Olivia Brown faced an A-list of jump-off competitors in Saturday night’s $50,000 HorseFlight National Grand Prix at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). Up against some heavy hitters with arguably their top horses, she didn’t let the pressure get to her, despite being on a less experienced mount. With Caroline Burke’s Bling VD Duvelshoeve Z, she clinched the win in a blazing fashion.
“I went in there in the mindset that it was a 1.20m course and it would be easy, and it was,” Brown shared regarding her strategy for the jump-off. “If I told myself it’s not big and not under lights, and there would be less pressure. I wanted to win but I didn’t want to get too excited and do something crazy.”
The strategy proved effective. At the time she went in for the jump-off, up against six other pairs that jumped Alan Wade’s first-round track clear, Kyle King led with his first of two qualifying mounts, clocking in at 35.681 seconds and appearing to not leave much on the table.
Brown had something to say, however, with the 10-year-old Zangersheide mare (Bamako De Muze x Cicero Z) and whittled the time down just a hair further, setting a new target at 35.364 seconds. None of the remaining pairs could catch her time, ultimately. As the class wrapped, King took second with Kerri Volek’s Ittolo and Kaitlin Campbell ended up third with Palina De L’Escaut, owned by SWS Training & Sales. Skylar Wireman and Coolio 23, owned by Shayne Wireman, claimed the EquiFit U25 victory as the fastest jump-off time but with one rail down.
“I started riding her last September so we’ve just stepped up to this level,” Brown said of her relationship with Bling VD Duvelshoeve Z. “Tonight’s course was a nice introduction to night classes. We did one in December which was a little bigger and tougher but this kicked off the year for us.”
She knew the leading time would be tough to catch, but she wasn’t exactly sure just how tough. “I didn’t get to watch but I listened to the first couple go and they were clear,” she remarked. “I went out into the ring and saw the tracks everybody had taken so I knew I had to be tidy and quick, so I just went for it. I’ve never gone that fast on her so it was really fun.”
The horse belongs to a client of Brown’s that left for college, so she took over the ride when the baby bird flew the nest, and it’s been a solid progression up to the higher fence heights, proving the mare has a bright future ahead of her. “She’s naturally really quick,” Brown continued. “She’s also careful so all I had to do was give her a decent ride and she’s going to jump clean.”
The fighting spirit was there all along, but it really kicked into gear Saturday night. “She’s definitely a mare that fights for me. She wants to jump clean; she wants to do the job. I really like mares when they want to work for you. She knows she has a job and she gets it done,” Brown shared.
Earlier Saturday, the Silver Oak Jumper Tournament Jump for Kevin 1.20m returned to DIHP and it was Michelle Berry back in the winning position, besting 31 entries aboard Traver’s Girl HS. The crowd-favorite event saw 19 clear rounds and 13 double-clear, but Berry’s time of 25.898 second was untouchable. Second place went to Ayla Martinoff and Amigo B, while Troy Christiansen and NKH Quanto claimed third.
Show jumping concludes Sunday with the $50,000 Brown Advisory CSI2* Grand Prix at 12:00 p.m.
Final Results: $50,000 Horseflight National Grand Prix
1. Bling VD Duvelshoeve Z / Olivia Brown / Caroline Burke / 0/0/35.364
2. Ittolo / Kyle King / Kerri Volek / 0/0/35.681
3. Palina De L’Escaut / Kaitlin Campbell / SWS Training & Sales / 0/0/35.773
4. Stern Dei Folletti / Karrie Rufer / Morning Star Sporthorses, LLC / 0/0/35.800
5. Django II / Katie Laurie / Katie Laurie / 0/0/37.889
6. Coolio 23 / Skylar Wireman / Shayne Wireman / 0/4/33.145
7. Chess / Kyle King / The Chess Group / 0/4/36.871
8. Mr. Europe / Karrie Rufer / Morning Star Sporthorses, LLC / 3/83.040
9. Quality H / Mark Kinsella / Ben Asselin / 4/76.542
10. Emir / Kaitlin Campbell / SWS Training & Sales / 4/78.419
11. Terasini / Daniel Ighani / Daniel Ighani / 4/78.979
12. McCaw MVNZ / Katie Laurie / Katie Laurie / 4/80.544
Irene Neuwirth Shines in 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic
Irene Neuwirth had one word for her trusty partner Guess Who: magic. “He’s the most magical horse ever,” she said of her 8-year-old Holsteiner gelding. “I’m so lucky to have him. He’s truly a dream.”
Saturday of Desert Circuit IV at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP), Neuwirth and Guess Who topped the $5,000 Marshall & Sterling 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic, earning a score of 178. A high score of 90 in round two sealed the deal, placing them in the winner’s circle.
Neuwirth’s partnership with Guess Who is about a year and a half in the making, and they’ve progressed quite a bit since then. “He was really green,” she remarked. “I don’t think he had done much before we got him. He started off doing the Baby Green [Hunters] at 2’6” and now he’s the most adjustable, pleasurable to ride horse. He’s got a really good brain and he jumps like he’s super spooky but he’s not. It’s awesome. Everyone should be lucky enough to ride a horse like him.”
Ironically, despite her flowery description of Guess Who in the show ring, she described his barn nature as, “Playful. Bratty. Spoiled. Egotistical. He knows he’s really special I think.”
Their performance Saturday was a special one, but it seems that every time the horse comes out with Neuwirth aboard, they produce top results. “He’s really great,” she continued. “Occasionally, I’ll be off. We have green moments, both of us. But today he was so perfectly quiet. It’s such a pleasure to ride a horse who takes off super quietly and is so powerful over the jump. He was so perfect today.”
Neuwirth spends so much time in the saddle, you would think she can’t have time for anything else, but she’s simultaneously running an extremely successful jewelry business on both coasts of the United States.
“During COVID, I was working from home so I had a riding extravaganza for three years,” she explained. “I just opened a store in New York a few weeks ago, and I’m excited to get back to work. It’s nice to have both. We’ll see how that goes. I’m going to New York in two weeks. But I really [focused on riding] for a few years so it’s nice to be back to work and be thinking about other things, then come here and have a ball.”
Neuwirth’s competitive drive is what truly pushes her to become a better athlete every day. A seasoned hunter rider, she’s bringing her talent into the jumper rings and allowing herself to develop further as a rider in every aspect.
“I’m really competitive with myself, so I always want to learn how to do it better. I think I drive John [Bragg] totally insane because I’m like, ‘Tell me more!’ I used to get really nervous when I went into the ring. Now I have a different sense of relaxation and I’m enjoying it more. And I started doing the jumpers which has taken a year off my life every time I go in the ring. So I feel like [hunters] are the thing I know how to do a little better.”
Hunter action for Desert Circuit IV concludes Sunday with the conclusion of Junior Hunter divisions, plus Children’s, Adults, and more.