French Dazzles in $100,000 WCHR Peter Weatherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular
World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Week, sponsored by KASK, at the 2023 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) came to a peak on Saturday night. The country’s best hunter combinations went head-to-head in the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular. For John French it was a night of firsts as he finally captured the Spectacular win, one that has been eluding him throughout his career.
Patrick Rodes, hailing from Texas, designed the flowing track that offered riders several areas to show off their mounts. The panel one judges consisted of Chris Wynne and T. Whitehead, panel two was Mark Jungherr and Tom Brennan, and panel three held Mary Lisa Leffler and Mary Eufemia. Entries for the night class qualified by winning the champion title in their respective divisions at the 3’6” height or above.
From a 42-horse field at 3’6”, 3’9” and 4’ heights, 12 returned for a handy round. French guided Milagro, a 2015 Hanoverian Gelding owned by Kent Farrington, LLC, to the high score of 94 in the opening round to return for the handy with a few points in his pocket. They impressed again and scored a 93.5, finishing on a score of 187.5 and the victory.
“I think riding in this kind of atmosphere brings out the best in all horses,” said French of the impressive International Ring environment at WEF. “They were all jumping so well tonight, and I think the lights, the crowds and the jumps really showcased the hunters. There aren’t a lot of these classes left, so we get excited for nights like this and so do our horses.
“Originally, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make that inside turn to the second to last jump, but everyone was going so well that I thought I needed to do it,” continued French. “WCHR has done so much for the hunters. The fact that they have these special classes, it gives us something to strive for throughout the year.”
A former West Coast phenom in the hunter ring, French never had the opportunity to point a horse in his regular string at the WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular. “I was usually flying in and borrowing a horse,” he said. “Coming in on a horse I know so well was a nice feeling. I’m just grateful to have a horse like this; he’s the most easy going in the barn and so scopey in the ring. We knew the 4’ height was going to be his calling. When Kent found the horse, we could have sold him but I didn’t want him to leave the barn, so we have him still for special classes like this.”