WELLINGTON — March 22 2015 – Paige Johnson recorded a milestone victory late Saturday night in the $127,000 Engel & Volkers Grand Prix at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Johnson, 29, of Wellington and Middleburg, Va., became the first black American to win a major grand prix in WEF history.
Johnson and her 12-year-old Belgian warmblood mare Dakota clinched the four-rider jump-off with the fastest clear round of 47.47 seconds and pocketed $41,910, her biggest paycheck in show jumping.
Johnson finished ahead of her trainer of three years, Kent Farrington and 9-year-old Belgian warmblood mare Gazelle, the only other clear team in 47.95.
“This is a huge moment,” Farrington said. “I am really excited for her tonight. She has had a great season. To see Paige have the biggest win of her career tonight was huge.
“We started a couple of years ago and set out on some goals, and we are slowly checking them off one at a time. This was a big one tonight.”
Johnson, the daughter of BET founders Robert and Sheila Johnson, has been a competitive rider since she was 5, training in Florida and Virginia. She also won the $34,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup this season.
“I came into this circuit hoping to win a WEF and I did that week six,” Paige Johnson said. “My next goal was to win a grand prix. I had no idea it would happen the same season. You can imagine that I am super excited and happy. Kent is my trainer, so it feels like the hard work, the team and everything around us is really paying off and that is a great feeling.”
Johnson is the 10th different rider to win a “Saturday Night Lights” grand prix event this season.
Canadian Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze has dominated the Thursday Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup events, winning a record five, including four consecutive titles. His most recent victory was Thursday with 12-year-old Hanoverian mare Fine Lady 5. The pair had a clear jump-off round in 34.47.
On Sunday, Farrington came back to win the $85,000 Suncast 1.50-meter Championship Jumper Classic with Waomi in a clear round of 38.18 seconds on the Derby Field at The Stadium.
Adrienne Sternlicht, 21, and Quidam MB won the $50,000 Artisan Farms Under-25 Grand Prix Final, and Lucy Deslauriers, 15, was crowned overall series winner, two days after winning the George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship.
The 12-week WEF circuit, featuring $8.2 million in prize money, winds up this week with events Wednesday through Sunday, including the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5 Saturday at 7 p.m.
What is it like to compete on the Global Champions Tour? Horse & Style asked grand prix rider Paige Johnson, a regular on the GCT circuit, why she makes a special effort to participate in one of the world’s best show jumping tours.
Johnson, who just notched the biggest win of her career this past Saturday night in the $127,000 Engel & Volkers Grand Prix CSI4* during the Winter Equestrian Festival’s Week 11, is a lifelong rider who trains with Kent Farrington out of her family’s Salamander Farm in Wellington, FL and The Plains, VA. She remembers visiting the Global Champions Tour at Valkenswaard, The Netherlands, as a teenager, and being wowed by the experience. “I was 15 and I remember calling my mom from the show and telling her I couldn’t believe how amazing it was,” Johnson recalls. “Just to see how [the GCT] has grown since then and how many locations it is in now is incredible.”
Johnson competed in London, England last year at the GCT Horse Guards Parade venue, and is excited to compete at GCT stop in Paris, France for the first time this season.
“It takes you to places you never thought you’d be competing,” she says. “Jan Tops and his entire team at the GCT are visionaries in that aspect. The VIPs are beautifully crafted, the shows are so well run and the atmosphere is fantastic. It truly is another league.”
With the WEF Week 11 grand prix win under her belt, Johnson is looking forward to competing at the GCT Miami more than ever. The tour will make its US debut in Miami from April 2 -4 with a spectacular venue right on Miami beach. “It’s definitely going to be a nice change of scenery!” Johnson jokes. “Who would have thought we’d be having a horse show right on the beach. And the timing in really smart. For the riders who are doing the World Cup [Final, April 15-19 in Last Vegas, NV], they can set themselves up for indoors. It’s a great transitional show for them.”
Not to mention, an amazing opportunity to watch the best in the world compete. That’s one of Johnson’s favorite things about the GCT. The quality of riders who flock to the tour’s 15 stops are unmatched, and for Johnson, just being around them, not to mention riding against them, is inspiring in itself.
With just two weeks to go until the 2015 Global Champions Tour kicks off in Miami, Johnson is taking the time to rest her top mount Dakota, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare. Dakota carried Johnson to the win in the Engel and Volkers Grand Prix, giving them both an essential boost of confidence before they tackle the brand new venue in Miami. The countdown is on.