Gamble went two for two during Desert Circuit 1, and it’s a trend he and rider James Chawke would like to continue as the season goes on. On Sunday, they made it a 100% strike rate in the $10,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic, a class the horse is no stranger to winning.

“There’s an awful lot of money here in the 1.35m-1.40m classes, which is his height,” Chawke said of why this particular class (plus Wednesday’s 1.35m Welcome Speed) is the class of choice for the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Campbell VDL x Quick Star). “The odd class a bit bigger he’ll do, but he could do this every week. It’s perfect to have him here so he can shine.”

There were 13 clear over Ken Krome’s first-round track, so the competition was steep, but Chawke had two mounts in Gamble and Isa, a mount owned by Elise Haas. Gamble lived up to expectation, taking over the lead when he went about midway through the order, and Isa followed up to take third when the class came to a close. In between the two was Amanda Gomez, who claimed second with Charly-Ann, owned by Rising Star Equestrian.

James Chawke and Gamble. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Even though Chawke and Gamble seem to be the masters, Chawke admits he hasn’t done a ton with the horse considering he’s been in the barn for almost seven years.

“Conor [Swail] and I bought him at the end of his 7-year-old year and took him to Wellington,” he explained. “We didn’t jump him much there; he was weak and we just ended up riding him and not doing much with him. Considering he’s 13 or 14 now, it’s only been the last two or three years that we’ve started doing more with him. I was always traveling, and it didn’t work in the schedule to get him out. Since we started coming here we’ve done more with him.”

James Chawke and Gamble in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Now, Gamble has had the chance to shine, thanks to the wide variety of national show jumping offered at DIHP. But the horse is still as cool as a cucumber, not letting the fame get to his head. He loves his paddock time, and they give him plenty of time to just be a horse. His prep work is light, and his reward is plenty for a job well done.

“He won on Wednesday and then he had Thursday off in the paddock, and Friday he hacked lightly,” Chawke said of the weekly schedule for Gamble. “I did a little bit with him yesterday but he pulled a shoe so that was cut short. He does very little and we keep it very simple. He likes to be out in the paddock a lot. We don’t really jump him at home.”

Chawke plans to keep aiming Gamble at the 1.35m and 1.40m classes throughout Circuit to give him an optimal chance to shine.

Desert Circuit 2 picks up Wednesday, January 17, with the $10,000 Barnwalkers Welcome Speed.

Stellar Results for Abigail Steller and Mercurius II S 3’3” Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic

Abigail Steller came into Desert Circuit 1 with no expectations. But her wildest dreams came true as she rode to the win in her first time in the Amateur-Owners with her newest partner Mercurius II S.

The horse is only a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion, and they’ve been paired in the show ring for only about six months, but with expectations aside, they were able to fully relax, have a good time, and come out with a stellar result.

Abigail Steller and Mercurius II S. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“This is pretty magical,” Steller said of her week with her beloved horse “He’s one of a kind and he takes such good care of me. The fact that he’s 7 years old and doing the Amateur-Owners at this level is incredible.”

In the two rounds, Steller rode to scores of 83 and 82, and their consistency carried them to the win.

“Yesterday, the win in the second round in the younger Amateur-Owners was really special,” she reflected of her weekend. “Even though I’ve owned him for two years I’ve only been showing him about six months. The fact that we’re able to go in there and seamlessly make it look like we’ve been together our entire lives is really special. I particularly love how adjustable he is and how willing he is to jump a good jump.”

Even though Mercurius II S is a stallion, his demeanor is perfect to be an amateur hunter. He isn’t without some quirks, though. “He’s a bit of a nipper. We call him a piranha, but he’s a very beautiful piranha,” she joked. “He’s special, and when he fell into our laps as a 5-year-old we all knew he’d be a good fit for me.”

Abigail Steller and Mercurius II S in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The trickiest part about his ride, according to Steller, is convincing herself to do less.

“He’s always had the same good, even mind. The hardest thing about him is I have to do nothing, compared to my other mounts,” she explained. “He makes me a better rider because he makes me ride quietly. He’s just really cool. As he gets older, I’d love to take him to Devon. He’s a special horse and he deserves to go to a special venue like that. I just look forward to having a great AO career with him.”

As a young mom, Steller has enjoyed the weekend getting to be back in the show ring, surrounded by friends and her equestrian community.

“It’s been wonderful,” she continued. “It’s been really fun and I have a wonderful team that surrounds me. With my grooms, my trainer, and my fellow barnmates, it’s so fun to be out here and be able to share it with everyone.”

Premier hunters continue Wednesday, January 17, for Desert Circuit 2.

Kicking and Jumping: Ashlin Goodwin Wins Prestige Italia 1.15m Junior Jumper Classic

Ashlin Goodwin and MTM Emilia Air Heart. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The first Prestige Italia NAL 1.15m Junior Jumper Classic win was awarded to Santa Barbara resident Ashlin Goodwin aboard MTM Emilia Air Heart. With a blazing fast jump-off time, Goodwin outpaced all other competitors and gracefully claimed the win.

“She is a sweetheart; she loves cuddling,” Goodwin said of MTM Emilia Air Heart, a 12-year-old Holsteiner mare by Toulon. “She’s always there to assist me and loves to jump. I want to thank Mike McCormick and Tracy Fenney, and Corinne for finding her for me. She’s so lovely and always willing to be there for me. She’s just awesome.”

They spent the second half of 2023 getting to know each other, and now they’re off to the races competing in the 1.10m division, with bigger jumps in their future. “She’s super smooth,” Goodwin continued regarding what makes the mare so fast. “She’s always game and ready to jump. She jumps very quickly and is awesome with the turns, so she’s amazing to ride. We’re out there having fun and seeing where we go. We’re coming back weeks two and three and will continue doing this and the 1.20m.”

Ashlin Goodwin and MTM Emilia Air Heart in their winning presentation, pictured with Alyssa Ohlig of Prestige Italia. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Sunday’s course suited them, and they were able to take some risks that really paid off in securing the fastest time. “For the last line, we left a stride out because she’s very good about covering ground. She’s so handy in the turns so that really helped out. We really just went for it,” Goodwin explained.

The 15-year-old doesn’t just thrive at show jumping, though. Goodwin is a black belt in Hapkido karate, which gives her an extra edge in the show ring.

“It helps with the focus, breathing, preparing yourself for anything, and really setting your mind on something and doing it,” she said of the overlap between karate and riding.

In addition to all the skills, Goodwin spends a bit of time volunteering as a miniature horse therapy handler. With her mother, Natalie Goodwin, they brought their miniature horse to volunteer as Salvation Army’s bell ringers in December.