Most of the crowd on Thursday of Desert Circuit 3, presented by U.S. Bank, thought Conor Swail (IRL) was going to come home with a one-two finish in the $32,000 Oz Inc. 1.50m Speed. But Ali Ramsay (CAN) had something to say about that. With Swail in the top two positions before the midway drag break, Ramsay observed, made a plan, and executed, taking the win with Bonita VH Keizershof Z, a horse she’s been with for nearly seven years.

The course, set by Bernardo Costa Cabral (POR) was winding and lengthy, but quite a few pairs conquered it at high speeds. Swail set the time to beat at 63.85 seconds with Casturano as second in the order, then followed up with Theo 160 a few rounds later, slotting into second with a time of 64.11 seconds. As more pairs tried to catch the time, it became apparent just how quick Swail was. But Ramsay has a secret weapon with her petite mare.

“When we walked the first line I walked a bit bold in 12 [strides],” Ramsay explained of her start to the speed course. “I watched Conor do 11, but I thought 12 was a good step for me, and I thought I could turn back tight. Then I did seven in the rollback which I didn’t see anyone else do.”

Ali Ramsay (CAN) and Bonita VH Keizershof Z. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Ultimately, Ramsay and the 13 year-old Zangersheide mare (Bustique x For Pleasure) came up in 63.64 seconds, improving upon Swail’s better time and taking over the lead. No one could top her time, handing her the win and putting Swail’s two mounts in second and third.

Over the years, Ramsay and Bonita have conquered big tracks all across North America. They’ve jumped CSI5* grand prixs, they’ve competed on teams together, and Ramsay knows the mare like the back of her hand.

“She means the world to me. She’s probably the most important thing in my life,” she shared about Bonita. “I’ve had her since she was 6 so we’re going on seven years together. She’s one of those horses that just gets better every year. She kept exceeding everyone’s expectations. The jump went up and she just kept jumping bigger.

Ali Ramsay (CAN) and Bonita VH Keizershof Z in their winning presentation, pictured with Shelley Campf of Oz Inc. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“She’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden. Every time I get to go in the ring with her I know she’s going to fight for me and it’s the coolest feeling. That’s what you dream of finding in a horse. She’s pretty special.”

The horse is unassuming when she enters the ring for an international class, because she’s barely taller than the jumps themselves. As a very petite pair together, they sail over everything nearly effortlessly, making them a blast to watch and a special duo to see in the winner’s circle.

“It’s her heart and her personality,” Ramsay said about what makes Bonita such a winner. “She’s a fighter and I feel like we’re really similar. Looking at her you don’t think she’d be able to jump this level; the jumps are bigger than her when she’s jumping a five-star grand prix, but the feeling when you’re cantering up to it is that she’ll jump the standards and that she can do anything.”

With Bonita in a more developed season of her life, Ramsay knows she can count on her, so she plans to aim her at bigger classes throughout the upcoming year.

“I’m hoping to be on the Northern Lights again for Major League at least for the first half of the season. For most of those shows I’d like to jump the five-star grand prix on her,” she explained. “This is such a lovely facility to get the year started and to pick and choose money classes to aim her at. [Our goal is] to keep her ready and keep her fresh for what the rest of the year brings.”

Already a winner at the FEI level in 2023, Ramsay hopes to find even more success back at DIHP in 2024, knowing the venue supports development of horses and fosters great jumping. “I find that this ring is the nicest footing I think I jump on all year,” she shared. “I love California and I love it here. The jump material is great. The horses love it. My horses all jump very well here so it’s a good place to be.”

James Chawke Reveals a Star in $25,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic

James Chawke and Isa. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

James Chawke brought Isa out for the first time during Desert Circuit 1, and it’s only taken him three weeks to reach the winner’s circle with her. Aboard Elise Haas’ 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare, Chawke took top honors in the $25,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic, held under the lights Thursday evening.

Against 34 other competitors, Chawke piloted the mare around the course in 63.111 seconds, leaving a competitive field to catch him. Only Gregory Wathelet came close to the time, clocking in at 63.680 seconds aboard Beau Gosse du Park for second, while Kaitlin Campbell and the SWS Training & Sales entry Sun Warrior took third.

James Chawke and Isa in their winning presentation, pictured with Ellie Schell of FarmVet. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I really like her; she’s great,” Chawke said of how he’s finding Isa so far, still early in their partnership. “I’m just figuring her out. We just jumped in a couple classes [week one] and she was third in the 1.40m Classic. I gave her a week off and jumped her yesterday, and then today. She wants to be careful, she seems very sweet.”

Thursday’s class is not typically held under the lights, but the weather in the early part of the week impacted the day’s schedule, giving the 1.45m competitors a chance to shine. Isa rose to the occasion, despite being new to the setting.

“She was really good tonight,” Chawke reflected on the round. “Obviously I haven’t jumped her that big or under the lights before but she did really nicely. She’s quick enough and the night setting didn’t seem to faze her at all. I’m trying to learn her step but I thought she was really good. A few things to polish up a little.”

With many weeks to go during the circuit, Chawke knows the horse has more potential, and there are plenty of opportunities to show her off. “I’d like to do a national grand prix and maybe she could jog [for FEI] a couple weeks ideally,” he said of his plan as he continues to work with her.

Show jumping continues Friday with the $5,000 U.S. Bank CSI3* 1.45m Speed and the $7,500 Interactive Mortgage 10 & Under Futurity Series under the lights.

On Call Captures Championship in 3’6” Green Hunters

Nick Haness and On Call. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The hunters had a change of scenery Thursday of Desert Circuit 3, presented by U.S. Bank, but On Call didn’t seem to mind. Paired with Nick Haness, On Call, owned by Lindsay Maxwell, took championship honors in the 3’6” Green Hunters for the week.

“He had a circuit here last year mainly with his owner Lindsay Maxwell,” Haness explained of the past year with On Call, an 8-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding. “He showed in the Amateur-Owner Hunters to a few championships and I did him in the $100,000 [West Coast Hunter] Spectacular where he placed in the top 10. He’s a really beautiful jumping horse. He’s been in the tricolors both times he’s shown in the 3’6” Greens this year.”

The schedule was shortened due to rain in the Coachella Valley, but On Call still picked up top ribbons that helped him earn the championship title. Haness can see the way the horse has matured and progressed throughout the year and knows he’s ready for a successful circuit.

“Last year he was recently imported and recently gelded, so he was going through some body changes and growth,” he explained. “This year he feels really solid, very mature, and suitable and ready to win for anybody. His owner has moved to Europe and is not going to be competing herself in the near future. Our goal is to keep on showing and find him his new home.”

Nick Haness and On Call in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

With endless hunter highlights, Haness has quite a bit to look forward to as Desert Circuit continues. He has his eye on the $50,000 Pro Equitation Challenge, as well as all the hunter derby events and the $100,000 West Coast Hunter Spectacular during week 10.

“The showgrounds here are just continuing to improve,” Haness continued. “There are so many great classes offered throughout the circuit. As a hunter rider I’m looking forward to all the big derbies and classes to come and especially some of the equitation challenges for the professionals. It’s a really exciting time to be in the desert. There are a lot of top quality horses and some new faces, new trainers and new riders, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the circuit.”

Hunters continue Friday with the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open, sponsored by 100X Equine and the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Jr/Am, sponsored by Voltaire Design.