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Matthew Sampson and Paul Walker Claim Top Honors in $50,000 Equiline Holiday Finale Grand Prix

Matthew Sampson and Paul Walker ©Anne Gittins Photography.

Wellington, FL – January 3, 2021 – Competition came to an end at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) on Sunday in the International Arena with the $50,000 Equiline Holiday Finale Grand Prix. Thirty-four riders representing 11 nations competed over the course designed by Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA). Last to go in the jump-off, Matthew Sampson (GBR) piloted Gut Einhaus, LLC’s Paul Walker to the fastest time of the class to claim victory. Sunday’s classes concluded the ESP Holiday Finale Show as well as the ESP Holiday Series.

“He’s an incredible horse. He has jumped two classes since he’s been in Florida. That was two weeks ago before Christmas and he was clear in both,” Sampson said of the 2011 Hanoverian gelding by Perigueux x Cornet Obolensky. “It’s my first time in Florida, so it’s been a great start. The course was good, the first round was a long and really careful course, which suited my horse in particular because he is so careful.”

The first course that the horses and riders were tested over consisted of 13 fences, and nine duos successfully completed the first round to advance to the seven-fence jump-off. Sixth in the original order, Sydney Shulman (ISR) and Jill Shulman’s J-Boston S.E. were the first to go clear, followed by Luis Pedro Biraben (ARG) aboard his own Chacco Bumpy to force a jump-off. The seven additional riders to join the jump-off were Molly Ashe Cawley (USA), Jessica Mendoza (GBR), Jacqueline Steffens (CAN), Mac Cone (CAN), Paul O’Shea (IRL), Simon McCarthy (IRL), and Matthew Sampson (GBR).

First to return to the ring over the short course, Shulman and J-Boston S.E. were able to produce a second fault-free ride to set the pace with a time of 39.42 seconds. Mendoza and Carly Day’s Casanova 499 soon took over the lead after stopping the timers at 38.86 seconds. The duo remained in first until the last rider, Sampson, sliced a full second off of Mendoza’s leading time, piloting Paul Walker to a winning time of 37.52 seconds to secure the lead spot in the victory gallop.

“I always know that Jessica Mendoza is fast because I’ve been riding against her all our lives, so I just tried to do as much as I could without doing anything crazy to knock a fence down, and luckily it paid off!” Sampson commented regarding his plan for the jump-off. “I got six strides to the double which is quite a long distance. Jessica did seven and then I got one less stride to the last fence. Jessica did do one less stride than me to the second fence, but I think the one less stride to the double was what probably helped us out.”

For more information and results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.

Florida Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit Concludes Memorable Year with Record-Breaking Event

Laina Banks & Strawberri Wine. Photo by Cody Parmenter Photography.

Tampa, Fla. – Dec. 31, 2020 – The Florida Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit celebrated another record-breaking season in one of the more memorable years at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center. The weather was perfect for the five-day event, which recorded thousands of entries featuring the nation’s top Quarter Horses and riders vying for coveted awards and year-end points at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

High Point winners in 12 divisions received a gift certificate for Rod Patrick boots worth $995. Reserve High Point competitors received chaps conchos designed by Holly Spagnola. Third place recipients were awarded with a beautiful wool cooler.

This year, Laina Banks of Schulenburg, Texas rode her horse Strawberri Wine to the winner’s circle in every circuit award category, a feat that made this year’s Gold Coast truly special. She and her husband Ken Banks occasionally compete against one another, which can make for exciting competition. However, this year, the pair rode in different events and each was able to capture a high point award.

Laurie Stewart of Ocala, Florida has been riding since she was eight years old, but she only returned to the show ring a few years ago. Winning the Level 1 Amateur W/J high point on her horse Suddenly Goodtherapy was a dream come true.

Eight-year-old Alyvia Kladny of Westminster, Maryland enjoys competing with her horse Dangerously Famous in the horsemanship classes. Even though the young talent won the Level 1 Youth Walk/Jog high point award, she likes to lope whenever she gets the chance.

The Florida Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit concludes a memorable event and looks forward to continuing tradition in 2021. For more information about the Gold Coast, click here.

Allyson Lagiovane
(561) 753-3389 | al@phelpsmediagroup.com

Bank of America Challenge Regional Stakes Set to Kick Off in March

The tentative schedule of 2021 regional Bank of America Racing Challenge races is available. It can be found at www.aqha.com/racing.

The Bank of America Racing Challenge program offers Challenge-enrolled horses more opportunity to race in various categories at racetracks around the world. At year’s end, qualified horses are invited to attend the Bank of America Challenge Championships, which in 2021 is set to be held at The Downs at Albuquerque in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Next year, several racetracks will add new regional stakes that were not previously offered at their location.

Among these is The Downs at Albuquerque, which will offer a $65,000-added Bank of America Albuquerque Championship Challenge in late August. This is in addition to the track’s other regional race it hosts, the AQHA Albuquerque Distance Challenge, set to run in mid-August.

Grants Pass in Grants Pass, Oregon also will for the first time offer the $40,000-added Bank of America Grants Pass Championship Challenge at 440 yards for older horses.

Indiana Grand will host two regional Challenge races – the $30,000-added John Deere Indiana Grand Juvenile Challenge and the $20,000-added Merial Indiana Grand Distaff Challenge.

The Bank of America Challenge regional races are scheduled to begin March 27 when Remington Park is set to offer the $60,000-added Bank of America Remington Championship Challenge.

Mark your calendars for October 23, 2021, when the winners of the various AQHA Challenge regional stakes will convene in New Mexico at The Downs at Albuquerque for the Bank of America Challenge Championships.

Enrollment nominations for the Bank of America Racing Challenge are due December 31.

American Quarter Horse Association
1600 Quarter Horse Drive
Amarillo, TX 79104

When You Get an Opportunity, Then Grab It with Both Hands: David O’Connor

David O’Connor (USA) with the brilliant Custom Made who claimed individual gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. (Photo credit: FEI)

It’s probably not that surprising that David O’Connor’s career thrived throughout the era of long-format Eventing, because if you’ve crossed the vast expanse of North America on horseback when you’re just 11 years old then going the distance is unlikely to be daunting at any stage of your life.

The 2000 Olympic Eventing champion retired from international competition in 2004, served as President of the United Stated Equestrian Federation (USEF) for the next eight years, and was inducted into the United States Eventing Association’s Hall of Fame in 2009. He now trains young horses, coaches riders, and designs courses, and he sees it all as a natural progression. “I’m in this game 45 years, and as time goes on you move on to the next level. For me that’s the training side of the sport, and I really enjoy it a lot,” says the man who became Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee three years ago.

He’s travelling to a show the day I call him up to ask him about his life and times. So how did he get started with horses? Did his family have a generational connection with them?

“No, my mum was brought up in suburban London (GBR) and she rode a bit, but it was only when she came to the US that she really got into it. My father wasn’t horsey at all; he worked in the Navy, but my brother Brian and I went to the local Pony Club when we were kids and that’s how it all began,” he explains. Mum, Sally O’Connor, would go on to become a Dressage rider, judge, and author while Brian’s voice is one of the most recognisable on the US equestrian commentary circuit. David, meanwhile, became a superstar Eventing athlete, greatly admired for the long and successful partnerships he established with a superb string of horses.

Ambitions

He says he didn’t have big ambitions as a child. “We weren’t wealthy so I never thought horses would be my life,” he explains. But when he was 17 years old, fate intervened. Spotted by legendary coach Jack Le Goff, he joined training sessions for development riders staged at the USEF Training Centre in Massachusetts (USA) and was invited to stay on.

“It was an amazing opportunity, a door that opened for me and I kinda ran through it as fast as I could! I was there for four-and-a-half years, and without that opportunity I’m really not sure where my life would have gone.”

His teenage heroes included Jimmy Wofford, Mike Plumb, “and Bruce (Davidson), who was dominating the sport across the world at the time.” David has maintained a lifetime connection with Jimmy, who he describes as a mentor and great friend. Like Jimmy, David’s career almost completely embraced the long-format era of Eventing which was very different to the scaled-back test horses and riders face today.

The old three-day formula consisted of Dressage on day 1 followed by Roads and Tracks, Steeplechase, more Roads and Tracks, and then Cross-Country on day 2, with showjumping on the third and final day.

“I was the last long-format winner at the Olympic Games (Sydney 2000) and World Championships (Jerez 2002), and I experienced the change to the modern-day sport,” he points out. “It’s certainly different doing a 13-minute course back then and an 11-minute course now. Today the intensity is higher, so horses can get out of breath quite quickly if you don’t manage your speed. Back then we managed galloping all the time, the horses were very fit, more thoroughbred types. There are horses that are not as thoroughbred that can do quite well in a 4-Star today, but they can’t manage a 5-Star. Now it’s all about turning and accuracy and having horses jump narrow fences… the rideability is more important than the athletic ability, whereas the athletic ability was more important back then. And there’s a huge difference between showjumping after cross-country and showjumping before,” he adds.

Brilliant horses

David had many brilliant horses, the best-remembered possibly his Olympic rides Giltedge and Custom Made. At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, he rode Giltedge to team silver and Custom Made to individual fifth place, and four years later Custom Made claimed individual gold in Sydney (AUS) while Giltedge was on the bronze-medal-winning US side.

So how would these two special Irish-bred horses cope with the challenges of the modern sport?

“Giltedge would be just as successful now as he was back then because he was extremely rideable and a very good showjumper, in fact he would have an even better career now because he would have been totally in the game! Custom Made would still be a big 5-Star horse; he would revel in it just like he did because his big wins were all over galloping courses like Badminton, Kentucky, the Sydney Olympics, but probably not so much at Olympic Games and World Championships because the courses are getting shorter and more twisting and turning and that wouldn’t play to his strengths.

“One of the great things about these two, and many of our other horses like Biko and Prince Panache, was that they stayed sound and played the game for so long. They were Irish-bred and we can’t afford to lose the genetic advantages that the Irish bloodlines bring, like longevity and athleticism, which maybe some of the other countries don’t have,” he says.

When it comes to longevity, Custom Made was a perfect example, only passing away last year at the ripe old age of 34.

Prepare

So how did he prepare horses like these two all-time greats? “With a lot of long, slow work three or four months away from the event to put a base on them, and faster work closer to the competition,” he explains. The long, slow work was exactly that. “Sometimes you’d spend two hours on them riding up and down hills, trotting, slow cantering, and walking. Some of the kids coming up now don’t want to put that work in,” he points out.

And did the horses have similar personalities? “No, Custom Made (a.k.a. Tailor) had tremendous strength and scope and the most unbelievable gallop. He never got tired in his life and was an incredible athlete, but he was quite sensitive about a lot of things and when he got nervous he got very strong.

“But I never had a horse try as hard as Giltedge; he always rose to the occasion. There was this super-power thing that happened at a competition; he would turn into a horse that fought for you more than any other horse I’ve had in my life. That’s why he became such a great team horse for the US. I only ever had one rail down in showjumping with him and he was always going to be in the top 10 – he was one of those troopers you could always rely on,” David says proudly.

He relishes the relationships he had with both horses. “At the beginning of their careers I felt they were part of my career but towards the end of their competitive cycle it was me who was part of theirs! I just had to do my job and let them get on with theirs. When they retired, we gave demonstrations and they became even more famous. They had a huge fan-club; people just loved them, and not many horses get that because there are not a lot of really famous horses around anymore – I think their longevity had a lot to do with that,” he comments.

Family ride

When I ask him about the family ride across the United States of America, I can tell that there’s a determined streak in the O’Connor gene pool. He recalls a family dinner during which his mother announced her plan. “She had this romantic image of the US as the Wild West… John Wayne and all that. We lived in Maryland on the East Coast and she came up with the idea that we should ride to California on the West Coast, and the more people said it couldn’t happen the more she was determined it would. It was an amazing decision for her to make!” David says with a laugh.

So on 13th May 1973 they set off on the 3,000 mile trip that took 14 weeks to complete. “I was 11, Brian was 13 and it was just the three of us. We ended up going to Oregon instead of California because otherwise we would have had to cross the desert, and we didn’t quite make it to the west coast because Brian and I had to go back to school at the end of August,” David says. Brian’s horse did the full distance while David and Sally both needed remounts en route, turning the original two out to rest until they were collected on the way home.

“My mother knew people across the first-half of the country, and we stayed with them about every 10 days and gave the horses a couple of days off each time. But we didn’t know anybody beyond the Mississippi River, so we just knocked on people’s doors when we got to the end of the day, explained what we were doing and everyone East of the river said, ‘You’re going WHERE?!’ and everybody West said, ‘You’re from WHERE?!’ We were doing 30-35 miles a day and local newspapers started following us.

“It was an amazing trip for an 11-year-old kid and taught me a lot about spending time with horses and appreciation of the land and how people make a living. And it gave me a sense of time, not control over time but how to enjoy being in the moment, and that has always stayed with me. It was 47 years ago, and I still think about it often,” David says, clearly enjoying the memories.

Bitless

I ask David about riding without a bit in the horse’s mouth. He’s quite an advocate for bitless riding, but he points out that it has its limitations when it comes to competition.

“We start all of our young horses in rope halters without a bit, and when we are going on a quiet hack most are in just a halter, and we practice this a lot. They learn to go, stop, turn, rein-back, and all that, so when we put a bit in their mouth there is no anxiety about it.

“But there’s a huge difference when you are out on a course for 8 to 10 minutes galloping at a speed of 570 metres a minute. You can’t compare riding in a ring or quietly hacking with the need for the horse to be able to answer cross-country questions – they are two totally different things. From a risk-management point of view there is no way I would ever go cross-country for miles without having a bit.”

Admired

I ask him about the people he most admired during his time at the top of the sport and the first person he mentions is, unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s Mark Todd – “a great horseman and a good friend.”

He describes the period when he and his wife and fellow-Olympian, Karen O’Connor, lived in England as “magical. In the 90s, we were part of a group of riders including Mary King (GBR) and Blythe Tait (NZL) who were all there at the same time competing against each other and who became the best of friends. It drove us all to be better, there were 15 players at the top of the world sport all living near each other and it was a very special time,” he recalls.

So why didn’t he and Karen stay in Great Britain? “We had the opportunity to ride for Mrs Mars who became a big supporter of ours. She bought a place in Virginia and asked us to come back and run a High Performance Programme out of there. But if that opportunity hadn’t come our way, we might have stayed – who knows?” he says.

Wisdom

Finally, I ask David to share some wisdom with the next generation of young Event athletes. “The main thing is to have a goal that’s way out in front of you and to work hard to get there. Surround yourself with the best people you can find and learn your craft to the nth degree.

“As Mark Twain wrote. ‘It’s very easy to learn the tricks of the trade and never learn the trade.’ You need to learn every aspect of the trade and that includes the people part, the horse part, the riding part, the competitive part, and the management part. You don’t become a winner because you’re talented and you deserve it; you have to be driven and you need to be hungry if you want to succeed.

“And one of the things I tell all my students is that when you get an opportunity [like David did when spotted by Jack Le Goff], then grab it with both hands!”

By Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

5 Stunning Horse-Riding Destinations to Visit around the World

The best thing about horseback riding is it’s an activity that can be done pretty much anywhere in the world. You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself to one area; you can enjoy the same sport in places beyond your favorite stables for an enriching experience.

Horse riding can be much more than a sport — as traveling and being able to see the world on horseback is an extraordinary luxury that’s worth the trip. If you’re planning an equestrian vacation in the near future, here are some places worth exploring:

Turkey

In Cappadocia, a place famous for being the “Land of Beautiful Horses”, a horseback ride is highly recommended. In fact, some would argue that it’s one of the few things travelers should prioritize when heading there. Riders can saddle up on Arabian or Barb horses which are native to the area, and they can explore trails that go through ancient Turkish villages, Byzantine-era churches, and centuries-old monasteries, underground cities, and valleys surrounded by orchards and fairy chimney rock formations.

USA

The Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is considered one of the world’s most striking places to ride horses. The canyon is beset with pink and red hoodoos and rock spires that have eroded into unique formations, making it a worthy place to visit for those who wish to experience something new and spectacular. According to seasoned cowboys, spring is the best time to make the trip, as there’s still snow atop the rusty red hoodoos, and seeing them is an experience in and of itself.

Vietnam

Vietnam is a popular destination in Asia, but it’s usually associated with tropical beaches. This guide to Vietnam by Expat Bets outlines the many activities you can do in this Southeast Asian gem — from visiting heritage sites and scuba diving to rappelling and enjoying its coastal cities. Beyond that, Vietnam is also fast becoming a burgeoning haven for horse lovers, with many foreigners visiting for their horse racing fix. Those who want to combine adventure with relaxation can head to Hippo Farm to enjoy horse riding, while those who want to experience prime racing can try out the Olympic horse riding club located in Thien Ma Sports Center in Ho Chi Minh City. Either way, heading to these spots will allow for a fun riding experience.

Peru

Peru is already atop of many people’s wishlists because of Machu Picchu, but not many are privy to the fact that apart from the world-famous hike, it also offers a once-in-a-lifetime horse-riding adventure. Riders can spend days riding with views of Mt. Salkantay, Soraypampa Valley, and Mt. Humantay, and they can spend nights at the Mountain Lodges where individual rooms are available to them, along with luxurious amenities such as 400-thread count linens, hot tubs, scrumptious Andean cuisine, and organic coffees. The horses in this area are also well adapted to high altitudes too, giving riders the opportunity to venture through places that are less trod.

Mexico

For those who want to experience their piece of paradise, riders can enjoy a ride on wild beaches, tropical jungles, and a wildlife sanctuary at Cuixmala. It has stables designed by French architect Robert Couturier and is home to a wide range of horses to accommodate different kinds of riders. The area has 30,000 acres of private beaches, giving equestrians lots of room to move around. After days of riding, you can go ahead and do other fun-filled activities, including swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing.

For more tips on horseback riding, explore our Blog posts.

IHSA Announces Results for Its Inaugural Online Horse Show

Cazenovia College sophomore Sara Eveleigh. Photo by Haley Bell.

Fairfield, Conn. – Dec. 10, 2020 – The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) announced class winners and high-score riders of the Inaugural Online Horse Show, powered by DigitalHorseShow.com during the Results Celebration, Tuesday, Dec. 8. During the first-ever online presentation, host and IHSA Vice President Kelly Francfort shared the results of the participating colleges and universities who competed from across the country, interviewed judges, high-score riders, and special guests.

“I am hoping that even though this was born out of the COIVD-19 virus, that this is an opportunity for this kind of event to continue on and give opportunity to riders that don’t normally have an opportunity to compete with each other that chance,” said Peter Cashman, IHSA executive director. “I want to thank and congratulate everybody who participated and hope that this is something we will see again in the spring.”

More than 100 members and alumni from 23 colleges and universities participated in the IHSA Inaugural Online Horse Show. Riders showcased their abilities in classes ranging from Hunter Seat Equitation on the Flat and Over Fences to Western Horsemanship, Ranch Riding, and Reining.

“I thought the quality of riding was good, I definitely had scores in the 80s in every class, which I love,” said USEF R Judge Kat Mulkey. “Everybody did take in the spirit of trying to make it like an actual horse show. I really can’t think of a single horse that I watched that I didn’t like, which is amazing.”

Elizabeth “Fenn” Novicki, a junior from St. Lawrence University, rode barn-favorite Cappy to the blue ribbon in the World Equestrian Center Limit Hunter Seat Equitation Over Fences Section 1 and the Champion High-Score Hunter Seat Rider title with a score of 89. Novicki used Cappy’s adjustability to her advantage and rode the inside turns during the course that helped her take the top call.

“Usually we have a lot of horse shows on the weekends in the regular season during the fall,” said Novicki. “But it was really nice to have the opportunity to get dressed up and go around a course and learn courses if you were actually doing a horse show. So I’m really thankful the IHSA put that together.”

There was a tie for Reserve High-Score Hunter Seat Rider. Cazenovia College sophomore Sara Eveleigh rode to an 88 in the World Equestrian Center Limit Hunter Seat Equitation on the Flat securing the blue ribbon and Chloe Kershl, a junior from Sweet Briar College, also scored an 88 to win the Open Hunter Seat Equitation Over Fences.

Sweet Briar College took home the Hunter Seat Team Champion title. “They were all so very cheerful and excited about it,” said Elizabeth Fisch, Sweet Briar College Equestrian Team head coach. “I’m proud of my riders as always. It was a good, fun time to spend with them. It was good experience and we’d definitely do it again.”

“With the pandemic, this is the best way to do it,” said Rhonda Replogle, who judged the Western classes and holds judging cards for the American Quarter Horse Association, American Paint Horse Association, International Buckskin Horse Association, National Snaffle Bit Association, and the National Reined Cow Horse Association.

“They can watch their video and take it back to their peers or their coaches and have them go over it to see what we’re seeing as judges to help them get better, and that’s what we’re here for,” said Replogle. “They can go back and watch the other videos, the winning rides, to see how they might be able to replicate that.”

Ali Olsen, a junior from West Texas A&M University, rode to the blue ribbon in the Rookie Western Horsemanship Section 1 and the Champion High-Score Western Rider title with a score of 86.

“Bob, he is one of the best horses that WT has. He is such a good sport,” said Olsen. “I’d like that thank everyone that put it on. I think they did a fantastic job. It’s hard to keep a group of competitive girls together and not compete.”

Two Cazenovia College riders tied for the Reserve High-Score Western Rider title. Both scoring a 79 was senior Meghan Marsh who rode to the win in the Level I Western Horsemanship class and sophomore Sara Eveleigh, winning both classes she entered and taking home her second Reserve High-Score Rider honor of the show, was awarded the top call in the Level II Horsemanship.

Middle Georgia State University (MGSU) earned the Western Team Championship. “The kids were upset with COVID and they didn’t get to have that show experience,” said Allie Arrington, MGSU Equestrian Team head coach. “This enabled them to get excited about something, prepare for something, get dressed up in their show clothes and actually compete with their team. They gave it all they’ve got and at the end I told them all they rode better than they have all semester under the pressure of the video and I’m extremely proud of them.”

IHSA alumni showcased their talents in both the Hunter Seat and western classes. Alumni classes included Hunter Seat Equitation on the Flat, Hunter Seat Equitation Over Fences, Western Horsemanship, and Reining.

Scores in the high 70s and 80s made for a competitive Alumni Hunter Seat Equitation on the Flat class. Kayleigh Burke from Virginia Tech University scored an 86 to take the top call. College of St. Elizabeth alumna Sandy Rose rode to second just two points behind with an 84. Rebecca Boorstein from Amherst College rounded out the top three with a score of 78.

In the Alumni Hunter Seat Over Fences, Dartmouth College alumna Stacy S. Klein topped the field with a 77. Sandy Rose from College of St. Elizabeth and Kayleigh Burke from Virginia Tech were second and third with scores of 74 and 72, respectively.

Christa Bramberger, SUNY Cobleskill alumna, won the Alumni Western Horsemanship besting the field with a score of 72. Tammy Cranouski from Westfield State University and Alexandra Stock from University of North Texas rounded out the top three. Stock also competed in the Alumni Reining class.

For a full list of results, click here.

For more information, go to IHSAinc.com or contact media@IHSAinc.com.

Lucy Deslauriers and Hester Win $73,000 Sweet Oak Farm 1.50m Qualifier CSI4*

Lucy Deslauriers and Hester ©Anne Gittins Photography.

Wellington, FL – December 11, 2020 – The ESP Holiday II CSI4* hit its midway point on Friday at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), and show jumpers came out in high numbers for the prize money classes. Besting a field of 66 entries, Lucy Deslauriers (USA) and Lisa Deslauriers’ Hester (Wandor van de Mispelaere x Palestro vd Begijnakker) added another FEI win to their resume with the victory in the $73,000 Sweet Oak Farm 1.50m Qualifier CSI4*. The win was a welcome addition to the pair’s growing list of international successes after topping the $214,000 Holiday & Horses Grand Prix CSI4*, presented by Palm Beach County Sports Commission, on November 29 at PBIEC.

“It feels great to be back!” commented Deslauriers on competing at PBIEC. “Obviously, it’s an interesting time for everyone. I had a little bit of a break at school. I was at school the past two months and came down two weeks ago, so I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things. Because of the strong people behind me that kept my horses going, it made this transition back into the grind of showing so much easier. It feels good. We’re lucky to be able to show and to get back into what we love doing while so many people are unable to do so. It’s definitely a fortunate situation we’re in.”

Course designer Héctor Loyola (PUR) created a track of 14 efforts for international competitors in the first round of the $73,000 Sweet Oak Farm 1.50m Qualifier CSI4*. Out of the initial starting list of 66 pairs, 16 duos advanced to the jump-off. The group of returners represented six nations, including the United States, Ireland, Israel, Great Britain, Switzerland, and the Dominican Republic.

As the second to go over the short course, Laura Kraut (USA) and Goldwin, owned by Stars and Stripes, set the standard with a clear ride in 45.72 seconds. Their lead held for six trips until Daniel Bluman (ISR) entered the ring aboard Gerardo Pasquel’s Alamo, the 2019 FEI Jumping World Cup Finals champion who was previously campaigned by Steve Guerdat (SUI) before Bluman took over the ride in the summer of 2020. On Friday, the pair put in a double-clear effort in a time of 44.24 to take over the top spot with only a handful of challengers remaining.

“On the turn back to the second to the last jump I took a big risk, but it was going to go one of two ways, and my horse was really right there with me,” reflected Deslauriers of her winning jump-off. “He saw it too, so luckily it went our way today. I’m really thrilled with my horse, and I have such a great team of people behind me that makes today and last week’s CSI4* win possible.”

Just a few trips later, the winning partnership of Deslauriers and Hester took their turn around the pattern, tripping the timers in 43.94 seconds, a time that would retain the head spot on the leaderboard. Bluman and Alamo (Ukato x Equador) maintained second position, and Kraut and Goldwin (Emerald x Understone van de Kapel) rounded out the top three.

“After this Sunday, my horses will have at least a month off to recoup a little bit and rest up,” noted Deslauriers on her upcoming plans. “I think we’ll have a lot of top people here, as there are only so many options available at the high-level right now in the world. I think it’ll be a long season to come, and it’ll be a good break for everyone to try and stick to what’s been working and stay focused on our goals.”

The $10,000 Bainbridge 1.40m Open Stake was the final class of the day in the International Arena and hosted a large pack of 67 horse-and-rider combinations. Just like the earlier FEI class, 16 pairs turned in clear performances to advance to the jump-off, which concluded with six duos going double-clear. As the fastest by more than two full seconds, Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Sweet Oak Farm’s Byzance Mail claimed victory in a time of 43.16 seconds. The next quickest, Molly Ashe Cawley (USA), navigated Louisburg Farm’s Berdien to second place after crossing the timers in 45.57 seconds, and Erynn Ballard (CAN) added another country into the mix to make for a diverse podium with her third-place ride on Ilan Ferder’s Kamilla D in 48.16 seconds.

For more information and results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.

McLain Ward and Catoki Race to Victory in $37,000 Vobev Holiday II Opener CSI4*

McLain Ward and Catoki ©Anne Gittins Photography.

Wellington, FL – December 10, 2020 – The ESP Holiday II CSI4* hosted its first FEI classes of the week on Thursday, December 10, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). Serving as the featured event of the day, the $37,000 Vobev Holiday II Opener CSI4* attracted 69 horse-and-rider combinations to the International Arena to vie for the top prize and FEI ranking points. Always a speedy pair, McLain Ward (USA) and Catoki (Catoki x Cartello B), the horse he co-owns with Bob Russell and Marilla Van Beuren, galloped to first place to commence the week on a high note.

“He is so fast, so it’s kind of his job to try to win these classes and to pay for the others to show,” commented Ward of the 2009 Westphalian gelding. “Kent had a great round on a very fast horse, and I was a little concerned the course didn’t actually suit Catoki because they were doing a leave-out in one line in the speed phase, and I really didn’t think I could do that. But he’s a quick enough horse even without that, and he really jumped great.”

Run under a modified power and speed format, the class featured a pattern by course designer Héctor Loyola (PUR) and challenged exhibitors to jump clear over the first nine fences and then immediately continue on to the final six obstacles, regardless of whether or not faults had been incurred in the initial phase. The time for the latter portion of the course served to rank competitors.

The pack included representatives from 11 countries, including the United States, Ireland, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico, Egypt, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Russia, and Switzerland. Third to go, Santiago Lambre (MEX) and Cetano Van Aspergem Z (Clinton x Ahorn Z) set the pace with a quick, clear round in 30.38 seconds, which held until the 30th duo entered the ring. Always formidable, Kent Farrington (USA) and Austria 2 (Casall x Corrado I) upped the ante with an expedient, fault-free ride in 29.73 seconds to capture the lead with nearly 40 duos still remaining.

“He’s fast. Honestly, I didn’t watch Kent because this horse really goes with his own game plan, and he’s super fast,” remarked Ward of how he thinks he won the class. “Sometimes when you try to do what others do, you end up making a mistake. I try to do the best round I can do with him, and I knew it was as fast as I could try to go within what his strengths were.”

As the fourth-to-last out of the starting order, Ward capitalized on Catoki’s quick footspeed and a bold inside turn option to just barely edge ahead of the frontrunners, crossing the finish line in 29.67 seconds to jump to the top of the leaderboard by mere milliseconds. The final challengers could not catch the leading combination, solidifying Ward and Catoki as the victors in the $37,000 Vobev Holiday II Opener CSI4*. Farrington and Austria 2, owned by Take the High Road LLC, retained second place, and Darragh Kenny (IRL) earned the final podium placing riding Oakland Ventures LLC’s Belo Horizonte with a fault-free time of 29.99 seconds. In total, 31 partnerships finished the class without any faults to their name.

“I think great efforts are being made for this to go on,” noted Ward of competing under a COVID protocol. “We’re all welcoming a vaccine and some normalcy, and being able to be outside and compete with, obviously, the right precautions is great. It feels as close to our normal life as we can get right now.”

The morning kicked off in the International Arena with 36 exhibitors in the $1,000 Bainbridge 1.40m CSI4*, which also ran as a power and speed class, though only those competitors who jumped the first half of the course without any faults continued for the second timed portion. A total of 11 duos finished the first half of the track fault-free to advance to the speed phase, which produced a final number of just five pairs without a single fault. The time-allowed proved to be a factor as 11 partnerships earned a single time fault during the power phase of the class to keep them out of contention.

As one of the final exhibitors, Flo Norris (GBR) took over the top spot from Laura Kraut (USA), who had held the lead since halfway through the class, riding Cisca Norris’ Gin Chin Van Het Lindenhof (Chin Chin x Calido I). Norris’ clear time of 32.84 seconds kept her at the top of the standings with the 2006 Belgian Warmblood gelding, followed by Kraut on Cherry Knoll Farm Inc.’s Haley with no faults in 33.45 seconds. Daniel Bluman (ISR) rounded out the top three with the ride on Gerardo Pasquel’s Alamo after tripping the timers clear in 39.97 seconds.

For more information and results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.

Darragh Kenny and Belo Horizonte Slice to Success in $25,000 Year End National Grand Prix

Darragh Kenny and Belo Horizonte ©Anne Gittins Photography.

Wellington, FL – December 7, 2020 – The week’s hunter/jumper competition reached its pinnacle on Sunday during the ESP Year End Awards Show at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) when 50 challengers vied for the top honors in the $25,000 Year End National Grand Prix, presented by #1 Education Place. Turning in the best performance of the day, Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Oakland Ventures LLC’s Belo Horizonte concluded the show as the leaders of the victory gallop in the weekend grand prix, their second prize money win of the show.

“This is a horse I got from Ashlee Bond at the end of the Winter Equestrian Festival earlier this year,” commented Kenny of Belo Horizonte, a 2008 Holsteiner gelding by Baloubet Du Rouet x Clearway. “It’s been a super horse for me, very careful and fast. I really like it and it’s a really good horse. He doesn’t have a massive stride, but he is very quick across the ground, so I just used that to my advantage today.”

Course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA) crafted a pattern of 16 efforts up to 1.50m in height for exhibitors in the $25,000 Year End National Grand Prix, presented by #1 Education Place. Of the 50 entries in the first round, a slimmer field of seven returned for the jump-off. Juan Manuel Gallego (COL) and Havana De La Lande led the way as the pathfinders as the third in the order, and they were soon joined by Nicholas Dello Joio (USA), Kent Farrington (USA), Kenny, and Jessica Springsteen (USA). At the very end of the start list, Margie Engle (USA) and Spencer Smith (USA) turned in the final fault-free rounds to add two more to the list of clear contenders.

Trimmed to eight fences, the jump-off course was finished successfully by each of the returning pairs, so it all came down to time. The always-speedy Farrington was sitting as the frontrunner on his own Orafina in a time of 37.79 seconds, but Kenny and Belo Horizonte eclipsed the leading pair by fractions of a second as they broke the beam in 37.55 seconds to capture the lead with three duos to go. In the end, Kenny’s and Belo Horizonte’s time would hold as the victors, and Farrington would retain second place on Orafina (For Fashion x Cantu). The final challengers, Smith and Ransome Rombauer’s Lord Up (Lordanos x Come On) grabbed third position in a time of 38.64 seconds.

“It’s great that we can keep this show going and that everybody is following the rules,” remarked Kenny of competing back in Wellington. “This is the best thing for our sport, so it’s very important that we all follow the rules and can keep showing. I’m looking forward to the 2021 season.”

Earlier in the week, Kenny rode to success with a first-place finish and third-place result in the $10,000 1.40m Open Stake, presented by #1 Education Place. The class featured 37 entries on Friday over D’Ambrosio’s track, 15 of which advanced to the jump-off. Up against a fault-free leading time of 32.98 seconds from Alberto Michan (ISR) and Marie Antonette Leviste’s Loribri, Kenny piloted Belo Horizonte as the final contenders to the quickest time of the class, crossing the wire clear in 32.81 seconds to claim victory. Michan and Loribri maintained second place, and Kenny bookended the podium with his ride on Go Easy De Muze, owned by Oakland Ventures LLC, in a foot-perfect time of 34.61 seconds.

For more information and results, please visit www.PBIEC.com.

Champion Hurdle Challengers to Epatante Have Questions to Answer

The Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival remains the richest prize over the smaller obstacles in National Hunt horse racing, but there is a feeling in recent years that it is not so competitive as it once was. Epatante, who won the race in 2020, was one of the few in the division to have made real progress throughout last season and ran out a worthy winner.

Just as she was fancied for the Champion Hurdle by tipsters then, she will be again barring injury because her rivals all have question marks hanging over them. Epatante heads the betting at 7/2 as a result, and we will know more about what shape she is in for a defence of her crown following likely runs in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

While trainer Nicky Henderson sticks to that tried and tested path for preparing his horses for the Champion Hurdle, two of the leading Irish contenders have both suffered early season defeats. Abacadabras was denied by Epatante’s very game stable companion Shishkin in the Supreme at Cheltenham in March and was again just bested on his return in the WKD Hurdle by Aspire Tower.

However, Gordon Elliott’s charge made up for those defeats when just hanging on in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. In just prevailing there, Abacadabras was again weak at the finish but still somehow able to beat the promising Saint Roi, who like Epatante is owned by J. P. McManus.

Saint Roi is top Irish trainer Willie Mullins’ best Champion Hurdle chance, according to the betting, following a very taking success at Cheltenham in the County Hurdle during the Festival. Although winning a Grade 3 on his return to action, the young pretender went down fighting in the Morgiana.

It is easy to criticise jockeys when a horse doesn’t win, but Mark Walsh may not have given Saint Roi the best tactical ride at Punchestown, opting for the narrow inner path after jumping the last rather than taking a clear run down the outside. There is little between this horse and Abacadabras, then.

As for other British-trained Champion Hurdle contenders, Gary Moore’s Goshen is on a mission for compensation after unseating his rider when well clear at the final flight in the Triumph Hurdle. Four-year-olds can often struggle in their first campaign in open company, however.

Buveur D’Air is a two-time Champion Hurdle winner, but on the comeback trail for Henderson and McManus following a gruesome and career-threatening injury during the 2019-20 season. Those same connections will hope nothing so unfortunate befalls Epatante in the Fighting Fifth as part of a hurdle puncturing a hoof as happened to her stable companion last year.

Now another year older, Buveur D’Air may be vulnerable to younger horses with more scope for progress. It will be interesting to see how he gets on when making his return to action, and there will be lots of goodwill coming the way of this old favourite.

All the while, Epatante has done nothing wrong. She doesn’t have these questions against her name and there may still be even more to come en route to the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, so watch this space.