Variety is not just the spice of life, it’s essential to well-rounded horsemanship and a happy horse. That’s one of the reasons that Foxfield’s Jumping Derby has been a fall fixture on the Southern California hunter/jumper scene for 28 years and counting.
Set this year for Sun., Oct. 5, and a sister event to the 37th annual Foxfield Medal Finals on Sat., Oct. 4, the Derby features a course of obstacles both inside and outside the ring. Divided into one class for Junior and Amateurs and an Open class, the Derby starts in the centerpiece of this famous Westlake Village riding school, the sunken, stonewall-lined main arena. After a few conventional show jumping obstacles there, riders jump up over a bank and out of the arena to tackle several permanent fences. These are part of the lovely cross-country course that meanders through the tree-dotted property known as Sherwood Forest. Then it’s back down the bank and into the arena for a few final fences.
Last year’s Derby course began with three jumps in the ring, 11 efforts in the field, including a Liverpool and a down-bank back into the ring, then a triple combination and two individual jumps at the close of the course. The Junior/Amateur Derby begins at 3’6” to 3’9” first-round fence heights, and offers $1,500 in prize money. The Open Derby is set at 3’9” to 4’ and offers $4,999. In both classes ties for first are determined by a timed jump-off.
Getting out of the ring is a great way to embolden horse and rider, says Foxfield co-founder JoAnn Postel. And it’s a ton of fun. Every year, the Derby attracts a lot of regulars, but the Foxfield crew encourages everybody to give it a try. JoAnn acknowledges that those who have only jumped in an arena may fret about getting out of it. “I think it is the up and down banks that worry most people,” she says. Competitors are invited to Foxfield to school over the banks and outdoor obstacles anytime up until two weeks before the Derby itself. Advance arrangements are required, but these are easily attained by calling Foxfield’s famously friendly main office and getting a relatively quiet time to visit the venue for schooling.
To provide a fair playing field, competitors who board and train at Foxfield are prohibited from schooling these cross-country jumps during the same two-week, pre-Derby period.
Dianne Grod began the Derby’s proud history of winners when she and Pragon took the inaugural title in 1980. The winners list since then is full of famous names: Susie Hutchison, Larry Mayfield, Hap Hansen, Derek DiGrazia, Kyle King, Holly Scapa, Olympic-bound Will Simpson and Mark Watring, just to name a few. Foxfield’s most famous graduate and the world’s current number one show jumper, Meredith Michaels Beerbaum, won the Junior Amateur Derby in 1983.
All of Sunday is devoted to the Derbies. Jumping orders are drawn in the early morning, then the course is open for inspection. The Junior/Amateur Derby is followed by a buffet for exhibitors and trainers, and the Open Derby and awards ceremonies close out the day.
The Derby’s older sister, the Foxfield Medal Finals, takes the spotlight on Sat., Oct. 4. Entry is earned through qualifiers throughout the year in either the 18-35 age bracket or the 36 and over division. The Final consists of two-round equitation classes in each age division, after which division champions are crowned. The top 10 overall riders proceed to a work-off for the title of Grand Champion. In-between rounds, all finalists are treated to a gourmet buffet at JoAnn and Bill Postel’s home on the property. “It’s a day that is just special for the finalists,” explains JoAnn. “There is no other event that day and the luncheon is a nice chance for people to relax and talk. It’s not the usual horse show rat-race day.”
Eschewing the often-crazy pace of a normal horse show is par for the course at Foxfield. Even when the riding and the competition get tense, it’s hard to feel stressed at the school’s lovely and legendary setting. Begun in 1967 by JoAnn, her husband Bill Postel and JoAnn’s twin sister Nancy Turrill, the Foxfield Riding School came to wide renown through performances by its on-the-wire drill team. Its everyday training program, “Little Sister” program and summer camps continue to give a huge swath of horse enthusiasts access to the sport and a firm grounding in good, old-fashioned horsemanship.
For more information on the Foxfield Jumping Derby and the Foxfield Medal Finals, please visit www.foxfield.com or call 805-495-5515.