Unbelievable and Jacob Pope Crowned Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby North Central Regional Champions in Traverse City

Hunter riders took their turn in the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International ring on Saturday evening as Unbelievable and Jacob Pope of Columbia, MD, topped the $25,0000 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby North Central Regional Championship at Flintfields Horse Park as part of the Traverse City Spring Series.

The Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Regional Championships were created to showcase the tradition and art of horsemanship in the hunter competition arena. Traverse City Horse Shows hosts one of six regional championships throughout the country, all leading to the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, in August.

Jacob Pope & Unbelievable. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Competitors took to a classic hunter course, followed by the top-twelve returning for a handy test, both created by international course designer Jasen Shelley, who originally hails from Michigan. Pope led both rounds with his 14-year-old mare owned by Forget Me Not Farm, and swept the top two podium positions, finishing second on nine-year-old Cornet Obolensky stallion, Combat, owned by Kisma Equestrian.

The regional championship was judged by two panels with Virginia Edwards and Mark Bone sitting on the first and Cynthia Williams and Tammy Provost on the second. 

Pope knew he had the class won, sitting first on a score of 366 with Combat when he returned for the handy carrying the high score from the first round of 183.5. Unbelievable rose to the occasion, nailing all inside turns and high options to post a combined score of 371.5.

Jacob Pope & Combat. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

“It was a great feeling to know walking in the ring that I was going to win regardless, which is a really unique experience,” said Pope. “There was still pressure because I wanted to win on Unbelievable too, but it was just a dream come true to be able to be one-two on really awesome horses and to have really confident rounds on them both.”

Unbelievable, fondly known as Luna around the barn is a derby specialist and Pope, along with Stefanie Mazer of Forget Me Not Farm and groom—also Luna’s favorite person—Omar Robles, are highly selective with the mare’s schedule. “We named her Unbelievable, because she really is,” said Pope. “We only bring her out for big classes, not because there’s anything wrong with her, but because she shines in these classes. I think I did 10 classes on her all of last year.”

Speaking specifically about Shelley’s handy course, Pope noted, “There were some tight inside turns and the high options were big, but it’s great practice for derby finals; these regional championships are built real, and the ring [in Traverse City] is pretty similar to the pressure and feeling you get at derby finals,” concluded Pope. “I would say this is probably the most crowded it’s been and it’s been crowded in years past. It’s really great to see people coming here and supporting the hunters.”

Rounding out the overall podium, Greg Crolick of Clarkston, MI, and Testify, a 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Cassini II, took third for owner Jon Cotton on a final score of 352.

Hunters return to the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring during Traverse City Spring III for the $100,000 WCHR Central Spectacular, Presented by Debbie Smith, Ltd., on Saturday evening. 

For complete results, click here.


Hilary McNerney and Brava Prove Unbeatable in Traverse City National Grand Prix 

Hilary McNerney (USA) set a pace that couldn’t be caught in Saturday afternoon’s $30,000 Traverse City National Grand Prix in the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring during the second week of the Traverse City Spring Series at Flintfields Horse Park. First in the ring, first to jump-off and first to the winners’ circle, the Illinois-native piloted her own Brava to top call. 

Over courses designed by Bernardo Costa Cabral’s (POR), McNerney was quick and tidy in the irons of her 10-year-old Hanoverian mare (Balou Du Rouet x Graf Top). They set the early pace at 31.722 seconds, and barely held on throughout the six-horse jump-off. 

Hilary McNerney & Brava. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Nikko Ritter of Loxahatchee, FL, was four one-hundreths of a second from unseating McNerney from the top of the leaderboard by crossing the final timers on Aquiles Del Caribe Z, owned by Gladewinds Partners, LLC, in 31.768 seconds. Rounding out the all-American podium in a time of 32.244 seconds was Jonathan McCrea and Fantasy BB, owned by Windsor Show Stable. 

“Sometimes when you’re first, you kind of have no choice but to lay it out,” said McNerney. “I really wanted to set down the pace and see what happened. The mare is amazing and wants to win as much as I do.” 

Brava’s partnership with McNerney was one meant to be. “She’s incredible,” continued McNerney. “I tried her about two years ago and I didn’t get her at first because she wasn’t the ‘type’ of horse we were originally looking for. We knew that she was a great horse and I loved her the minute I sat on her. 

“I came back from Europe with some other horses and decided that when another one of my horses retires, if she was still available, I would get her. Sure enough, two months later one of my horses retired, I called to see if Brava was still available and she was. It was meant to be.” 

Hilary McNerney & Brava are presented as winners of the $30,000 Traverse City National Grand Prix by Matt Morrissey of Traverse City Horse Shows. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

Heading into the jump-off, McNerney knew her mare could get the job done, she just had to let her do her thing. “I thought it was a really great track,” said McNerney. “Those two turns were where you could win the class. I told myself ‘don’t pull, don’t pull, just keep going, let it go.’ Overall, I thought it was really open, there were two lines that you had to complete and the rest was turning and going, which is how a jump off should be, which is awesome.” 

After building a newer string of horses throughout the 2024 winter season, McNerney will continue to compete Brava, as well as her two stallions throughout the summer in Traverse City, in hopes of moving up over the weeks to come. 

“This is why I came to Traverse, because it’s a great place to develop horses and move up,” said McNerney. “Classes like this are great, and I’m hoping to move Brava up into the two-star next week.” 

CSI4* jumping action will pick back up on Sunday for the second international grand prix of the Spring Series, the $182,000 Southern Arches CSI4* Grand Prix.  

For complete results, click here.