Rainclouds hovered in the distance over the HITS, Inc. horse show grounds for much of the afternoon on Sunday, Sept. 9, but they waited until the very end of the Michael McDonald concert to move in and actually burst out into rain, bringing the concert and another season of HITS in Saugerties to a dramatic and (damp) end.
The culmination of the 2012 season at the show grounds of HITS, Inc. in Saugerties was the $1 million Grand Prix event that went off at 2 p.m. in the main ring. (There’s one more event Sept. 13-16, the Marshall and Sterling Finals, which is not part of the HITS season.) A color guard unit and members of the equestrian team representing each class currently at West Point marched ceremonially into the ring and remained at attention as the crowd rose for the singing of the National Anthem.
The jumping competition that commenced was, for the competitive horse show world, something akin to the final game of the World Series, pitting 38 competitors against each other in a contest of speed and athleticism between the best-of-the-best; the goal is to have the fastest time without any faults (knocking down rails or time penalties for staying on the course too long).
The riders on Sunday took to a difficult 14-obstacle course, designed by Olaf Petersen, Jr. It was set up specifically, said the designer, to challenge the rider’s technical abilities, especially in a triple combination jump at the 11th obstacle. The course also featured a four-meter wide water element and a tricky double combination jump near the beginning.
The audience gathered on the berms watched intently and quietly, only making disappointed sounds of sympathy as one rider after another brought their horse soaring over the obstacles of the complex course, only to nick a railing and bring it down.
McLain Ward of Brewster, New York, took home top honors at the end of the day, riding Antares F., fresh from the Olympic Games in London. “The jumps were beautiful and the course was hard,” said Ward afterward. “You needed a real Olympic caliber horse to jump a lot of those obstacles.”
Ward was one of only three riders to produce clean rounds with no faults over the intimidating track, and that number was just about what was expected for a class of this level on such a difficult course, said HITS president and CEO Tom Struzzieri. The top winning share of the $1 million prize for Antares F.’s owners, Grant Road Partners, LLC was $350,000. In total, 20 riders and horses won ribbons and monetary prizes in the event.
This was Ward’s second time winning the $1 million Grand Prix event at HITS, having won the inaugural event there in 2010.