At the beginning of the circuit, James Chawke acquired a brand-new ride aboard Daido Van’t Ruytershof Z. He waited to bring the mare into the show ring, but when he did, he immediately started winning, and he hasn’t stopped.

“She had two weeks off from the last time she was out, and I am still figuring her out,” Chawke said of the 10-year-old Zangersheide mare (Dieu-Merci van T&L x Bamako de Muze) that he found in Italy at the tail end of 2023. “She’s a lot of blood but I think she’s relaxing all the time. I felt today she was super relaxed in the ring. She likes both the grass and the sand apparently, so that’s a good thing.”

He moved her up strategically, first jumping the $7,500 Interactive Mortgage 10 & Under Futurity Series (and winning it), then trying his hand at Welcome Speed action and 1.40m Open Classic action (also winning those). So it’s safe to say Daido Van’t Ruytershof Z is a winner.

In Wednesday’s class to open Desert Circuit 9, presented by Kubota, he put both her speed and agility to the test, cruising around Peter Grant’s track with an open stride and quick rollbacks.

“I’m trying to work on her fitness so I don’t want to overdo it,” Chawke said of strategically placing the mare in classes she can win while keeping the class count as low as possible. “It’s a different program for her than what she’s used to, so I jumped her for two weeks [during weeks five and six]. Then we gave her a few days off and trailed her around the farm, and she got to go in the paddock for a few days. We’ve done a few small jumps for fitness and brought her out today.”

All Chawke’s horses enjoy their time to relax around the farm and out in the paddocks, allowing them to just be horses without high expectations. He believes relaxation is often key to keeping them happy and motivated.

“For their mind it’s good,” he said of their downtime at the farm nearby. “When we got her she was always ready to go. I want her to learn to relax, put her head down, and enjoy it. It’s not always about waiting to do something, it’s about just being relaxed. Actually, at home my son sits on her with me and I walk around, that’s how quiet she is at home now.”

Chawke currently leads the Open Jumper Rider standings, with only one week remaining. Wednesday’s win doesn’t count, but Chawke has taken significant wins in classes that do qualify towards the award, and it’s been something in the back of his mind, though he knows the results are never completely in his control.

“I said at the start that it’s great if it happens but I wouldn’t push too hard for it,” Chawke said of trying to win while also managing his schedule appropriately. “I try to break them up so I have a couple horses each week jumping the classes that count. Obviously if I win it that’s great but it comes from being consistent, which I really try to be.”

Michael Williamson Kicks Off CSI3* Action with a Win

As Desert Circuit 9, presented by Kubota, kicked off on the grass field, Michael WIlliamson snagged the first FEI win of the week aboard Call Me Baby Quick PS, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Conthargos x Chacco-Blue). The duo topped a field of 44 entries, setting the tone for international jumping for the week.

“I’ve had him since the start of the winter and I’m developing my partnership with him,” Williamson said of Call Me Baby Quick PS, a horse that has had an extensive career jumping CSI2* and CSI3* levels in Europe. “I’m newer to the FEI levels so I’ve been getting a lot of experience jumping my first three-stars with him. Two weeks ago was my first three-star with him and jumping that height together. He has a lot of experience jumping big tracks and he’s a great horse for me to get to learn on.”

Show jumper Leon Thijssen (NED) matched Williamson with the horse, believing they’d be a good match and the horse would have potential for a great career on the West Coast of the United States. “I used to work for him and we have a good partnership going,” Williamson said of his working relationship with Thijssen. “We do business together with various horses, so he sent this horse over and thought it would be a good horse for me. He’s an incredible horse for the market out here as well.”

Williamson, a young professional, still benefits from the confidence he can gain working with a horse like Call Me Baby Quick PS. While he develops young talent and works with horses that may still be figuring out the sport, it’s a privilege he enjoys when he sits on something that knows the job and can be more of a partnership.

“He’s got so much scope and he wants to be very careful, so it just gives you a really confident feeling going down to any height,” he commented. “He just wants to take you across the jump and he wants to leave the jumps up, and his speed is nice too when you’re on the clock.”

The pair jumped on the grass during Desert Circuit 4 in the CSI2* division, jumping a clear round in the Grand Prix that week.

“For me, I love the feel of jumping on grass,” he remarked. “It’s beautiful and I love the jumps they use out there as well as the open space. He’s a horse with blood so it’s nice to let him be able to use that out on that big field and just open up his step.”

Though he’s enjoying every step of the ride, the goal is for the horse to have a successful career with another rider, be it on the West Coast or elsewhere. “I think he’d be a great match for anyone,” Williamson continued about Call Me Baby Quick PS. “I think he’s a lovely horse for anybody looking to move up and jump at a bigger level, plus to jump around confidently and still be able to be very competitive.”

International jumping action resumes on the grass field Thursday with the $32,000 Sandhaven Farm CSI3* 1.50m Speed.

Katie Laurie and Roark OBF Ride to 6-Year-Old Young Jumper Victory

For Desert Circuit 9, presented by Kubota, the Young Jumper divisions are slated for the grass field, which was very exciting for Katie Laurie as she rode to the win with a very exciting new horse in the 6-Year-Old Young Jumpers. Aboard Roark OBF, owned by Jamie Lee, Laurie topped the field of 6-year-olds, further affirming that she and Lee have something special on their hands.

“He’s so cool,” she said of the Belgian Warmblood stallion (Emerald x Heartbreaker). “He came to us at the beginning of his 5-year-old year. He’s got a huge jump, he’s scopey, he’s careful, and has a very calm demeanor. I think he’s got all the qualities of a very good horse. It’s nice to have one that can jump that good but also be so normal.”

The class Wednesday was very competitive, with eight horses jumping double-clear, proving the quality of young talent that comes to the desert for the winter. Roark OBF jumped last winter in Thermal, and since then has competed enough to move up to the 1.20m level, but Laurie and Lee are very tedious in planning his schedule.

“He came here as a 5-year-old last year and then during the summer he did Rocky Mountain Show Jumping nearby us,” Laurie continued. “It’s an outdoor show with a really nice grass ring. He jumped up to 1.20m over the summer there. So he hasn’t been to loads of places or had loads of miles. We’ve been really careful with him because he’s going to be a really special guy.”

Beyond the demeanor and the talent, Roark OBF also has the breeding to prove himself. “He’s got the breeding to be a really great horse,” she shared. “I think he’s got what it takes to be a top grand prix horse. He’s a stallion and he’s so nice to handle as a stallion. It’s not very often you get one quite as special as him, so I’m very lucky to be riding him.”

Moving the Young Jumpers onto the grass field is a privilege Laurie is enjoying, as are other top riders bringing young talent along.

“It is really great,” she said of the change in surface for the division. “The sand arenas here are fantastic and they get so much experience, but then when you go on the grass it feels like a whole new show. For the young horses it’s a great opportunity to get to jump on the grass at that age and not so much pressure.”

The Young Jumpers continue Thursday.