First-Timer Nick Haness is Unbeatable in $25,000 WCHR Professional Finals
On Friday, October 7, at the 2022 Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Nick Haness of Temecula, California, made his debut in the $25,000 World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Finals, sponsored by The Rein Family, a winning one.
The class featured seven of the country’s top professional hunter riders going head-to-head. Elizabeth Boyd, Michael Britt-Leon, Amanda Steege, Scott Stewart, Geoffrey Hesslink and Nick Haness qualified by being highest in the WCHR national standings. As the winner of the $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge, held earlier in the week on Wednesday, October 5, John French earned a wild card spot in the final as well.
All seven riders competed in the opening Playoff Round over a handy hunter course set by Ken Krome on a horse of their choosing. Their scores from round one of Wednesday’s $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge served as their first-round scores for Friday’s WCHR Professional Finals.
“I didn’t really think this year I had a chance [to do this class] because I did break my leg and had a hip replacement, so I came in really low [in the standings], and I didn’t even know that there was a wild card,” described French of his challenging show season. “I had a great week here with Babylon and Milagro in the Playoff Round. It’s nice that we have those two rounds before [the Final Four]. It’s not just coming into the show based on how you did all year. You have two big classes here that sort of solidify who makes it into the Final Four.”
Three teams of two judges oversaw the class, with Tom Brennan and David Beisel making up the first panel, Shane George and Bobbi Reber on the second, and Gavin Moylan and Dale Pederson sitting on the third. Each team awarded one score, and the average of those three scores represented the rider’s overall second-round mark. The riders with the four highest totals then advanced to the Final Four, where they took turns riding unfamiliar horses.
French was first to go in the Playoff Round with Kent Farrington LLC’s Milagro and set the tone with an average score of 89. Added to his 92.33 from Wednesday, he sat on a total of 181.33.
“It’s one of your goals of the year to come back here to this show and make that Final Four,” stated French. “You might say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do it again,’ but then when the time comes, it’s a really fun class to do.”
Next in the ring was three-time winner of this class, Boyd, and Rebekah Warren’s MTM Hand Him Over. They notched the high score of the round with a 91.66. Boyd’s first round score of 80.41 gave her a total score of 172.07, which would just miss the cut off for the Final Four. Britt-Leon and Private I, owned by Kelly Sims, scored 89. With his 84.5 from Wednesday, that gave him a combined total of 173.5. Previous WCHR Professional Challenge winner Amanda Steege and her trusted partner Lafitte de Muze, owned by Cheryl Olsten, followed with an 83.66. Combined with her 85.71, their two-round total of 169.37 would also just miss out. Seven-time winner Stewart was competing for the 22nd time in the class. He rode Betsee Parker’s Nottingham to a score of 86.66, earning a total score of 173.82.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to ride in the class still and to have a group of great horses and customers to get me here,” expressed Stewart. “I’m really thrilled to still be doing it.”
Hesslink and Trademark, owned by Shadowfax Equestrian LLC, scored 83.16 for a total of 162.82, which was not enough to advance. Last to go was first-timer Haness with Glade Run Farm LLC’s Jenkins. Their impressive score of 90.16 combined with their first-round score of 85 yielded a total score of 175.16.
“This has been an extraordinary year for my career, absolutely,” reflected Haness. “The WCHR program throughout the year and all the shows for qualifying were a lot. Obviously, it takes a lot of teamwork, great horses, trainers, owners, and sponsors, so this year I definitely have to thank all of them for all of that support leading up to this moment because without them that wouldn’t be possible.”