Conor Swail (IRL) has an incredible partner in Count Me In. With Mannon Farms’ 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Count Grannus x Sherlock Holmes) the Irishman has jumped (and won) all over the world, and they got a big win together to close out Desert Circuit 3, presented by U.S. Bank, topping the $32,000 Pegasus Show Stable CSI3* 1.45m Classic Sunday afternoon.
“He had a bit of a quieter year,” Swail reflected on the past 12 months with “Crosby”. “He started off really well but then he wasn’t feeling the big classes so we dropped into the 1.45m and 1.50m. He seemed to be more comfortable there. I feel him getting back into good form again. This week I just wanted to give him a jump around. It’s a nice opener for him.”
For Swail, it’s a nice opener, but it’s still a big international victory up against top riders worldwide. He bested 12 jump-off contenders over a track built by Bernardo Costa Cabral (POR), just quicker than Gregory Wathelet (BEL) aboard Clarity, who took second. Cassio Rivetti (BRA) claimed third with Billy Dorito, owned by Monarch Farms, LLC.
Swail has big plans throughout Desert Circuit for each of his mounts, with a great deal of experience among his string. He’ll strategically place each horse to give himself an opportunity to win big classes, and Crosby fits into that plan in both CSI4* weeks.
“I might start him next week again because he was second on the grass here couple years ago,” he remarked on Crosby’s success with Canadian rider Beth Underhill at this venue. “He likes that arena. I can feel how the week is going and decide who to jump in the Grand Prix. I’ll do the last four-star too so I will build him up. Hopefully he’s feeling good and I can get him back to the level he can achieve.”
The horse may not be jumping 1.65m at the moment, but he’s been instrumental in the spectacular few years Swail has had competing across the globe.
“He’s the best horse I’ve ever had,” he said of Crosby. “We had one year there where the horse took me places I’ve never been. I know I have a great group of horses that got me to the top 10 but it was mainly him. I did my first World Cup Finals and we were seventh. We were one jump away from the podium. I went to Aachen for the first time. We went to Dublin and won the Aga Khan in a jump-off.”
Swail remembers that day fondly, bringing home the Aga Khan trophy for his teammates in a jump-off. “That was probably the best day of my life,” he said. “When you’re going up in Ireland the Aga Khan means everything. To win it in a jump-off, it was just an amazing day. He owes me absolutely nothing. He is such a good guy, we’ve had such good times. If he doesn’t want to do the big stuff anymore I’m very happy winning whatever he wants to do.”
This year, Swail will compete for the majority of the circuit, rather than going back east. With highlights on the schedule every week, he’s got something for each of his horses to shine in and can continue gathering prize money and ranking points.
“This is my third yar coming back and every year there are new improvements,” he said of DIHP. “The VIP has gerat upgrades with permanent food stands. There are great horse paths all around the show grounds now which makes it a whole lot safer. There’s no expense spread with all the fancy jumps. We have the grass ring next week which is world class. This is the place to be and I’m really happy being here.”
Gregory Wathelet Gets a Win in $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic
Gregory Wathelet has returned to the desert for a second year, and is already back in winning form on a brand new mount, taking the top position in the $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic on Sunday morning with Episode de Vains.
Of the 11 to jump clear over Bernardo Costa Cabral’s course, Wathelet had two in the jump-off field. Sitting in second with Kristalic, owned by Morning Star Sporthorses, Wathelet then retook the lead with his 10-year-old gelding (Vagabond de la Pomme x Dollar dela Pierre) with just a fraction of a second to spare. Skylar Wireman ended up second with Coolio 23, owned by Shayne Wireman, while Wathelet also took third with Kristalic.
“It’s a new horse. It just arrived and this is the first show i’ve done with him,” he said of Episode de Vains. “He’s owned by the breeder and I ride form the breeder, Élevage de Vains. I have one good horse from him. He sent me this horse in December and i felt he was at least useful for any person. I thought it was a good idea to bring him here and step him up a bit, maybe he’ll fit someone here.”
The decision to bring Episode de Vains out west has paid off already, as Wathelet now has a win in hand and the horse has exceeded expectation.
“He’s even more competitive than I thought and quicker than I thought, which is good,” he reflected on the past few weeks getting to know the horse in a competitive setting. “Next week we will maybe jump a bit bigger. He’s really nice, fun to ride, careful, a bit his own way but doesn’t want to touch the pole. He’s very competitive.”
In his second season at DIHP, Wathelet is enjoying being back and spending time in the sunshine with an impressive string of horses. He’s piloting his own horses, training others for various riders across the property, and assisting clients with their riding as well, staying busy on all fronts.
“It’s very good, which is why i came back,” he said of being at DIHP. “Last year I had good results but also a good time here. The people are very friendly and I really like that. I wanted to plan to be here again. It’s different this year because there are people I”m training here this year. But I’m very happy to be here of course.”
Show jumping resumes for Desert Circuit 4 on Wednesday, January 31, with the $10,000 IDA Development 1.35m Welcome Speed and Two Phase FEI action on the grass field.
Laurel Piombo Lands THIS National Children’s Medal Win
Laurel Piombo just stepped up to the 3’6” equitation, but she’s still making big moves in the 3’ equitation, with high hopes for finals in 2024, winning Sunday’s Taylor, Harris Insurance Services National Children’s Medal.
Aboard R.K. Vincent Santa Monica, a horse owned by Austin Krawitt, Piombo went late in the order of 35 horses and secured a score of 86, putting her into the lead by a point and a half. Four riders were invited to test: Piombo, Brooke O’Malley, Piper Kulkin, and Avery Socks. After a challenging test, Piombo’s win was confirmed.
“I was pretty nervous and I knew my course was correct in what I was planning, but I wanted to make sure I played it safe, got my counter lead, did all the things, and just executed,” Piombo said of her thoughts going in to test. Riders are told the test once inside the arena, so they cannot confer with trainers once hearing the test and must execute their own. “My trainer’s advice was to definitely keep a soft feel with his mount, get a good pace before the first fence, and play it safe since I was sitting on top.”
Training under Shayne Wireman, Piombo has been paired with R.K. Vincent Santa Monica since September, getting to know him and stepping into the higher levels of equitation.
“He’s perfect. He’s been amazing and we’re just excited fo the rest of circuit together,” she shared. “I just stepped up to the 3’6” and I’m hoping to go to Taylor Harris Finals again this year. I competed last year and I’m hoping maybe Hamel [Finals] again.”
With the 3’ and 3’3” equitation finals on the horizon for her, there are still many years to step into equitation finals at a higher level, so she’s enjoying the ride and everything she learns from equitation.
“I think it’s really fun to execute the tess and learn different skills with your partner,” Piombo said of why she particularly enjoys equitation. “I have fun doing my best and riding to my best ability.”