After last December's wild and woolly championship show--when frigid winds sent tents flying and horses shying--organizers of the Orange County Horse Shows Assn. are determined to avoid a repeat performance. This year's OCHSA finale will be held Sept. 14 through 18, long before the rainy season can even think about playing havoc with outdoor riding conditions.
By moving the show date three months earlier this year, OCHSA will determine its champions before any other major Southern California horse show organization. As many as 400 horses are expected at this year's championship show.
Mike Braun of Laguna Beach, chairman of the show at the Coto de Caza equestrian center, says this year's championship has attracted 350 qualifiers. The show began five years ago as a one-day affair with 75 qualifiers.
The spirit of the show, says Braun, is to reward all the riders for their accomplishments this season:
"The winner of every class--from the littlest junior to the winner of the high-jump--will receive a cooler and a medallion. This is the season championship, so everyone who made it here is a champion, and we want to recognize that."
Riders have been competing throughout the year in OCHSA-sanctioned shows in Orange and Los Angeles counties for the right to ride in the upcoming championship. Only riders who qualified at one of the shows--which were held from San Juan Capistrano to Chatsworth (in the San Fernando Valley) may compete in the championship.
To be eligible, a rider must be an OCHSA member. Horses qualified by placing first, second or third in First-Year Green Working Hunter and Regular Working Hunter in an OCHSA recognized show between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 this year. The horse must also have been judged in a minimum of five OCHSA recognized shows during the qualifying period.
At stake in the championship--the largest competition in the county and an official Orange County Centennial event--is a $10,000 winner-take-all high-jump award and an unusually large prize for a hunter rider in a regional championship: a $22,000 Toyota Land Cruiser.
The Toyota Hunter Classic will be open to 18 qualified riders. During the championship show, qualified entries will compete in three specified hunter classes; the top six in each class will be eligible to compete in the Toyota Hunter Classic on Sept. 17.
The Toyota winner must be a licensed driver 18 years or older and must pay taxes and registration fees on the vehicle.
The show will conclude Sept. 18 with some specialty classes, including a speed derby and a junior amateur class. The highlight of the final day will undoubtedly be the high-jump class, with a single triple-bar jump being continually raised until only one horse clears it. There is no telling how high the class will go, but some competitors in national high-jump classes have exceeded 7 feet in height.
The show, being held jointly by OCHSA and the WestMed Gold Club, will benefit United Western Medical Centers. Proceeds will help purchase a neonatal intensive care center for the pediatrics department at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.
WestMed is providing VIP tables that seat six people each throughout the show. The four-day price of a table, which includes daily refreshments and admission to the Harvest Festival on Sunday, is $350. The Harvest Festival includes a barbecue luncheon, a chili cook-off (with $600 in prize money) and live music under Coto de Caza's covered riding arena. Individual tickets for the Harvest Festival are $12.50 for adults and $7.50 for children under 12.