As if anyone hadn’t heard Conor Swail’s (IRL) name enough yet during the first portion of Desert Circuit, he cranked out another win on Sunday of Desert Circuit 4, presented by Whittier Trust, in the $32,000 San Marcos Training CSI4* 1.45m Classic. This time the win came aboard Vital Chance de la Roque, a horse that has jumped with Swail all over the world, and a horse that feels very at home on the grass field at DIHP.

“It’s been a great week and that was a great result for ‘Vinny’ there,” Swail remarked of Vital Chance’s win. “This is his second week out. We just did a few National classes last week and he felt really good. Earlier in the week he jumped the 1.50m and was a little unlucky; he had one down with a fast time. I’m very happy that he jumped a couple good rounds today. I must say all my horses are in good form at the moment and I’m basically reaping the benefits of that.”

Conor Swail (IRL) and Vital Chance de la Roque. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Among a strong field of CSI4* horses and even higher-caliber riders, Swail was one of four clear rounds over Alan Wade’s (IRL) initial track. For the jump-off, he had the benefit of going last, and he knew Oliver Lazarus (RSA) and Miss Paris were fast, but had one down, and leader Nicole Haunert (USA) and My Lady Lavista were fault free but with a beatable time. Swail came in with some time to spare with Vinny, taking another FEI win for himself. Haunert ended up second and Lazarus claimed third.

Vinny hasn’t always been the easiest ride, as is apparent after he finishes a round and gives Swail a good buck. But Swail knows the horse really well after several years together, and he’s been building him back up after a less-than-ideal run this time last year.

Conor Swail (IRL) and Vital Chance de la Roque in their winning presentation, pictured with Swail’s dog, Ralph. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“He’s a difficult little guy,” Swail said of the 15-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Rivage du Poncel). “He’s quite hot and he loves running and that’s how he jumps. He lost a little confidence there over last year, so I found it difficult enough to get him back up to this level again. He’s starting to feel good again.”

Swail is basing in the desert for the entire winter, and he loves the opportunity it gives him to provide a confidence boost to his horses. “This place is a great place to do that,” he said of creating a confident atmosphere for top show jumpers. “You have a beautiful sand ring, and you’re in the main ring whether you’re jumping 1.30m, 1.35m, or 1.40m. You have great warm-ups; you have a great big ring to get the horses to relax in.”

Beyond the sand jumping, Swail, who has jumped in Aachen, Dublin, and Spruce Meadows, all of which have some of the most famous grass surfaces in the world, particularly likes the grass in the desert. “He actually loves the grass as well,” Swail said of Vinny’s grass performance. “This field is one of the nicest fields in the world to be honest. He’s feeling confident and you can see that with the results. Now we’re trying to continue his good form.”

FEI action returns at the CSI3* level for Desert Circuit 6, after a week of National jumping for Desert Circuit 5.

Gregory Wathelet Gets Another Win in $25,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic

Gregory Wathelet and Kristalic in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Gregory Wathelet has now topped the Sunday 1.40m two weeks in a row on two promising young horses. On Sunday of Desert Circuit 4, presented by Whittier Trust, Wathelet took the win in the $25,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic aboard Kristalic, an entry owned by Morning Star Sporthorses.

The class is always competitive, and this week was no exception. Thirteen pairs jumped clear over round one to return for a jump-off, several of them past winners of this very class, and Wathelet had the advantage of going last. He did just what he had to, clocking in about three-tenths of a second faster than second-place finisher Amanda Gomez with Charly-Ann, owned by Rising Star Equestrian. Bosco de Lerzy, owned by Inside Out Investments LLC, and Erin Pritzker took third place.

Nick Haness Nabs $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open

Nick Haness and Reese’s. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Nick Haness was actually pretty happy it rained on Thursday of Desert Circuit 4, presented by Whittier Trust. He flew in Saturday, so he not only missed the rainstorm, but he also got to participate in the rescheduled $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open, sponsored by Voltaire Design. With his trusty partner Reese’s, owned by West Coast Equine Partners, he rode to a score of 182, taking the win in Sunday’s class.

“I’m pretty excited about Reese’s winning the derby today, mostly because I just flew in from Florida 24 hours ago,” Haness reflected. “Reese’s missed me for the week; he didn’t do any practice classes but he’s pretty seasoned so he knows the day of the Derby is his day to shine. He knows when his tail gets braided it’s time to do some business.”

They conducted some impressive business in the hunt-and-go format class, scoring a 92 and 90 in the respective rounds. Jenny Karazissis and Dulcie Lou Morris’ entry Big Shot were just behind for second with a score of 181.5, while Jan Humprey and Callabo took third with a 178.

Haness has had Reese’s since he was just 5, and the gelding is now 11, so the relationship is quite seasoned and the horse knows his job. “He’s just an amazing horse so I’m so happy,” Haness continued. “Even if I’m not here to prepare him I can show up and target a class like this hunter derby and he can rise to the occasion. He’s a smart horse and a wonderful partner.”

Nick Haness and Reese’s in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Without Haness there in person for the week, his team kept the horses going strong, kept them happy, and had them ready for his return.

“I’m very fortunate to have a great support system and a great team on both coasts,” he shared. “When I’m not there the horses are still in a great program and staying fit, being exercised daily. Luckily most of our horses are pretty trained and know their jobs. I always believe in happy horses and not overdoing it so it was nice that Reese’s had a break this week and was able to stay consistently working and turned out. He was able to go into the main event and shine.”

The horse is quite simple in preparing, especially since the team behind Reese’s knows him so well and how he functions.

“Reese’s schedule on the daily is usually a mixture between carrots and turnout time,” Haness said. “[We give him] a nice little 5- to 10-minute leg stretch under saddle. We want to conserve his energy and let him be fresh. Usually the morning of the derby we put him on the lunge line and he celebrates, gets his bucks out and has a moment to be silly. Then he knows it’s time to behave and ready to win when he comes to the ring. He’s been trained that way his whole life. We’re really lucky to have each other and be able to do these derbies that are so much fun.”

Nick Haness and Reese’s. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

There are still countless hunter highlights on the schedule to cme as Desert Circuit continues. Haness won’t be in Thermal 100% of the time, but he’ll aim Reese’s at some big opportunities as the season goes on.

“I’m pretty certain his next thing on the schedule is the [$5,000 Vogel USHJA National Hunt & Go] Derby next Friday and then I go back to Floria for a couple weeks before we gear up for more activity the second half of Circuit,” Haness explained of the next few weeks.

Jayme Omand and Mister Carrera Capture $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Jr/Am

Jayme Omand and Mister Carrera. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Later on in the day, the juniors and amateurs took to hunt-and-go action, and it was Jayme Omand scoring another derby win with Mister Carrera with double 90 scores for a total of 180 in the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Jr/Am, sponsored by Cavalor.

It’s still a newer partnership, but Omand is a confident amateur who is used to bringing along younger horses, which has led them to a great deal of success. “I got him as a 5-year-old at the end of 2022,” Omand siad of the now 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Carrera VDL. “It’s his 11th or 12th derby. When I got him I started him in the eq and derbies right away. He’s been a stellar horse. He’s been such a good boy. He goes around and knows his job.”

Jayme Omand and Mister Carrera. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Following in the professionals’ footsteps, Omand mastered the course in her single attempt and her scores propelled her to the top. Taking second at the close of the class was Hannah Klinedinst aboard Oyster Bay, owned by Equestrian Closet LLC, and Hope Verschleisser and Higgs took third.

Omand felt the derby on Sunday provided a great visual to set Mister Carrera up for great jumping efforts. “With the fill in the higher options, he really likes a lot of fill at the jumps,” she said of the way the jumps were decorated. “We’re in the process of moving him up so it’s fun when the higher options are a bit bolder. He pays attention a little more.”

Jayme Omand and Mister Carrera in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

This is just the beginning of their promising partnership, so Omand looks forward to raising the fence height and raising the expectation for the horse and for them both as a pair.

“Our goals are for sure moving into the 3’6” AOs and to get into the international derbies as well. He’s definitely a derby horse. He’ll do anything but doing big derbies will be really fun,” she explained.

Despite some more rain in the forecast, the weekend at DIHP was a beautiful one and Omand enjoyed every second of it. “Showing here is so fun,” she shared. “All the different courses and jumps tehy set, the young ones really shine here. They learn so much. I came from Sacramento and it’s pouring rain there so showing here is really nice.”

Anderson and Solanka Claim Child/Adult Derby Wins

PJ Anderson and Arezzo. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The Hunt & Go wasn’t reserved just for the National derbies, however. The Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derbies took center stage in Hunter rings 4 and 5. Winning the American Equus 2’-2’3” Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derby was Arezzo with PJ Anderson aboard. Topping the EquiFit 2’6”-2’9” Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derby, with scores of 88 and 87, was Francesca Solaka with True Blue.

Hunters resume Wednesday, February 7, for Desert Circuit 5.

Francesca Solaka and True Blue. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo