James Chawke and Gamble didn’t miss a beat since their last time out at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). After winning several iterations of both 1.35m and 1.40m action in 2023, the duo kickstarted the 2024 Desert Circuit with a win in the $5,000 IDA Development 1.35m Welcome Speed, proving one year has only sweetened their partnership.

Even better, he secured a one-two finish with his two entries in the class. “It feels great. That was the idea of coming here this morning. Both horses were super,” he reflected.

“[Gamble] hasn’t done much since June,” Chawke said of the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Campbell VDL x Quick Star). “He seems to really like this place, and he hasn’t missed a beat. He seems very happy.”

James Chawke and Gamble. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Chawke and Gamble went late in the order, and the Irishman was chasing his own time, set early on aboard another mount, Nacara van Berkenbroeck Z, owned by Alison Locke. He shaved more than two seconds off his own leading time, coming in at 54.101 seconds with Gamble, taking direct paths and leaving out strides with his steady partner.

“He’s been back in work for a good bit but he hasn’t jumped much at all,” Chawke said of bringing Gamble back into work after the off-season. “I didn’t jump too much at home and then I brought him here in December and did a schooling class on a Tuesday. Yesterday he came and did the same thing and here we are.”

But it’s not just Gamble that gave Chawke a great deal of confidence coming out of the first class of the 10-week circuit.

James Chawke and Gamble in their winning presentation, pictured with Chris Midttun, IDA Development Equitan Product Line Manager. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“The one I was second on, I wanted to see how he handled today just going straight in,” he said of Nacara van Berkenbroeck Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding. “I wouldn’t mind moving him up and trying to jump him a bit bigger to see how he handles that. Showing Gamble was to see where he is to make a plan after this week with him. I really only showed him this week because he’s done so little and I want to know what to expect the rest of Circuit.”

Chawke and his team, comprised of fellow Irishman Conor Swail and Canadian Vanessa Mannix, have a stellar string of horses for all levels coming into Desert Circuit 2024. Chawke himself has added a few horses just recently, so he knows he’ll have a lot of learning to do as he gets to know his new mounts, but he also anticipates some promising results.

“I have quite a few new horses,” he shared. “We have an 8-year-old that we bred in Ireland that we just brought over. I’ll have him to see what he’s like. I have two new ones in quarantine so I’ll have seven or eight to show here. I’m excited. A lot of new ones but it’ll be good to see what they’re like and build from here.”

Desert Circuit 1 features National show jumping, which continues on Thursday with the $10,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic.

CTAcademy Riders Wrap Three Days of Learning from Equestrian Experts

Over the span of three days, riders who participated in the CTAcademy, put on by Cavalleria Toscana with the help of Neil Jones Equestrian, learned all aspects of a successful equestrian career. With sessions in the classroom, in the gym, in the tack, and at the ring, riders learned from Cavalleria Toscana staff and brand ambassadors.

Leading the mounted instruction was Italian show jumper Lorenzo De Luca, who guided four separate sections of pole work, flatwork, and jumping.

“The riders here I was really impressed with,” De Luca remarked of the CTAcademy riders. “All four groups were very good. The horses really jumped great and I was really impressed that every rider really understood what I wanted and what was the final plan of the lesson. Of course they had different systems but they were so open to listen to new ideas and I was really glad that they were so open minded. They did a great job.”

In his first trip to DIHP, De Luca liked everything he saw. “I always heard so many great things about Thermal in California. I didn’t doubt a second about coming. I really wanted to come and I’m glad I did. I discovered an amazing place and hopefully I will be back again,” he shared.

Among the participants in the clinic were juniors, amateurs, and professional riders, all sharing a common goal of becoming a more well-rounded equestrian. Matt and Lindsay Archer, California-based professionals who run Shady Lane Farm, both took part in the clinic with their horses.

“Our experience with the academy has been fantastic,” Lindsay shared. “We have known Lorenzo for a little while so we were excited to come work with him. I had a bit of a difficult horse I needed help with and he’s been very methodical in working through it every day. The mental coaching aspect has been amazing because I had a bad accident about three months ago so that’s been very useful. The training has been great as well.”

One of the participants’ favorite parts – which also attracted many other viewers from outside the clinic – was the Horsemanship Demonstration with Leo Rauscher. On Thursday he brought his own horse to demonstrate his techniques, and on Wednesday he showed similar techniques with participants’ horses.

“The horsemanship with Leo was amazing,” Lindsay continued. “He’s done a fantastic job and we never get that in our busy show jumping world. To get some of that was really incredible.”

Matt echoed the sentiment, enjoying the change of pace and various elements that as professionals they are not exposed to often. “It’s been an incredible opportunity to learn in the classroom,” he reflected. “As trainers and adults we don’t engage in the classroom often so it was a good exercise to engage that part of our brains. Overall it’s been a great group of people and Cavalleria Toscana has done a super job putting it all together. It’s something Lindsay and I really enjoy and it’s been a super opportunity.”

The inaugural US edition of the CTAcademy closed on Wednesday afternoon with a Q&A with Lorenzo De Luca, so all riders could get any last pieces of wisdom they wanted before they take all they learned into the practice and show rings.