bob Funkhouser

HARRISBURG, Penn. – After a concerted effort last year brought an increase in horses to the longstanding Pennsylvania National Horse Show, trainers and exhibitors followed up with their support for this 61st annual show. It’s still nowhere near where it needs to be, however, it was a fun and competitive show.

For those who still haven’t caught on, Penn National has the ingredients to be one of the top shows in the country. First of all the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Arena is a unique venue hosting a unique equine event. The spacious indoor facility houses quality American Saddlebreds and Hackney ponies along with western breeds and some of the country’s finest hunter jumpers and draft horses. The focal point is a show ring with ample seating that starts about eye level for most horses. The show and the ring both have a feel reminiscent of the old National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden minus the glitz.

Like the Garden, the seats in the arena are filled with enthusiastic spectators. There’s no doubt they come throughout the week for the jumping events and the nationally televised Grand Prix but they stay for the Saddle Horse and draft horse classes and they’re much livelier than most of the audiences at Lexington, Louisville and Kansas City. Whenever Carson Kressley showed it was like the “wave” at a football game. The applause followed him all the way around the ring, lap after lap.

A strong supporter of the Penn National, Kressley wasn’t the only exhibitor the audience responded to. The audiences cheered class after class and sent champions out of the ring with thunderous applause under spotlight victory passes. Many times starry-eyed young girls followed riders from the ring asking for their autographs.

“People keep trying to come up with ways to promote our breeds and one of the ways is quite simple, bring your horses and ponies to shows like Penn National and Devon where there are large crowds,” said New Hampshire trainer and UPHA 14 Chapter Chairman Gary Garone. “Sure, you have to make a few small sacrifices, but the good that can be done far outweighs those little inconveniences. We need people to take turns coming to shows like these and put our horses in front of someone besides ourselves.”

Well versed in many breeds, Peter Doubleday manages this gathering of various champions that is steeped in tradition while ever evolving with the times. There was a good offering of Saddlebred and pony classes in the roadster and pleasure division divisions, as well as the ASHA Regional Championships. In addition to the highly competitive battles in the show and jumping arena, exhibitors and spectators also enjoy an extremely large gathering of vendors.

Doubleday’s show officials included Renee Lavery who judged the Saddlebred, and roadsters and was joined on the panel for the NHS Good Hands National Finals by Linda Murray and John Whalen. Doubleday also shared announcing duties with Jason Gates and Brian Flynn. Back again as official photographer, Shane Shiflet captured many great championship photos throughout the week.

The Good Hands Finals continues to survive although numbers are much smaller than the good old days at the Garden. Fourteen riders began the quest for the first jewel of the Equitation Triple Crown and they were 14 of the country’s finest. There wasn’t any filler in this group as most were not only accomplished equitation riders, but world-class performance riders as well.

The 10 riders who made the cut had their work ahead of them as an intricate workout awaited them (see attached diagram). When the last of the 10 had completed the workout, which included walking out of the ring on a straight line, a new champion was crowned. The workout was a great test of horsemanship as well as entertaining for the crowd.

Lillian Shively and Team DeLovely struck again. Last year they put Mandy Martin in the winner’s circle and this year they followed it up with Alexandra Flynn who added to an already sensational season. Lexington, Louisville and now the Good Hands Finals, Flynn has plenty of momentum going into Kansas City.

Riding from the ring as the Reserve National Champion was the talented Jacquelyn Beck. She was expertly prepared by Cindy Boel and Bonnie Zubrod. Winner of equitation and performance titles at all levels, Michelle Krentz finished in third ahead of a pack of household names like Mary Catherine Swinson, Jessica Moctezuma, Kyle Gagnon, Brittany McGinnis, Ali Judah, Shana Jo Brown and Lindsay Haupt.

Amateur championships closed out the show’s Saturday night performance with the eight-horse Amateur Five-Gaited Championship as the finale. It was a championship class any show would have been proud to host. When it was all over, Janet Kellett and the highly decorated World’s Champion Callaway’s Banner Headline wore the tricolor from the ring, a repeat performance from the amateur qualifier. The reserve grand champion victory pass went to the oh-so-elegant Whimsicality, the reserve amateur qualifier with Kate Grom in the irons for Revelation Farm. Undefeated all season long in New England, Yes I Have and Kate Codeanne finished in third among the top contenders.

“This was the most fun I’ve had all year long,” said Codeanne. “Showing against this caliber competition and riding in front of that crowd was so much fun.”

The night before five entries competed for the Eastern Regional Five-Gaited Championship. Coming from the winner’s circle of the Junior Five-Gaited Stake, The Big Storm and Mike Spencer were Judge Lavery’s top choice. The grand champion was owned by Minna Hankin Mintz. Carson Kressley was the proud owner of the reserve grand champion. Espresso Love, winner of the open class, was the reserve grand champion with Mike Brannon aboard. Doreen Weston and The Tale Of The Cat had been reserve behind The Big Storm in the junior class.

Jessica Moctezuma piloted All Show to the top of the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited class for Mary Reising. Allyson Ehle and Homecoming Heir picked up the red streamers. Darlene Trento Wright and the newly purchased Platinum’s What A Rush won the UPHA Five-Gaited Classic.

The Amateur Three-Gaited Championship was just as competitive and entertaining as the amateur gaited championship and that title also returned to DeLovely Farm. Lynda Norman was aboard the leg-waving Enough About You to earn tricolor honors. It was their second victory pass of the week. Reserve to Enough About You in the amateur qualifier, Broadway’s Mamma Mia! put on a great show to earn reserve grand champion honors for Careen Dubuc and Phoenix Prophecies LLC. Carson Kressley and his new entry, Page Six, were pushing hard in third.

Enjoying a good season, Heir Popper and Tara Grom did it again. The Mike Richardson-trained team won the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Championship and qualifier for Revelation Farm. Representing the Gary Guz Stables, Brighton Barousse and My Gisele were twice reserve.

Also among the walk-trot winners were Albelarm High Fidelity and Sally Eichlin (novice) and Bourbon Street Queen with Kevin Tomasko (UPHA Classic).

There were plenty of cheers in the Three-Gaited Park Championship where Carson Kressley rode Callaway’s Prime Rate to the winner’s circle. Representing Little Lexington Farm, they qualified with a reserve finish in the amateur class. Winner of the open qualifier with Kelly Vernon, I’m Simply Divine paraded as the reserve grand champion. Linda Coffin and Fox Creek’s Cut To The Chase were reserve in that qualifier.

World Champion Perfect Vengeance was right on the money to give Revelation Farm yet another championship honor. Kate Grom rode the athletic star to both the amateur qualifier and championship. Starsnip Enterprise and Tamara Mitchell were right there for the reserve grand champion victory pass.

As talented as most any harness horse showing today, Tornaados Tidal Wave was a standout in the Fine Harness Championship and open class. As she has done all season long, Joellen Fisher Blount drove the bay star to the winner’s circle from Jan Lukens Stables. Sally Eichlin and Highland Radiance were twice reserve.

There was a nice turnout in the amateur harness division where Sheri Wechsler and Kiri proudly sported the tricolor streamers. Having only been in the show ring for a year now, Wechsler did a great job representing John Champagne Stables. Also possessing a load of talent, current Reserve World’s Champion Party Of Three was the amateur reserve grand champion with owner Minna Hankin Mintz at the whip. In the qualifier the Mike Spencer-trained combination left with the blue ahead of Kiri, Harlem’s Beau Dandy and Paragon’s Pure Delight.

Adding to the Revelation Farm winnings, Mike Richardson guided Stonecroft Ring Leader to the top money in the UPHA Fine Harness Classic. John Champagne was behind Jimmy Nixon’s Happy Mother’s Day for the reserve money.

Raymond Shively and the multi-titled World’s Champion Power Ranger put on an awesome display of power in the Roadster To Bike Championship and open class. The crowd was with them all the way.

Skip Shenker and the Little Lexington crew put Diana Kressley Billig in the winner’s circle of the Road Pony Championship with Regal’s Rebel LF. They also commanded the top prize from the open class. Amateur Road Pony Grand Champion and qualifying winner, Whims And Wishes was the reserve grand champion for Chelsea Simon. Simon turned back a good group of challengers in those amateur classes including twice reserve champion Mastercraft’s Gambler LF and Alex Ververeli.

Rodney and Janet Crawford Hicks have been dedicated to keeping the Hackney pony division alive at such shows as Devon and they felt Penn National was worth the trip from New England as well. They brought the celebrated Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Champion Miss Excellence to win both classes offered. Molly Ryan drove Time To Dance to the reserve championship for Gary Guz. Kate Codeanne provided the reserve drive in the qualifier.

Guz and the Ryan family had a big week at Harrisburg. In addition to the retirement of their beloved champion CH L.A. Wing Victory, they also enjoyed Kate Ryan’s winning ride with CH Rastafarian in the competitive Five-Gaited Pleasure Championship. They switched places with qualifying winners Erin McCracken and Bare Assets.

They came 14 strong in the Adult Three-Gaited Pleasure Championship and they also came with plenty of talent. Kaitlyn Grom and VHF York’s Coppertone led the way in both the qualifier and the championship. The exquisite Art In Motion commanded reserve grand champion honors with Traci Massaro in the irons. Brian Fitzsimmons and Royalty At Midnight were third in the tough class. In the qualifier, Careen Dubuc gave three-year-old He Is The Heir a great ride to turn back the veteran teams for reserve honors. Revelation Farm was first and third in that one as Chelsea Simon and Drop Dead Gorgeous took home the yellow streamers.

There was also a good turnout in the Open Three-Gaited Pleasure class that featured Barbara Matthews and CH Five Minutes More in the winner’s circle. Art In Motion and Traci Massaro had qualified for the championship with a reserve finish in this one.

Another pleasure class and another Grom family champion for Penn National. This time it was Tara Grom aboard Callaway’s Torch Bearer to win the loot in the Junior Exhibitor Show Pleasure Championship. They traded spots with qualifying winners Spirited Edition and Christie Milbury. Both of these teams have recorded great seasons. Among the top championship contenders, Jessica Arel and Bella Dahl were third for the Nicholas Villa Stables.

Even with Jan Lukens on crutches, her string still competed for the highest honors. Among them, Midtown Magic and Claudia Fletcher brought home the Show Pleasure Driving Championship and qualifying blue. The veteran team of Tiana Tapper and CH Lover’s Heir were twice reserve.

Coming back from a reserve finish in the qualifier, Kaitlyn Grom and Uwharrie’s Patriot Sage made the last pass in the Adult Country Pleasure Championship. Jean Heiney and Rockin The Blues made a reserve victory pass. New to the division, CH Titleist Commander and Traci Massaro were awarded the victory pass in the qualifier.

Judge Lavery also had a different winner in the Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure Championship than she had in the qualifier. Worthy’s Heirloom moved up a notch to take championship honors for Joelle Bennett. Lauren Gradwell presented Berry Berry Good for the reserve championship. The qualifying winner was Starmaker’s Starburst with Alexandria Simpson riding.

Moving up two places from the qualifier, Mary Strang and The Bay Princess captured the Country Pleasure Driving Championship. Winner of the first round, Sox Appeal and Laurie Behr had to settle for reserve grand champion honors.

The best of the Country Western Pleasure division turned out to be two-time winner Mapleridge Rare Event and Susan English. Dr. Nancy Trent was on hand to bring home two reserves with Ultimate Fire.

Closing out the competition at the 61st annual Penn National Horse Show was the PNHS Equitation Challenge. Cape Cod Farm’s Casey Morgan Tibolet rode to the top of that class. She was followed by Sarah Jane Smith.

These were the highlights from yet another successful Penn National. Complete results can be found by clicking here. The past two years have helped turn things around as many were in fear of losing the Saddlebred classes due to the lack of entries. Again, this is one of those jewels the industry cannot afford to lose. The best part is it is truly a fun place to show a horse or pony!

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