Kelli Cruciotti and Zidante.
Training a horse to compete at the highest levels of show jumping takes time, and Kelli Cruciotti’s patience with Zidante was rewarded in tonight’s highlight event. Taking three years to build up the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare’s confidence in the High Junior Jumpers paid off when they sped to victory in the Wigg’s Bar Challenge Trophy, sponsored by The Capital Grill King of Prussia, at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair.
Nine of the 25 entries cleared Paul Jewell’s first round track and returned for the tiebreaker, which included a sharp slice after the first fence, a double combination, and an inside turn to the final oxer.
Giavanna Rinaldi was the pathfinder with GPS Brilliant Disguise, breaking the beam in 30.548 seconds to set the pace, but her lead did not hold up for long when Daisy Farish pressed the gas aboard Triviant. The pair stopped the clock at 29.645 seconds. One round later, Madison Goetzmann slipped between them, showing Andretti to a clear effort in 30.395 seconds.
After seeing Rinaldi’s round, and knowing Farish beat it, Cruciotti knew that she had to go for it if she wanted to bring home the blue with Zidante. They sliced the second fence and did a quick turn back to the third obstacle before slipping inside after the combination to make their way to the final oxer. The duo galloped through the timers in 28.966 seconds to win the class, while Farish settled for second, followed by Goetzmann and Rinaldi, respectively.
“It was the fastest I have ever gone for sure,” expressed Cruciotti. “She’s a naturally really fast horse, so I was able to use her natural way of going to really benefit me around the whole course. I didn’t get to watch Daisy go, but I know she is crazy fast on that horse, so I just had to try and let Zidante figure it out, and she really came through for me.”
Zidante came through because Cruciotti took her time building the horse up to this level. After purchasing her three years ago, Cruciotti slowly started her in the Junior Jumpers.
“Zidante had not jumped at the High Junior level, so we were slow with her and we built her up,” she explained. “We have been going up and down. We would do it, but she’s really careful, so we would drop her back down, build her confidence, and then do it again. This year is the first year we have consistently been at this level.”
This was the perfect year for Zidante to come into her own, as 17-year-old Cruciotti is enjoying her last junior year. She does not plan to let her career in the sport slow down.
“I am hoping it’s a stepping-stone to the next level,” said Cruciotti. “I am really excited to see what the future holds and I can’t thank my team enough. It’s unbelievable to win a class at such a prestigious show like this – so many other people have won and started here.”
Tomorrow night, Cruciotti and Zidante will return for the $20,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior Jumper Classic, and she concluded, “Zidante is here to win!”
Earlier in the day, the Junior Jumpers had their first turn in the ring during The Flight Cup, sponsored by the Courtyard Marriott. Featuring two double combinations and a liverpool vertical, the inviting track saw 14 of the 26 entries finish without error.
Today’s winner of the R. W. “Ronnie” Mutch Equitation Championship, Hunter Holloway, was the first to break the 53-second mark, clearing the course in 52.612 seconds with I Love Lucy to set the pace to beat. Five rounds later, Madison Goetzmann jumped to the top of the leader board with Andretti, finishing in 52.181.
Despite two riders finishing in less than 53 seconds, it was the veteran mount Promised Land that showed the competition how it’s done. At 21 years old, the Holsteiner gelding has made many trips to the Devon Horse Show, and today it was with McKayla Langmeier in the irons. The pair easily jumped over each fence, and without looking rushed, they broke the beam in 51.212 seconds to take a one-second lead in the event.
The only other rider to come close to catching the time of Langmeier and Promised Land was the last in the class. Katherine Strauss also broke the 52-second mark with All In, finishing the course in a clear 51.965 seconds, which would be good enough for second place. Langmeier led the victory gallop, while Goetzmann finished third and Holloway rounded out the top four.
Although Langmeier only began riding Promised Land at the beginning of the year, she was confident with her experienced mount.
“He’s probably been here the most out of any horse, so he probably knew the course and the turns where you could make up the time,” she laughed. “He’s just so awesome. He knew that it was an important event and he went for it! This is the first big event I have done with him, and he was wild.”
Langmeier and Promised Land will also be back in the Dixon Oval tomorrow night to compete in the $20,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior Jumper Classic. At the end of the night, the Junior Jumper Champion and Leading Junior Jumper Rider will be named, and the Shalanno Style of Riding Award will also be presented.
For more information about the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, please visit www.devonhorseshow.net.
Rebecca Walton for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International