John French Sweeps WIHS Grand Hunter Championships

October 21, 2015 - Washington, DC

John French in his presentation for Leading Hunter Rider with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan, Dr. Betsee Parker, and Archie Cox.
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
John French and Center Court
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Scott Stewart and Lucador
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Scott Stewart and Cameo
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
John French and Boss
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
John French and Sochi
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
John French and Boss in their presentation for Grand Champion Hunter with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan, Archie Cox, and groom Alex Garcia.
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
John French and Sochi in their presentation for Grand Champion Green Working Hunter joined by WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan and groom Laura Regan.
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Becky Gochman and Last Call
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Chablis and Kelly Tropin
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Becky Gochman and Last Call in their presentation for Grand Champion Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’6″ with WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan and groom Georgie Jacinto.
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Nicole Lyvere and Certainty
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Daryl Portela and Winner
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography
Daryl Portela and Winner in their Grand Champion Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’3″ presentation with ringmaster John Franzreb, groom Gerardo Briseno, and Betty Oare.
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Last Call and Becky Gochman, Winner and Daryl Portela Take Grand Amateur-Owner Prizes

The 2015 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) continued with its second day of competition Wednesday featuring the presentation of championship honors in the professional and amateur-owner hunter divisions at Verizon Center in downtown Washington D.C. Representing the west coast, rider and trainer John French (CA) dominated the professional divisions, while Becky Gochman (NY) and Daryl Portela (FL) reigned supreme over the amateur-owner championships. WIHS competition continues through Sunday, October 25.

John French, of San Jose, CA, had unprecedented success in this year’s WIHS competition. French capped off his time in the nation’s capital with three championships, three reserve championships, two Grand Hunter Championships, and the 2015 WIHS Leading Hunter Rider title. French guided Laura Wasserman’s Boss to the overall WIHS Grand Hunter Championship, and also won the WIHS Grand Green Working Hunter Championship riding Lee Kellogg Sadrian’s Sochi. He received a special $5,000 bonus for the Leading Hunter Rider Award, sponsored by Dr. Betsee Parker, and was also presented The Robert Coluccio Leading Hunter Rider Perpetual Trophy. Laura Wasserman earned the Leading Hunter Owner Award.

“I do not think I have ever had an indoor show like this. To win this many championships and be reserve this many times as well; it means a lot,” French expressed. “This is where I grew up. As a kid, WIHS was the biggest show you could go to. We did not go to the Garden; it was too far away. WIHS, you could come and watch. It is my favorite show. I love being in the city; I love the whole atmosphere and ambiance about showing in the city.”

French had one of the greatest shows of his career, impressively winning classes and tricolors with five different horses. He acknowledged Archie Cox as the trainer of Wasserman’s Boss and Fine Design, as well as Montana Coady’s Ranger. French brought Sochi and Center Court for his own clients.

“It is not often that you have that many good ones,” he admitted. “I had five horses and they all won classes. A lot has to do with Archie. He does a great job. Some of the horses are his, and live at his barn, but Sochi and Center Court are with me at my barn. I just think that it is nice that I get to ride these horses a lot here. Every morning I get to ride them throughout the circuit. At home, a lot of times I just get on a horse and go in a class. For indoors, I get to spend three weeks between Capital Challenge, Harrisburg and Washington getting a real feel for each horse, what it needs and how I need to ride it better. I can put myself in the right mindset for the horse.”

“There are things that you tell yourself before you go in the ring. You get a routine, and a lot of times when you are riding so many horses, you do not have the time to do that. I love indoor shows, and shows with one ring, where you can really focus on your horses and watch instead of running ring to ring. You get a feel for the ring, and a feel for the horse. You do not have so many distractions with other things going on. The competition is good, so you have to rise to the competition. You always ride better when you really have to work at it. I like having the challenge.”

On the way to his leading rider title, French began the day with a championship win in the High Performance Working Hunter division, sponsored by Jacqueline B. Mars. He and Hiller Farms LLC’s Center Court accepted The “NOT ALWAYS” Challenge Trophy, donated by Miss Peggy Steinman. The pair placed first, first, and third over fences, and finished second under saddle. Kelley Farmer and Kensel LLC’s Mindful finished in reserve, placing first, second and third over fences, as well as third under saddle.

Mindful and Farmer were also presented the special Protocol Trophy, sponsored by Platinum Performance, for the second year in a row. The trophy is awarded to the overall High Point High Performance Working Hunter from the Devon Horse Show, Pennsylvania National Horse Show, and Washington International Horse Show.

In the Regular Conformation Hunters, Scott Stewart and Dr. Betsee Parker’s Lucador earned championship honors to be presented with The Mary Farren Perpetual Trophy. The pair finished first and sixth over fences, then topped the under saddle class to secure their championship. French and Laura Wasserman’s Fine Design earned reserve honors, placing first and second over fences, and second under saddle.

The Second Year Green Working Hunters were next to present championship honors. Stewart took another tricolor in that division, finishing third, second, and third over fences, and taking a win under saddle with Dr. Betsee Parker’s Cameo. French rode Montana Coady's Ranger to the reserve championship, placing first and second over fences, as well as second under saddle.

Competition continued with the Green Conformation Hunter championship, sponsored by The Ingram Family, in which French and Laura Wasserman’s Boss took their first title. The pair earned the Valiant Hark Memorial Challenge Trophy, donated by Mrs. Stephen J. Clark, with two wins and a third place finish over fences, as well as a win under saddle. Stewart and Stephanie Danhakl’s First Light finished in reserve, placing first, second and fourth over fences, and second under saddle.

The First Year Green Working Hunter division was the final deciding factor for this year’s grand championship honors. French solidified his lead by taking the division championship aboard Sochi, with two wins and a third place finish over fences. French also took reserve honors in that division with Boss, placing second, second and fourth over fences, as well as second under saddle.

Sochi was then presented the overall WIHS Grand Green Working Hunter Championship and the Claire Lang Miller Challenge Trophy, as well as the Windy Acres Challenge Trophy for the best Green Working Hunter stake round with a score of 89. Boss was awarded the overall WIHS Grand Hunter Championship and the Rave Review Challenge Trophy, donated by Stoney Hill. French received one final award for the EQUUS Foundation Best Professional Performance of the Day with Boss.

Boss is a nine-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Samba Hit II. Describing the ride, French explained, “With Boss, I have to think about riding a little taller and not let him get too low. Some horses I can relax and lean into the jumps more, but with him I have to tell myself to stay tall, relax about the lead changes, and be soft on his mouth.”

“He is so pretty. You have to like that,” French said of what makes Boss special. “He gets 10 bonus points on that. He just goes like a real hunter. He has a great expression; his ears never go back, and he has a beautiful face and neck.”

Speaking of Sochi, a six-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Quirado, French noted, “I was really happy with him. Capital Challenge at the end of the week, he was acting sort of weird and he got sick. He had a fever and he lost a lot of weight, so I opted not to take him to Harrisburg. I gave him some time off and hoped that he would be ready to come here. He had off from the end of Capital Challenge until last Saturday. It was great that he was able to show here and it ended like this.”

“He is super brave; he is not a hard horse to prepare,” French added. “I just wanted to make sure that he was feeling better. I did not even do that much to get ready this week. I did not ride him in the ring. I just trusted; I did not want to stress him out and work him too hard. He was a little fresh, but I think the judges liked it because he was jumping so high over the jumps.”

In addition to his grand championship mounts, French had a fantastic week with Center Court, earning the High Performance championship. The young Holsteiner gelding gave French his best score of the show with a 92 in Tuesday night’s handy round. French is now done competing for the fall season and looks forward to returning to California with his top prizes.

Gochman and Portela Win Amateur-Owner Titles

The Amateur-Owner Hunter divisions concluded their second day of competition at WIHS Wednesday and awarded championship honors. For the second year in a row, the Grand Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’6” championship was awarded to David Gochman's Last Call, ridden by Becky Gochman. The pair earned the Frank Counselman Memorial Perpetual Trophy after topping the Amateur-Owner Hunter 3'6” Over 35 division, sponsored by Cembell Industries. They placed first and third over fences and won under saddle. The reserve champion was Airport 48, owned by John and Stephanie Ingram LLC, and ridden by John Ingram. Ingram placed fourth in the first class over fences and then won two more. His stake round score of 87 earned The Shari Hollis Memorial Perpetual Trophy, donated by the Late Col. J.B. Hollis and Ms. Jeannie Hollis.

In the Amateur-Owner Hunter 3'6” 18-35 division, the championship was awarded to Libertas Farm LLC’s Chablis, ridden by Kelley Tropin. That pair placed first, fourth and fourth over fences and second under saddle. Krista Weisman and her own and Alexa Weisman’s Reality finished in reserve with first and second place ribbons over fences.

Gochman’s results also earned her the Leading Amateur-Owner Hunter Rider Award for the 3’6” level, sponsored by Kessler Show Stables. This was her fourth time receiving the honor.

“It has been a lucky show for me. I am so happy because it is a good way to end the year, and now the horses get to go to Florida and relax,” Gochman noted. “All of my horses have been so good this year and I am just very pleased with all of them. I’m sure they’re looking forward to a little break and I’m looking forward to a little break. Everybody needs to rest, but I think they knew that this was important and they tried extra hard. I believe that horses can sense their surroundings and sense the importance of things and they really want to do the right thing most of the time. My horses for sure want to do everything to please me, so I could not be happier.”

Last Call, a 14-year-old Warmblood gelding, is known as Finley in the barn. Gochman explained that he is always determined to get treats.

“He looks for anything that has to do with food at all times,” she laughed. “He is a big horse and you have to be careful around him sometimes, but he’s so good that I can’t help but give him lots of treats. He is such a good boy.”

As Last Call moves into his later years, Gochman is careful to plan every detail of his schedule, and has great help with Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley in their training program at Rivers Edge.

“We try to show him sparingly, and we jump him at home sparingly, because I hope that he can last for a couple more years and then off to a good retirement,” Gochman noted. “He’ll let us know. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, he can sometimes be the opposite. He can get a little up in the classes. I want this to be fun for my horses and I want it to be fun for myself. There are a bunch of great competitors out there and it is really nice to be with them and the sport has been a great family sport for us. We have a good program. Scott keeps a master eye on the horses.”

Last Call’s groom, Georgie Jacinto, makes sure that his horses are always shining and well cared for, and his hard work paid off this week as well. Last Call was presented the Best Turned Out Horse Award, presented by The Clothes Horse.

“All of our grooms are really good and Georgie works very hard on Last Call,” Gochman acknowledged. “Last Call has a very striking look to him. He is very tall, a dark bay with that big stripe and a little bit of white in his eye. He is just so handsome.”

Continuing the day, the Amateur-Owner Working Hunter 3’3” 18-35 division presented championship honors to Nicole Lyvere and Certainty, with a win and two second place ribbons over fences. Alexis Martin and Budweis’czar placed first, second and fifth over fences to finish in reserve.

At the conclusion of the afternoon, Isalou Inc.’s Winner was named Grand Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’3” Champion, sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Earnest M. Oare. Winner’s rider, Daryl Portela, was named the Leading Amateur-Owner Hunter Rider for the 3’3” division overall.

The pair topped the Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’3” Over 35 division with three wins over fences and a third place finish under saddle. Portela also accepted the award for Best Amateur-Owner Hunter 3’3” Stake Round with a high score of 88 and was awarded the EQUUS Foundation Best Amateur Performance of the Day. Reserve honors went to Glen Senk and Fashion Farm’s Loyalty, with two second-place ribbons over fences, as well as a second place finish under saddle.

Portela has owned Winner, a 12-year-old Warmblood gelding (by Haarlem), for four years. The pair competes with the help of trainer Jimmy Torano and has consistently swept ribbons around the country since their partnership began. Portela also earned the same division championship, grand championship and leading rider titles in 2012 and 2013 with Winner. Those two years, the duo won all four division classes. She took last year off from WIHS while Torano judged the competition.

“It is a little emotional. It feels really good,” Portela said of her overall accomplishment. “I wanted to come back and do it again after my year off. Winner was great yesterday and won the first class, then he was third in the hack and won both classes today, so it is very exciting. He loves this horse show. I like this horse show. It is exciting to be in the city.”

Portela said that she does about 15 horse shows a year, and tries to keep Winner’s schedule focused on the most important events. The horse also maintains a light work schedule at home.

“I don’t show him a lot. I never jump him at home. I hack him,” she noted. “He has been pretty consistent. I know him really well now and I trust him. I try to just go in and have fun, but I am very competitive. He has just been an awesome horse.”

Portela and Winner travel to Kentucky to compete next week and then make the trip to Wellington, FL, for the winter, where Winner will enjoy living at Torano’s brand new farm.

Hunter competition at the 2015 Washington International Horse Show continues on Thursday with the beginning of Junior Hunter competition in the morning. In the jumpers, Low and High Junior/Amateur-Owner competition will be featured in the afternoon, along with a $35,000 International Jumper Welcome Stake. The evening session will welcome local horse lovers, riders, trainers, and their families for Barn Night, presented by Dover Saddlery, beginning at 6 p.m. The $20,000 International Jumper Gambler's Choice costume class, presented by the Winter Equestrian Festival will be the highlight event of the evening.

For those who cannot make it to the show, it will be live streamed in its entirety at and is also available on USEF Network at