Lexington, KY – Jul 28, 2022 – The Stonelea Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park plays host to very competitive hunter competition during the Kentucky Summer horse show circuit. After several successful rides throughout the last two days, Christopher Payne retained his crown as Grand Hunter Champion, sponsored by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, aboard Stillwater Farm LLC’s Gratitude. The duo came ready to dominate, taking home multiple first place finishes in addition to third in the High Performance Confirmation Hunter classes Wednesday and Thursday. Payne also took first in the Green Hunter Incentive Stake 3’6” and 3’9” Wednesday, which awarded the pair the Grand Hunter Champion title with a total of 44 points.

Christopher Payne and Gratitude. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Hunter competition is all about precision and form. Horse and rider combinations are evaluated on performance and execution; horses are judged on pace, movement, and style, while their rider counterparts are judged on position and control. The coveted title of Grand Hunter Champion in the Kentucky Summer Horse Show is awarded to the competitor with the most points accumulated in the Green 3’3” Hunter, Green 3’6” Hunter, Green 3’9” Hunter, High-Performance Confirmation Hunter, or the High-Performance Working Hunter Divisions.

No stranger to the sport, Payne and the 8-year-old Warmblood gelding took home the title for the fourth time in the last two years. In last year’s show, the pair shared the honor with Scott Stewart and “Persuasive” after both horse-and-rider combinations finished the two-day competition with a total of 44 points. However, the pair has not relinquished its hold on the title since the 2021 Kentucky Summer horse show and has stood alone with the title ever since. 

Christopher Payne and Gratitude. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

Over the course of two days, Payne piloted Gratitude consistently through each track they faced, racking up top scores over fences and under saddle. Gratitude kept a consistent pace throughout each round and maneuvered obstacles with ease, propelling the pair to the top of the podium as Grand Hunter Champion. 

Hunter competition is slated to continue Friday in the Stonelea ring, with the Amateur-Owner 18-35 starting at 8:00am EST.


Christopher Payne – Grand Hunter Champion

On his relationship with Gratitude: 

“He’s a funny horse. He’s there to win it and he’s very in control of the situation. I kind of just follow him around the course and he puts in beautiful efforts, and I just try not to do something wrong. He’s such a natural, good jumper that I just need to put him in striking range and he does the rest.” 

On how he continues to win this coveted title: 

I’m very lucky. I have some owners in Stillwater Farm LLC that support the hunter industry. They have hunters for me to show and I find that very admirable. The facility is amazing. I’m lucky that I have the support behind me. David Belford makes sure the horses are just absolutely perfect; they look the part, they’re ready to go in the ring and win if I do my job. Also, Leo Marin, the groom, takes care of [Gratitude] and has him looking like a million dollars. 

On his plans for the future with Gratitude: 

“I’ll go through indoors and the confirmations, he’s done pretty well with that. And then go through some more derbies on him. He’s so brave and so scopey but I haven’t added that many derbies to him right now because he does the confirmation division so well. But down the road, I’ll definitely do some more derbies with him.”


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