This year’s Twilight Jumpers finale on August 31 at Great Meadow brought in one of the largest turnouts in the show’s eight-year history, and spectators were treated to a jam-packed field of top riders competing for the prize money. The series, which was conceived in 2011 as a way to give green horses and riders inexpensive experience in front of a lively local crowd, still serves that original purpose.
This season’s exhibitors ranged in experience; grand prix riders piloted new mounts under stadium lights for the first time, and seasoned show horses proved their worth to young riders, who benefited from the mental challenge of riding in front of hundreds of spectators. Many familiar faces toured the course over the four summer nights of the 2018 season; Twilight Jumpers regular Matt Hollberg won three out of the four 1.30 meter $5,000 Mini Prix classes, including the finale. But this year welcomed some new talent to the arena as well. Devon Zebrovious had been a spectator for years, but decided to jump into the ring this year and enter the Child/Adult Classic on her mount Morningstar. Zebrovious went on to decisively win both the June and July shows.
“Having a large local crowd right on the rail as you are jumping is both an impetus to succeed, as well as a distraction,” she says, referring to the eye-level spectators lined up on the arena edge, often just feet away from a jump. “However, doing a victory gallop in front of that same crowd while wearing the winner’s cooler and sash is an unbelievable feeling!” Every detail of the show series has been designed by experienced jumper riders to cater to developing horses and riders. “It was very nice that the course designer built up the courses in terms of technicality and speed over the course of the season,” says Zebrovious, “…and you really saw improvement in those pairs that did the entire series.” Zebrovious had her share of blips this season as well, pulling her first rail in her first show and closing the series with an unexpected dismount in what had been a great round to that point. But the riders’ support from the crowd is the same, she says appreciatively, whether they won or had some bobbles.”
The supportive atmosphere on the spectators’ lawn is mirrored in the riding community. The first class of the evening is dedicated to a horse that was a regular in the Twilight Jumpers program with rider Alison Wichman through 2016. For the last two seasons, riders have competed to win the “Candide” Memorial $500 Child/Adult Classic in honor of the chestnut horse who had become such a fan favorite. This year saw the loss of another member of the Twilight Jumpers community in Alex Korompis. Show manager Elizabeth Billings said the Dutch horse breeding genius and all-around friend to all was always at Twilight Jumpers if he was in town. “He knew and was known to all the riders—a friendly smiling face who knew the breeding of the horses often better than the riders and owners themselves.”
The inaugural Alex Korompis Sportsmanship Award was awarded to a dear friend of Korompis, Hungarian rider David Matisz. “David has grown to be a competitive Grand prix rider, but more importantly a very kind and well liked, helpful face at the horse shows,” says Billings. “Alex would be proud to know he was the 2018 recipient.” Korompis’ friends at Windsor Farm sponsored the award that was given in his memory at the 2018 series finale.
To continue to foster the level of horsemanship displayed by Korompis, Matisz, and the other exhibitors, Billings exchanged the traditional tug of war with the new Pony Club stick pony races during the course change. “Pony Club has been dwindling in the USA, and we are big believers in its value…of building interest in horses and all around strong horsemanship,” says Billings, speaking on behalf of the High Performance Equestrian Foundation, the beneficiary organization behind Twilight Jumpers. The show’s organizers continue to find ways to improve footing, lighting, and prize money as they look toward 2019. But with eight great years of community building in the books, the Friday night spectators know that the spring will bring back familiar faces (both furry and helmeted), family fun and high-quality competition. “It literally takes a village,” says Billings. “That’s what makes living in the Piedmont so fantastic!”
Twilight Jumpers benefits the High Performance Equestrian Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit aimed at leveling the playing field for the “capable, under-funded rider.” For more information, visit www.equestrianfoundation.com.
Story and photos by Callie Broaddus.
This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue.