Kahlua couldn't stay still. The 10-year-old mare bucked, whinnied, and galloped, sensing the pride of victory.
With an oversized blue ribbon on her saddle, it was as if she knew.
In a highly competitive jump-off, Andy Kocher and his mount, Kahlua, eked out a win Saturday night, taking home the $15,000 first prize in the Idle Dice Open Jumper Stake at the Devon Horse Show. Kocher, 35, not only finished with top honors in the class, but also picked up the show's leading rider award, and when he made it to the press room just a few minutes later, the State College native couldn't stop smiling.
"I never thought I'd be leading rider at Devon," Kocher said. "I'm almost so happy I'm quiet for the first time. If I would've won the Grand Prix, I would've really lost it. … But we're pretty happy right now."
Growing up in the Keystone State, Kocher moved from central Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia area as a kid, riding at a farm in Blue Bell. He reminisced of attending Phillies games with his dad, and although Kocher's farm is based in North Jersey, he considers himself a true Pennsylvanian.
So earning top honors at Devon for the first time was special. And it was only fitting that his partner for the night picked up her first Devon win at the same time.
"[Kahlua has] lots of personality. When I first got her, she didn't want to turn right or left," Kocher said of his mount. "She's got her own way of doing things, and, over time, I've gotten her to be agreeable. But we kind of let her do things she shouldn't be doing when she's not competing.
"In the ring, she's a totally focused machine. You've just got to watch her around the barns — honestly, she's really fit right now, but she's a big fat horse."
Just behind Kocher in the open jumper was Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, who collected $11,000 for finishing just forty-three-hundredths of a second slower than Kocher's winning time of 38.82. Trailing them was the top-ranked female American rider in the world, Beezie Madden, who wound up third aboard Breitling LS — the horse that carried her to a world championship in Paris in April — and fourth on Darry Lou.
For Kocher, though, it had all been building to this. The stakes Saturday were not nearly as high as during Thursday's Sapphire Grand Prix when he and Kahlua came up just .04 seconds shy of earning a spot in that jump-off.
But after a busy stretch the last few months, things finally came together at the nation's premier horse show.
"I really threw her to the wolves," Kocher said. "But she started doing better and better."