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Local equestrians claim top prize at Chagrin Valley Farms

Shadyside resident Barbara Halpern recently competed at the Chagrin Valley Farms Winter A-rated horse show in Cleveland. Submitted

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By Alex Oltmanns
Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Train as you might, in the end, success at an equestrian competition can come down to the horse.

So says Jill Hardie, 52, of Glenshaw, who with Barbara Halpern, 64, of Shadyside, took first-place awards Jan. 17-20 in a top horse show in Cleveland.

Hardie rode Eli, who she stables at her home in Glenshaw, and Hardie credits the Hanoverian cross horse for her win at the Chagrin Valley Farms Winter A-rate show.

“(Eli) is easy to work with,” Hardie said. “He's a quick learner and very talented.

“He makes my job a little bit easier. I've had other ones that have been much more difficult and not as easy as this one.”

Hardie took the top title in the Baby Green Hunter division, for horses with minimal experience.

Halpern took first in the Low Adult Hunters division, for non-professional riders on experienced horses, riding Trusted, a 15-year-old chestnut gelding.

Top scores in the hunters' division mean riders meet standards for form, grace and consistency, among other factors. Even the rhythm of the horse's stride is calculated.

“There are eight fences and you have to be very steady and you have to have an even pace,” Halpern said. “The horse has to jump in perfect form. The reason my horse wins a lot is because he really jerks his knees up over each fence.

“The judges like that because it's a safe way to jump. He's not going to catch his hoof on the fence and flip over. Plus, on the flats he has a sweeping gate. In other words, when he trots his legs go in a low sweeping movement to the ground.”

Both Halpern and Hardie have been training with freelance instructor Ahna Cafaro at the Horse on Course Equestrian Center in Valencia. Halpern drives to the center every day while Hardie trains at home.

Halpern's appearance in Cleveland was her first since breaking five bones after falling while test riding a horse in Florida.

“I was very nervous,” said Halpern, who ran the Hartwood Show Jumping Festival from 1990-2000 at Hartwood Acres in Hampton and Indiana townships.

But she credits Cafaro — and a set of hockey shoulder pads she now wears for protection — with helping her return to competition.

“(Cafaro) has been extremely instrumental in building my confidence back so that I am confident enough to go back in a show ring.”

When Halpern is not riding, she helps raise funds for the Western Pennsylvania Professional Horsemen's Association.

“To go out for the first time to a big rated show like this and to have this much success, I was just on cloud nine,” she said.

“It's a really great feeling to know that the hard work you've put into the running, all the training and stuff that goes into it has paid off.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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