International Derby Finals were this past week. Tori Colvin took Champion honors on Cuba, owned by John & Stephanie Ingram, LLC, Geoffrey Hesslink was Reserve Champion, as well as Champion in Section B, on his mount, Cadoretto, and Amanda Steege came in third on Wendy Salomon’s Maitre D’. Coming in fourth was Taylor St Jacques on Heritage Farm’s Charisma.
We caught up with Geoffrey Hesslink to discuss his Reserve Championship placing in Section A and his Champion placing in Section B. (To read our previous interview with Geoffrey, click here).
When we last talked to Geoffrey, he was hopefully to have his own mount soon. He found that partner in Cadoretto, a 6 year old chestnut gelding with two white socks and a white blaze.
Geoffrey described Cadoretto, barn name “Cadbury,” as “on of the easiest young horses [he has] ever had the pleasure of working with.”
“On top of that he is the sweetest, most kind horse to deal with around the barn and in the stall. Some refer to him as the gentle giant. He will snuggle with you and lick you for hours, I absolutely adore him!”
Geoffrey had been competing in the hunters with Cadoretto, often taking home top honors. They won an International Derby at Old Salem Farm a few months ago, but Geoffrey was not expecting to go to Derby Finals. However, he said after purchasing Cadoretto and seeing his new horse’s talent, he changed his plans.
Geoffrey prepared for Finals by making sure his horse was ready. He said that knowing his horse was ready gave him peace of mind which allows him to stay calm and focused on his rides.
As for Cadbury, Geoffrey put in lots of practice which included setting up spooky or different looking jumps. They also practiced a lot of handy tracks in preparation for the handy round. Geoffrey credits his trainer, Andre Dignelli, for his preparation.
Derby Finals consists of two rounds, the Classic round and the Handy round. During the Classic round, fences are set at 3’6” to 4’ in height. There are four option fences set at a minimum height of 4’3” and no higher than 4’9”. Additionally, there is at least one of the following: An in and out, a bending line, a line with an unrelated distance, and a fence with a long approach. This year’s classic round consisted of 12 fences.
Going into the Classic round, Geoffrey wanted a “smooth round with no major mistakes.” He said he wasn’t really trying to “go for it,” but just wanted to be mistake-free and ultimately, advanced to the second round.
After the Classic round, Geoffrey found himself sitting in fourth place overall.
“I was very excited to place fourth in the classic round. I went very early in the class and maintained a strong score to stay at the top which was a nice surprise,” he said.
Next came the Handy round. For the Handy round, there must be a minimum of 8 obstacles set at 3’6” to 4’ in height with high options of a minimum of 4’3” and a maximum of 4’9”. According to the official specifications from the USHJA, the handy course should simulate riding over hunt country. As such, a minimum of three of the following handy options should be included in the course: tight turn options, different tracks, clever options for jump approaches, pen type obstacles, hand galloping to a jump, trotting a lower obstacle not to exceed 3’, a walk fence not to exceed 12” in height. The Handy round at this year’s Finals had 12 obstacles with fence no. 7 being a trot fence.
“My plan for the handy round was similar to the classic round plan. I wanted to maintain a forward pace, have another smooth round with no errors and utilize the high options when appropriate,” Geoffrey said. “My goal was to complete the course feeling good about Cadoretto and my first [D]erby [F]inals experience.”
Geoffrey placed second in the Handy round with Tori Colvin placing first and Taylor St Jacques placing third.
Overall, Geoffrey felt both courses were “excellent and very well-designed.”
When asked if anything didn’t go as planned, Geoffrey said he originally was not planning on jumping all of the high options. However, he said once he got in the ring, his horse felt “amazing,” so he changed his plan and tackled all the high options successfully.
Overall, Geoffrey said he was very pleased with how the week went, and he was especially pleased with his horse. Although Cadbury is only 6 years old, he handled the prep for Finals and the large ring, including being under the lights, like a “true champion.”
“To take a 6-year-old horse to an event of that caliber and be that successful is so rewarding for me,” Geoffrey said.
Geoffrey said it is hard to put into words how he feels about bringing home Reserve Champion for Section A and Champion for Section B at his very first Derby Finals. He said he is extremely grateful for the opportunity, is incredibly humbled, and has certainly set the bar high for years to come.
Geoffrey had a successful junior career and was a working student for many years for Heritage Farm. He said he feels that experience greatly helped him get to where he is today.
“Determination and hard work have been the biggest factors in getting me where I am today. If I have learned anything in this business it is that no one will hand you anything[,] and you have to work to be successful in and out of the show ring,” he said. “Being a working student when I was young taught me how to manage myself and my horses and gave me perspective on what it really takes to be successful in this sport. In addition to that I have had some terrific mentors along the way and I try to learn as much as I can from them.”
Geoffrey also said that he believes if an equestrian works hard, there is a way to make opportunities for oneself so that one can pursue the sport without the financial means that other equestrians may be fortunate enough to have.
“It is not easy, but if you are passionate about the sport and willing to make sacrifices and work hard it is possible. Finding the right opportunity is very important,” he said. “I had complete support from my parents and family as well as great trainers.”
Currently, Cadbury is taking a small break before the fall. Geoffrey plans on attending some of the indoor shows, as well as the Hampton Classic, Gold Cup, and Capital Challenge. Finally, Geoffrey will be in Wellington for the winter circuit where he will continue competing in the professional hunter divisions and in hunter derbies. He also hopes to break into the jumper ring this year and become competitive in the U25 Grand Prix classes.
While Geoffrey has not made any concrete plans yet for his professional status, he said he does really enjoy riding, training, and showing all types of horses.
“Each horse, whether it is a client’s horse, my own horse[,] or a catch ride, provides challenges and opportunities to improve and learn. Each horse can teach me something as well as a rider and that makes every ride unique and special,” he said.
Geoffrey said he also enjoys teaching and helping other riders.
“It is really fun to see a rider make a connection with their horse and have success … I believe that as a professional in this sport we need to give to others and support other riders,” he said.
As for next year, Geoffrey plans to continue to be competitive in the professional hunter divisions, the National and International Hunter Derbies, and the U25 Grand Prix classes.
Geoffrey certainly showed his talent as a junior rider with some big wins in the big equitation classes, and he is certainly proving to be a big contender in the professional hunter divisions.
To see Geoffrey’s rides at Derby Finals, as well as other individual rides and the full class, you can click here.