Kelli Cruciotti VanderVeen Rises in the Ranks

Despite her horse’s name, Kelli Cruciotti VanderVeen (USA) hasn’t had the ride on Forever SFN for long. A partnership that just molded in March of 2022, the pair is making making their mark on international competition, rising from second place during Traverse CIty Spring II to securing the win during week three in Thursday’s $37,000 CSI3* Two Phase.

“Today feels amazing,” Cruciotti VanderVeen raved about her performance with the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, owned by Springpaarden Fonds Nederland. “[Forever SFN] is such an amazing horse to have in the barn. Last week, we had great form. We were second; we came really close but didn’t quite get it, but today I just felt like it all came together. Today was our day.”

Kelli Cruciotti VanderVeen and Forever SFN. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Iván Tagle (ARG) designed the track for the CSI3* ranking class to kick off FEI competition during the final week of Traverse City Spring, presented by Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel.

Sixteenth in the order of 30 total entries, Cruciotti VanderVeen had to watch several competitive pairs contest her lead before she claimed victory. When asked how nervous she was with Beat Mändli (SUI) as the last to go, she responded, “Very. Extremely. No one wants Beat as the last to go – he makes it look so easy and he came very, very close, but it was a sigh of relief at the end.”

Beat Mändli and Vic Des Cerisiers. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Mändli finished just over a tenth of a second off the leading time with the Grant Road Partners mount, Vic De Cerisiers in 29.66 seconds, with all three of his mounts finishing in the top eight. Katie Dinan (USA) also finished all three of her rides in the top eight, scoring third place with the Grant Road Partners’ Atika Des Hauts Vents in a time of 30.64 seconds.

Cruciotti VanderVeen attributed her success in the speed phase to a combination of Forever SFN’s speed and her own equitation upbringing. “My horse is naturally very fast across the ground and in the air,” the 2019 World Cup Finalist remarked of the gelding (Azteca VDL x Nonstop). “Last week in the grand prix I overdid it in the jump-off, and today I told myself to ride my plan and to trust that he’s fast enough. So I just kept focusing on my line and track; the equitation days paid off a bit.”

“He’s unlike any horse I’ve ever ridden,” Cruciotti VanderVeen continued. “He wants to win more than I do. He’s a horse that really makes you believe you can win every class. When I go in the ring, if I just do my plan he will take care of the rest. Today is really special.”

Katie Dinan and Atika Des Hauts Vents. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Cruciotti VanderVeen grew up coming to Traverse City, but COVID-19 changed her plans. She made her return to the area for the 2022 Spring Series in winning style. “All the improvements, updates, and the footing is amazing here; we always have such a nice time,” she said of the facility. “But with the addition of the FEI rings and space for us to ride, it’s made a huge difference.”

Forever SFN will jump the $138,600 Serra CSI3* Grand Prix Sunday before earning a well-deserved rest. International competition continues on Friday with the $37,000 Launch Consulting CSI3* Welcome Stake.

Final Results: $37,000 CSI3* Two Phase

1. FOREVER SFN: 2010 KWPN gelding by Azteca VDL x Nonstop
KELLI CRUCIOTTI VANDERVEEN (USA), Springpaarden Fonds Nederland: 0/0/29.50

2. VIC DES CERISIERS: 2009 SF gelding by Olympic D’Anguerny x Desir Du Chateau
BEAT MANDLI (SUI), Grant Road Partners LLC: 0/0/29.66

3. ATIKA DES HAUTS VENTS: 2010 SF mare by Rock’n Roll Semilly
KATIE DINAN (USA), Grant Road Partners LLC: 0/0/30.64

4. BUGA Z: 2010 ZANG gelding by Chester Z x Quality Touch Z
SAMUEL PAROT (CHI), Samuel Parot: 0/0/30.77

5. ATHOS D’ELLE: 2010 SF stallion by Apache D’Adriers x Papillon Rouge
KATIE DINAN (USA), Grant Road Partners LLC: 0/0/30.87

6. DSARIE: 2008 KWPN mare by Veron x Ahorn
BEAT MANDLI (SUI), Grant Road Partners LLC: 0/0/31.30

7. DIJON TERDOORN Z: 2011 ZANG gelding by Diamant De Semilly x Lord Z
KATIE DINAN (USA), Grant Road Partners LLC: 0/0/31.36

8. CHARTRAINE PRE NOIR: 2012 SF mare by Kannan
BEAT MANDLI (SUI), Grant Road Partners LLC: 0/0/31.51

9. DEZ OOKTOFF: 2008 KWPN stallion by Colandro x Lys Rouge
ROBERTO TERAN TAFUR (COL), Roberto Teran Tafur: 0/0/31.71

10. GRAF COMPLIMENT: 2010 HANN gelding by Graf Top x Compliment
SAMUEL PAROT (CHI), Ashland Farms & QBS Equestrian LLC: 0/0/31.92

11. KIRSCHWASSER SCF: 2010 BWP gelding by Amaretto D’Arco x Nabab De Reve
FREDDIE VAZQUEZ (PUR), Freddie Vazquez: 0/0/32.43

12. DICAS: 2009 RHEIN gelding by Diarado x Cassini I
MARGIE ENGLE (USA), Gladewinds Partners, LLC: 0/0/33.15

Hillary Johnson Sweeps 3’6” and 3’9” Green Hunter Championships

World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week at Traverse City Spring, presented by Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, is off to a winning start for Hillary Johnson. The Michigan native took home championship honors in the 3’6” Green Hunters with Suede and the 3’9” Green Hunters with Elliot, both owned by Copper Fox LLC.

Hillary Johnson and Suede. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Johnson piloted both mounts to top placings in the five classes of each division, winning both under saddle classes. A big week for hunter riders, WCHR week provides opportunities for hunters to show off and qualify for special year-end awards as well as WCHR Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Upper Marlboro, MD.

“He’s very brave,” Johnson said of Suede, an 8-year-old Westphalian gelding by Los Angeles. “We don’t hand walk him in the ring or let him see anything. He just walks in there and rises to the occasion and enjoys doing the fun classes.” Suede topped the $5,000 Traverse City Hunter Derby during Traverse City Spring I, kicking off a busy season of special classes for the gelding.

“We love it up here,” Johnson continued about Traverse City. “It’s our favorite show of the year. We chose this year to stay all summer. I’m looking forward to setting up a home base.”

Hillary Johnson and Elliot. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Johson now aims both horses at Saturday’s $100,000 WCHR Central Hunter Spectacular in the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring. The coveted class, open to juniors, amateurs, and professionals who are WCHR members and who compete at the 3’6” fence height or above, will invite competitors to jump a classic round then call back the pairs with the top 12 first-round scores back for a handy round.

“I love any opportunity that showcases hunters,” said Copper Fox LLC owner Kendall Meijer, who is often the one to beat in Amateur-Owner and Adult Hunter divisions at Traverse CIty Horse Shows. “It’s exciting to see Michigan host some of the best horse shows of the year, and the level of sport in Traverse City is incredible,”
Reserve championship honors in the 3’6” Green Hunters went to Sandman, owned by Jacqueline Zhai and ridden by Katie Milton, while Empyrean and Ehrin Rittmueller claimed reserve championship honors in the 3’9” Green Hunters.
Additionally, nine champions were crowned Thursday between the Main Hunter and the GGT Footing Rings.

Kingsley and Abbygale Funk for MMK Equestrian LLC were named champions in the 3’6”/3’9”Conformation Hunters, while Hendricks and Ehrin Rittmueller for Bitsy Woods took reserve champion.

Heartfelt II and Tiffany Morrissey for Deitler Farms, LLC, claimed top honors in the 3’6” Performance Hunters, while Paper Trail and X for Joyride Eq, LLC, took reserve champion.

The California split 3’3” Performance Hunter division titles went to Paisley Park and Chivalry, both piloted by Geoffrey Hesslink and owned by Little Brook, LLC. Reserve championship honors went to Dom Perignon with Renato Troiani for Samantha O’Brien and Rockette with Sterling Malnik.

The 3’3” Green Hunters awarded Corino championship honors, with Steven Gregorio for Aster Hill in the irons, while Mr. Special took the reserve championship with Abbygale Funk for MMK Equestrian LLC.

Say When and Vivian Yowan for Saddle Ridge LLC topped the 3’ Green Hunter division, and Kyoto, with Geoffrey Hesslink aboard for Brendan Willams, took reserve championship honors.

Hunter action continues at Traverse CIty Spring II with junior hunter divisions heating up on Friday. Some of the best junior hunter riders in the country have converged in Traverse City ahead of next week’s Adequan®/USEF Junior Hunter National Championship – East running at Flintfields Horse Park June 28 through July 2.