Conor Swail (IRL) always has a winning season in the desert, and Desert Circuit 2024 has been no exception. The Irishman came in strong once again on Thursday of Desert Circuit 9, presented by Kubota, and took first and third places in the $32,000 Sandhaven Farm CSI3* 1.50m Speed aboard Count Me In and Theo 160, respectively, giving him high hopes for a strong finish as the circuit winds down.

“Honestly all the horses have been great,” he reflected on his season in Thermal. “[Crosby] has had a great circuit. He hasn’t knocked so many jumps down and he’s consistently fast and clear. That does win you a few prizes.” Swail now has quite a few Yeti coolers in his possession after taking FEI victories.

Swail went early on with Theo 160, another top-performing horse, and it seemed that his time of 68.10 seconds would be hard to catch, until he went in on his second mount, Count Me In, owned by Mannon Farms. Their new time of 67.33 seconds took over the lead, and only Mathijs Van Asten (NED) came close with Hotspot, taking over second and pushing Theo 160 to third.

For Swail’s winning formula, it’s been important to give the horses proper rest and to mix up their competition schedule just enough to keep them fresh and on their toes.

“It is nice that we do a little on the sand, a little on the grass, and under the lights,” Swail said of the various atmospheres for upper-level jumping at DIHP. “It does mix it up a little bit so each time you come out the horses are freshened up. You have to make sure to not overuse them, which I think I’ve done well. My guys have only jumped two or three weeks in total.”

While he’s traveled a bit throughout the season, Swail’s most consistent base has been the desert, and his horses have primarily stayed there to keep a consistent routine.

“It’s a fabulous place, I must say,” Swail continued about DIHP’s facility. “Thankfully my horses love it here and I enjoy myself as well. It’s world-class footing in the grass and obviously the sand ring is a wonderful venue as well. It is just great.”

While the property offers ample space for turnout, trail riding, and more for the horses to enjoy life outside showing, Swail’s horses are able to even get brief vacations from the show, helping them to further feel like they aren’t always at a horse show.

“We actually stable just down the road, and it’s nice to have a base outside the show if you’re staying for long periods of time,” he said of getting the horses away from the park. “They can get out into the paddocks. They can relax and feel like they’re at home for these few months. They can go out and have a roll and feel like they’re not at a horse show this week. It’s very important that they’re able to get away from the horse show vibe.”

Swail is always in tune with how his horses are feeling, so much so that they can jump a perfect clear round and the Irishman still knows if they may be slightly uncomfortable.

“Nearly all my horses I’ve had for quite a while now, and I can feel if there’s anything a little unusual,” he remarked. “Even if their performances are good I can feel if they’re a little uncomfortable or nervous. It’s about trying to cut out those possibilities. Obviously you want to go in and be successful, but you also want the horse to be very comfortable doing what he’s doing. I feel that myself and our team do that very well. You have to exercise them and need them sharp, but at the same time it’s about trying to keep them healthy and mental health is a huge part of that.”

Conor Swail Takes a Chance with Vital Chance de la Roque

Conor Swail ran from the grass field back to the Grand Prix Arena and won again, this time in the $25,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic aboard Vital Chance de la Roque. The horse has been a solid partner of his for years, but Swail admits he is starting to feel like himself again after a brief lapse in confidence.

“I’m super happy for Vinny because I’ve been quite careful with him through this circuit,” Swail explained of having Vital Chance de la Roque back as a steady contender. “It’s been a while since he’s been in good form. He’s been quite consistent here and seems to be getting back to his old self. It’s another story of being at this place with such a good facility. It’s giving the horses every opportunity to be as good as they can be.”

Swail raced around the track later in the order, and at the time Jill Humprey led with Chromatic BF, owned by Branscomb Farms LLC. Swail just barely squeezed ahead of her time, putting Humphrey in second, while Savannah Jenkins took third aboard Vancouver SE, owned by Proper 12, LLC.

Ultimately there were only six clear rounds out of 44 starters, so Peter Grant’s track proved challenging.

“I didn’t get to see much of the class but it was jumping difficult, with not many clear,” Swail commented. “My horse has a lot of quality and I was hoping to get a good result with him. He felt really good and started off well. When he’s on form he’s really super. It felt really smooth and it was quite quick. I didn’t see Jill’s round and I only just got her, so she must’ve been very quick also.”

As he has many times this season, Swail’s dog Ralph got to take the victory lap twice with his winning father.

“He’s settled in nicely just like all the horses,” Swail said of Ralph. “He enjoys his little routine coming to the horse shows. He has fun going in there when I win. He really enjoys running around, so it’s nice that the horse show doesn’t get mad at me or Ralph. I think it’s really cute.”

With one week of CSI4* action remaining, Swail will place his three horses, Theo 160, Count Me In, and Vital Chance de la Roque among the FEI and National divisions for the final week, hoping for more top results and a memorable end to Desert Circuit.

National show jumping resumes Saturday with the $40,000 Prestige Italia National Grand Prix, and FEI action picks up again Friday with the $5,000 Whittier Trust CSI3* 1.45m Speed.

Nina Alario and Lyrical Harmonize in 3’6” Performance Hunters

Nina Alario had a stellar outing on Thursday in the 3’6” Performance Hunters, scoring two firsts and a second place aboard Lyrical, owned by Sonja Petri, for championship honors in the division of over 30 entries.

“She is a 9-year-old mare we bought one year ago,” Alario said of Lyrical. “Her owner, Sonja Petri, shows her in the 3’3” Amatuer-Owners and I campaigned her last year in the 3’6” Green Hunters. She was champion at all but one horse show that we attended last year. She’s a very special little mare.”

Lyrical kept up the championship spirit, dazzling the judges in each of her winning classes.

“She has that mare attitude of being a little bit of a princess that likes to shine,” Alario said of what sets the mare apart. “She is very nonchalant around the barn but she steps into the ring and she brings her performance and her jump to another level.”

Alario has returned for another stint in the desert to finish out Desert Circuit. “It’s been lovely,” she said of her time showing at DIHP. “We are from Northern California. We came down for three weeks in the first half of Circuit and now we’re back for two. It’s really nice to come down here and get out of the cold rainy weather. Every week you come to Desert Horse Park they’ve done something new and different as far as an improvement, so we’re big supporters.”

Hunter action resumes Friday with the $49,900 USHJA International Hunter Derby, sponsored by Kubota, as well as the $10,000 USHJA Hunt & Go Derby – Open, sponsored by Devoucoux and the $10,000 USHJA Hunt & Go Derby – Jr/Am, sponsored by Seahorse Riding Club.

Amanda Gomez and Catoki’s Blue Get the Blue in 5-Year-Old Young Jumpers

Amanda Gomez knew the first time she sat on Catoki’s Blue (Catoki x Contender) that he was something special. A product of Melinda Blue’s – her godmother’s – breeding program, Catoki’s Blue was the last foal before his mother was retired from breeding, and he’s proving to be quite promising.

With the Young Jumpers on the grass for Desert Circuit 9, presented by Kubota, Gomez and Catoki’s Blue faced a new environment with new challenges, but they were challenges met with grace. The duo took wins on Wednesday and Thursday in the 5-Year-Old division, finishing Thursday with a double-clear effort.

“He’s a really cool little horse that my godmother bred and I own half of,” Gomez explained of Catoki’s Blue. “When he first came to my barn he only had 30 days under saddle so I developed him all the way through to where he is now. It’s an advantage to me because I know him so well at this point.”

The change in atmosphere was welcomed by the top riders who are thankful to present new challenges to their promising young ones. “To be able to get them out on the grass field at such a young age and in an environment like that is so beneficial for them,” Gomez shared. “Even though it’s a big stage, it’s a low-stress environment. There’s no pressure and it’s been really nice out there so far.”

Catoki’s Blue is special for more than just his talent and ability, he’s part of the family.

“He’s really special to us because it’s one of her last homebreds before she retired the mare,” Gomez continued. “He’s been a dream all the way through. He was supposed to be a sale project, but I sat on him the very first day and said, ‘We cannot sell this one. We need to figure out how to keep the horse in my barn.’”

Blue had secretly hoped the horse might stick around. “It made her happy that I said that because she was hoping for quality since it was the last one out of the mare,” Gomez said. “We had never seen him jump before but I just felt something special. I own half of him so now we’re just hoping he’s as special as we think he is.”

Breeding can be a thrilling but often discouraging process, and as a budding young professional Gomez is learning the ups and downs firsthand.

“I try to breed a couple a year for myself as well, but not many of them turn out the way you hope,” she explained. “They have to have so many special qualities to jump the big jumps. To have one that we think highly of is super special. You just have to be patient and take your time when you know the jump and the brain is there. I’m really thankful that she gave me the opportunity to develop him and I think he’ll be quite cool.”

The Young Jumpers take on two more days of jumping on the grass field to build confidence and experience the new environment.