The 2019 Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities Championship Finals were held at the Hampton Classic on Monday, with 19 riders across three divisions competing for the year-end titles.
The day began with a breakfast in one of the VIP Chalets, where top hunter-jumper rider Heather Caristo-Williams presented ribbons to each rider who had qualified to compete in the finals.
Following the breakfast, United States Equestrian Federation R-rated judge Phil DeVita put each group through its paces and awarded Champion and Reserve Champions accordingly. DeVita first judged these finals in 2016 and considers it an honor to be part of their year-end finale.
“It’s such a joy and pleasure to be able to be a part of what means so much to these athletes and this organization,” DeVita said. “I judged some of these riders two years ago, and I think the caliber and quality of the riders today is even better today. I could really see the work and progress they have all made, from riders to trainers and parents. It’s very special to see how much effort and energy they are all putting into this.”
In the leader/sidewalker division, Isaiah Forte was champion with My Fairy Tale Hero. Reserve Champion was Julia Glenz with 5thAvenue.
In the beginner independent division, Kylie Long took first place honors with Reade, and Reserve Champion went to Sheridan Basso with Cup O’ Joe.
In the advanced independent division, Sophie Baghdassarian was champion with The Devil Wears Prada. Reserve Champion went to Noah Capps riding My Fairy Tale Hero.
Lisa Zimmerman, founding member and managing director of LIHSSRD, explained that most of the horses for the year-end finals are borrowed and shared, and these riders only get one or two opportunities to get to know their mounts in advance of the Hampton Classic.
“It’s a very unique circumstance that few other riders ever experience,” Zimmerman said. “It really makes their rides and their successes that much greater.”
Zimmerman emphasized the importance of having a year-end final at the Hampton Classic as something these riders work toward the entire year, not just the competition season.
“Isiah Forte started at 8 or 9 riding a pony here, and now he’s 15 and riding a horse and was champion in his division,” Zimmerman said. “He’s getting ready to move up another level and division next year. It’s great for them to use this as their goal and wonderful to see them successful.”
Shanette Barth Cohen, the executive director of the Hampton Classic, said: “It’s such an honor for the Hampton Classic to host the LIHSSRD series finals again this year. These riders are an outstanding example of meeting challenges head-on.”