Conor Swail is starting week five, presented by Premier Equestrian, the same way he ended week four: winning. Aboard the same mount he won Sunday’s final class on, Vital Chance de la Roque, he won Thursday’s feature class, the $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic.

“That was a very nice round he did today; I was very happy with ‘Vinny’,” Swail reflected on the speed round. He was close to the tail end of the order with his second of two rides. “I got to see a lot of horses today; I rode one myself and had a nice round. It was a tricky enough course; a lot of turns and a lot of rollbacks. I thought it was a nice course but you had to do everything quite correctly.”

With Kelvin Bywater designing, 30 horse-and-rider combinations went into speed mode to try to take the top call. Swail went early with Gamble, taking over the lead and doing a very bold inside turn that only he was brave enough to try.

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

“Gamble is the only horse that I have that can do that honestly,” he said of the sharp turn. “When he lands the first step you can go straight in whatever direction you want. Normally when you land you need at least two steps before you can turn in one direction or the other, but he’s so good at it that I knew I could do it with him. Unfortunately he has such a big step that he’s not the quickest in this sand ring but he jumped a fabulous round so I was delighted with him too.”

Gamble ended up third, and the only pair separating his two rides was Kyle King with Patricia Vasey’s Odysseus. King took over the lead, just to have Swail come right in and take it back.

Conor Swail and Vital Chance de la Roque In in their winning presentation, pictured with Dr. Jessica Anderson of FarmVet. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Though Vinny has been a reliable partner of Swail’s for years, especially at this venue, they’re still trying new things with him. Their method of preparing the horse has evolved, as it usually does in a long-term partnership, and Swail warmed Vinny up in a different bit than he actually used in the show ring.

“I’ve been toying around a wee bit,” Swail said of the equipment he tried today. “I’m sure everyone knows he used to go in a hackamore and he was famous for the hackamore and no shoes. Now we actually have shoes on and the hackamore wasn’t suiting him so we got away from that.”

Putting the hackamore back on for the first few warm-up fences, Swail wasn’t convinced it was the way to go. “We’ve been playing around with different bits over the last period of time and actually this was the first time I used it on him,” he explained. “It’s Theo’s bridle which Theo is very good in. He warmed up nicely but the last few jumps on him he started to not love it. I thought, ‘Let’s go back to the bit he won in last Sunday’. I did two jumps with that and he felt very good and rideable in it.”

Like all of Swail’s mounts, Vinny is showing true consistency and promise back at the higher level, though the 1.45m fence height was a step down from CSI4* action the week prior. Swail has a powerhouse of a string of horses and is sure to be a favorite as the rest of Desert Circuit picks up speed.

“I’m very happy with Vinny. The consistency is starting to show a bit. He was very solid today so I’m delighted,” he shared.

Show jumping continues Saturday with the $7,500 Interactive Mortgage 10 & Under Futurity Series and the $100,000 Premier Equestrian Grand Prix with the $20,000 Perfect Products U25 Overlay.

Emily Esau Williams Just Has That Star Quality

Emily Esau Williams and Star Quality. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

In 2022 Emily Esau Williams was looking for a star, and she found just that in Star Quality, a horse owned by Megan Camaisa. Together the pair took championship honors at Desert Circuit 5, presented by Premier Equestrian, in the High Performance Hunters.

“We bought him in Europe in the spring of 2022,” Esau Williams, of San Diego, said of the 11-year-old stallion. “We were looking for a horse to do the international derbies with and we came upon him. He has fit that bill perfectly. We actually got to do Derby Finals in Kentucky last year. It was my first time doing it as was his. We got a really nice ribbon in the [Derby] Challenge. We just aim him for the International Derbies.”

It was an appropriate week to start out with a win, as the hunter derby horses return to the grass field Friday for the $49,900 USHJA International Hunter Derby, sponsored by Premier Equestrian. Esau Williams has high hopes for Star Quality heading into Friday’s big class.

“We did [a derby on the grass] at Franktown Meadows last summer and won that one,” she said of the horse’s experience on grass. “He likes the grass, at least he did last summer. Hopefully he likes it tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being out there because I have not been out on that field yet.”

Though the horse is fairly straightforward to ride, Esau Williams still has to pay full attention when riding and managing him, since he’s a little different from other hunters in the barn.

“He’s a stallion so he requires a different approach than a gelding would,” she explained. “You have to work a little more around him. You have to be a little more aware that he has other things on his mind, not just his job in the ring. We have to try to keep him focused. That’s the main goal because he likes to know what every horse on the property is doing at all times. Keeping his focus inside the ring is my main job. He jumps beautifully and he shows me the distances, so I just have to keep him right there.”

Though owner Camaisa enjoys riding the horse at home, the short-term plan is to keep him showing in International Derbies with Esau Williams aboard. With several more opportunities for big hunter classes, the pair can continue to solidify their partnership and take home top results.

“We came last year only for a couple weeks but we had such a fantastic time that I wanted to come back and do more this year,” Esau Williams said of returning to the desert. “The facility is fantastic. There’s nothing I can say isn’t world class. The footing is great, the jumps are beautiful, the back gate people are fantastic and really work with you, and the office staff is nice. They have really gone above and beyond to make this into a premier place to show and I’m so fortunate it’s two and a half hours from my house.”

Hunter action resumes Friday with an action-packed derby day, featuring the $5,000 USHJA Pony Hunter Derby, sponsored by Kickapoo Ponies, followed by the $49,900 USHJA International Hunter Derby, sponsored by Premier Equestrian. Main Hunter also features the $5,000 USHJA National Hunt & Go Derby – Open, sponsored by Vogel, and the $5,000 USHJA National Hunt & Go Derby – Jr/Am, sponsored by Platinum Performance.