Aaron Vale Harnesses Obi Wan’s Force to Win $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix at HITS Ocala
Aaron Vale scored another $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix victory at HITS Ocala on Friday, piloting Obi Wan to the victory during this week’s jump-off. With six double clear performances, Vale and Obi Wan put on the pressure as the pathfinders, with Brooks Hull almost catching him aboard Zechariah. Right behind them was Tracy Fennery with MTM Fuji to round out the top three.
This marked one of Obi Wan’s first shows back after an injury this fall, and Vale was thrilled with his performance. “It couldn’t have been better,” he noted. “One reason I [chose this class] is I really like the footing here, and for his first time over bigger fences, I thought the ground would be perfect for him here, and he certainly jumped like he thought it was perfect too!”
Vale and Obi Wan were the first to produce a clear round during the tiebreaker set by Florencio Hernandez, which utilized the expansive Grand Prix ring to give riders lots of opportunities to gallop fast and make up time. Vale left out two strides in the first turn with Obi Wan and continued with a quick pace throughout the course, leaving all the rails intact to set the Great American time to beat at 43.422 seconds. Hull and Zechariah came the closest to catching them, but an extra stride in the first long made all the difference as they broke the beam in a faultless 43.606 seconds for second place. Tracy Fenney followed next with MTM Fuji, but their clear round time of 45.175 would only be good enough for third place.
“One to two in the jump-off came up in 12 strides for me,” explained Vale. “Brooks was close enough to me, but he was 14 strides on that same track. Other than that, he had me because it was quite close. I was able to just get the inside turn real smooth and it came up where I didn’t have to wait to it. My horse is naturally just a quick horse with a lot of RPMs, so I galloped a bit, but I didn’t have to run him – that’s his speed. If you just soften the reins, that’s about where he wants to go anyway.”
Obi Wan is a 10-year-old Warmblood gelding with consistent results at the FEI level, but Vale has skillfully worked to use the naturally nervous horse’s nature to his benefit. “Horses are animals that are scared of prey, and if you were in a herd with him, he would let you know when the prey animal was near because he’s quite certain it’s there all the time,” laughed Vale. “He’s very cautious and a bit worried. Luckily, he has that same affinity for not wanting to touch the poles. He doesn’t like to touch the poles, just like he doesn’t want to get eaten by a mountain lion, so that ends up being a good characteristic!”
Vale concluded, “Everything I do is to try to relax him since he’s such a nervous type of a horse. I don’t always get it right, but everything I try in my training is to help relax him and calm him down because he’s so intense.”
Riders will return to the Grand Prix Ring on Saturday for the $10,000 Post Time Classic and Sunday afternoon for the $75,000 Showcase Properties Grand Prix. The Overlook Club features the perfect view of the ring and is open to all, with a special brunch every Sunday for $45 per person. The season at HITS Ocala will culminate with the Great American $300,000 Grand Prix on Sunday, March 26, with one of the biggest purses in the country. Make sure to visit the horse show office or www.hitsshows.com for more information.