Green Creek rider wins Festival of the Hunt Hill Topper Division

Published 1:41 pm Monday, November 27, 2017

MILL SPRING – It was the first competition Stephanie Schulte and her little quarter horse mare, Lacey, had ever entered, but they won the Hill Topper Division at the Festival of the Hunt last week.

The event took place at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) Nov. 15-18. The competition kicked off with members from five hunts throughout the Southeast guest hunting with the Tryon Hounds on Wednesday and with Green Creek on Thursday.

Competition began 9 a.m. on Friday and Saturday with competitors entering three different divisions, the Handy Hunter Division for amateur riders, the Working Hunter Division for professional riders, and the Hill Topper Division for those who do not jump or ride as fast on hunts. All competitors are required to be a member of a recognized hunt and ride a horse that has hunted at least once or twice during the current season.

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“It was a great day and a lot of fun,” said Schulte whose goal for entering was just to be able to ride on a TIEC course. “I thought the worse that could happen was I could go out, gallop my little quarter horse around that big field and have fun. Maybe get a good picture. That was the only time I could take my branded little cow pony to TIEC and ride around.”

Friday’s competition included each competitor in each division riding the course of natural fences such as coops, walls, posts and rails, logs, brush jumps, a water hazard and up and down an incline. The Hill Toppers did not jump, but they did step over logs and each division included opening and closing a gate.

Saturday opened with Green Creek Hounds Huntsman Tot Goodwin, MFH parading the hounds and event announcer Anita Williamson offering a few words about fox hunting in America.

Saturday’s competition included a Mock Hunt class, which simulates a hunt without the hounds or fox. Competitors typically ride in a group through Hunting Country, or in this case, over the Derby field course at a “fair hunting pace” and include obstacles.

Green Creek’s new huntsman, David Raley, served as huntsman for the Hill Topper Division and Becky Barnes served as field master. Tryon Hounds Huntsman Beth Blackwell acted as huntsman for the Handy Hunter and Working Hunter Division while Kem Ketcham, MFH served as field master. After the Mock Hunt, each competitor rode over the course individually.

A Hunter Trial is judged differently than a show hunter competition. While both competitions include judging the horse’s way of going and soundness and quality of jumps, show hunters also have to be extremely attractive and typically jump at a slow speed. The judges often count the number of strides between the jumps always to be sure the horse is on the correct canter lead. In the show ring horses are faulted if they break stride (change from a canter to a walk.)

The Festival of the Hunt competition was more about the safety, the horse’s manners in a group of other horses, how well they cooperate through the course and of course, soundness. The horses are not typically judged on looks and, for this competition, the riders could choose to walk, trot or canter the course.

“I like this type of competition,” said Schulte. “It shows you can bring any type horse out as long as it’s well-mannered and capable.”