After beginning the week in a winning fashion, Conor Swail (IRL) stayed on top of the highly competitive fields in both of Thursday’s FEI classes during Desert Holiday 1, presented by Brown Advisory. With huge classes coming up with both the $268,000 CAD Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) Team Competition Friday night and the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix Saturday night, Swail is building the right kind of momentum to carry him into the weekend.

The field of 43 entries was loaded with talent in the $76,000 CAD Pomponio Ranch 1.50m Qualifier, so Swail had a tough task on his hands, but it was a pressure he handled with grace. Aboard Theo 160, he was the first to jump clear of an eventual 13 over Alan Wade’s (IRL) course.

Conor Swail (IRL) and Theo 160. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“Theo was excellent like he always is for me,” he said of the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Christian 25 x Calando IV). “I was first to go, which was a tough job because there were so many good horses and riders behind me.”

Among the horses and riders behind him were Darragh Kenny (IRL) with VDL Cartello, McLain Ward (USA) with First Lady, and Kent Farrington (USA) with Landon as the last to go. Swail did as he knows best and put down a fast round, hoping he put on enough pressure.

Conor Swail (IRL) and Theo 160 in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“There was a lot of galloping involved in the course tonight so I tried to set up on a good big gallop,” he explained of his strategy. “It was about gallop and balance. I thought Theo did that very well tonight and stayed clean and careful. I think I put enough pressure on that maybe made riders have mistakes here and there.”

The remainder of the field could not catch the time of 41.36 seconds put in by Swail and Theo. Only Alison Robitaille (USA) came close with Oakingham Lira in 41.83 seconds, taking second. Farrington was ultimately third in a time of 43.87 seconds.

Conor Swail (IRL) topped the podium. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

In the $39,000 FarmVet CAD CSI2* 1.45m Speed, Swail ended up on top again, this time aboard Fasole du Seigneur, owned by Alexis Sokolov. After the pair won the Two Phase Wednesday, even without one stirrup, Swail felt confident in the mare’s ability to win the class Thursday.

“She’s in my barn so I know her well enough,” Swail said of the 12-year-old Belgian Sporthorse mare (Doremi x Ogano Sitte). “But I don’t compete on her much. Funny, yesterday I got caught out a little bit at [fence] two where she just threw me up in the air and lost my stirrup. Today was much smoother after yesterday’s round. I got a good bit of information and we had a nice bit of work in the morning. She’s always very fast and careful but was really with me and jumped very correctly.”

Conor Swail (IRL) Fasole du Seigneur. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The duo’s time of 59.97 seconds put them at the top of the 49 entries, sealing the win. Amanda Derbyshire (GBR) slid into second late in the order with Cornwall BH, while Nayel Nassar (EGY) claimed third with El Conde, owned by Evergate Stables LLC.

“She looks fussy and difficult, but she’s not,” Swail continued about the mare’s rideability. “She’s really brave and goes and jumps the jumps beautifully and she’s not as fussy as she looks. She looks all difficult but she’s actually very sweet.”

Conor Swail in his winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Swail is used to that winning feeling, but he feels the big wins are potentially still to come.

“When you’re in good form at the start of the week it’s easier to continue that way,” Swail said of the confidence he’s working off of as Desert Holiday 1 goes on. “The horses all seem to be in good form. [Count Me In] jumped a good round as well so I’m looking forward to the next few days. The place is wonderful here. I love coming back to the desert. Everything is wonderful and the people look after you really well. The horses are loving the grounds and the footing. It’s a great place to be.”

Swail now shifts his focus to Friday’s $268,000 CAD Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) Team Competition, presented by Brown Advisory, Friday night and the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix, also presented by Brown Advisory, Saturday night, both of which hold high importance to him. Theo will go on to jump for the Trailblazers in the Team Competition, with Swail’s team currently with a significant lead.

“I’m planning to do [Count Me In] on Saturday,” Swail said. “He jumped a nice round tonight; he was a little edgy and I don’t think I rode him very well to be honest. He’s coming off a good win in the Las Vegas World Cup so he’s in good form. I need to get him a little quieter and I have to do a better job and we have a chance at Saturday night I think.”

Leslie Steele and No Reservations Earn 3’9” Green Hunter Championship

Leslie Steele and No Reservations. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Leslie Steele and No Reservations have lofty goals heading into Friday’s $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby in only the horse’s second international derby appearance, but they’re feeling on excellent form following a championship in the 3’9” Green Hunters during the horse’s final week as a green horse.

Their partnership has been over a year in the making, but they’re stepping into the bigger arenas now, with Steele’s full faith that the horse can live up to the challenge.

“I had a client come to me and she brought him with her. I don’t think anybody realized how good he was,” Steele explained of No Reservations, owned by Curtis Holdings Inc. “The first week I started riding him he was awesome. I started him over a year ago and he’s just super simple. He’s going to do the International Derby this week; that’s what we’ve been training him up to do. He was a superstar at Indoors in the fall.”

Leslie Steele and No Reservations in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

According to Steele, there’s not much to dislike about the 9-year-old Selle Francais gelding. “He’s just an agreeable guy. He comes from the stall to the ring, always tries to do a good job, and never looks for a way to cheat.”

As for international derby experience, he’s a bit low, but the horse’s brave and calm demeanor makes Steele think he’s made for that task. “He’s only done one and it was great,” she explained. “He hasn’t [competed on the grass] but he’s not overly nervous about anything new. He walked into Indoors which he’d never done before and he was great. I have to hold his hand a little bit, since it’s out on the grass and it’s going to be big, but he’s not very spooky. He just lacks a little experience in that so we’re going to get some.”

Returning to Desert International Horse Park, Steele has a combination of experience and up-and-coming mounts. “I like coming here. The facility is beautiful,” she said of DIHP. “Every time you come it’s nicer. I love it. I’ve started some youngsters this week so it’s a little bit of this easiness [with No Reservations] and a lot of youngsters.”

Friday features the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby on the grass field.

Haunert and White Capture Wins in USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships

Nicole Haunert and Concolue. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships returned to DIHP and the two sections had their First Individual Qualifier Thursday morning to kick off competition. In the 1.30m-1.35m section,  Nicole Haunert had the fastest time in the single speed round with Concolue, owned by Cherokee Show Horses, over a total of 11 clear rounds. Della White emerged on top in the 1.40m-1.45m section with Calypso de Blondel, the fastest of only five clear rounds. Riders will then compete in their respective Team Finals Friday morning for team medals, followed by the Individual Finals on Sunday.

Della White and Calypso de Blondel. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo