Jenny Karazissis and Big Shot, owned by Dulcie Lou Morris, have a partnership unlike any other, and the past few weeks at Desert International Horse Park have proven that their partnership may just be stronger than ever, even nine years in. On Friday night of Desert Circuit 6, presented by IDA Development and Barnwalkers, the seasoned duo took top honors in the $10,000 C3RV Winner’s Circle Hunter Stake, capping off an excellent Hunter Week.

“I was so pleased with how Big Shot went under the lights,” Karazissis reflected of her evening with the 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding. “It’s been a long time since he has shown under the lights. He loves this [Grand Prix] ring, and I just wasn’t sure how he would be. When I entered the ring I did feel him perk up a little bit with the crowd and noise and all from the VIP. Once I picked up the canter and headed to [jump] one, I could feel that he was focused and going to try really hard for me.”

Jenny Karazissis and Big Shot. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Big Shot’s efforts earned him a score of 90, but Karazissis went early in the class, so she had to wait to see if she would end up on top. All the horse-and-rider combinations punched a ticket to qualify for the class based on results of rated divisions throughout the week, so the true cream of the crop came forward to compete under the lights.

But with just a single classic round determining results, the score of 90 did the trick and Karazissis took home the top prize. Emily Esau Williams came very close toward the end with Star Quality, owned by Megan Camaisa, scoring 89, and taking second. Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou, owned by Dana Vollbracht, took third with a score of 86.

“I’m so pleased with this class; having it just be a stake class is very different,” Karazissis remarked on the format of the evening’s event. Kevin Hollowack set a stunning track for the hunters to show off. “It makes sense because we got to show out in the Grand Prix ring all week and to have a winner’s stake fits it very nicely. With just one round it was a very inviting course. I’m just so grateful to the Horse Park for offering all the classes and the money that they are to the hunters.”

Jenny Karazissis and Big Shot in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Karazissis keeps her eye on all the special events for hunters, and she’s simply always a favorite to top those events.

“Desert Horse Park has come up with something special every week,” she shared. “I remember going over the prize list before we came here. Ten weeks is a lot and you try and say, ‘I’m not gonna do this week, I’m not gonna do that week,’ but it’s so hard to pick a week not to do! There is something every week that is fun, and lots of money. I so appreciate that.”

Big Shot, also known as “Dude”, has held a very special place in Karazissis’ barn and heart over the past nine years.

“I remember when we first got a call from Buffy and Rick Oas, saying, ‘I think I have a special horse for sale and I’d like you to try it and campaign it.’ Immediately my husband and I thought this was a special horse and I didn’t want him to be sold. I wanted to keep him. so I called upon one of my clients and [asked if they would] consider investing in this horse.”

A horse’s career is always unpredictable, but Karazissis and Dude have been fortunate to never part ways. “It’s just very unusual that a horse can have a career for nine years and still feel as good as he does,” she shared. “There are many horses out there that have a long career, but not always with the same rider. They could get sold or a lot could happen, but these owners have been incredibly loyal and it’s fun for them. We think of Dude as family.”

Despite the major hype and focus on the hunters during week six, the hunter action and highlights are very far from over for Desert Circuit. During week nine, the hunters will take to the USHJA International Hunter Derby back in the Grand Prix Arena, and the following week they’ll jump the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular under the lights of the Grand Prix Arena to close out Desert Circuit.

“I’m so glad because now he can have you know a week or two off not have to show,” Karazissis said regarding the outcome of the night and how it impacts the next few weeks of Dude’s schedule. “I hope to do the derby week nine and then the Spectacular, so this was perfect practice for that yet not taking it all out of him. We’ll definitely try and peak for that event; that’s lots of money.”

See full results from the $10,000 C3RV Winner’s Circle Hunter Stake here.

Gregory Wathelet Scores Back-to-Back Wins in Grand Prix Action

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) had a great day on the grass field on Saturday of Desert Circuit 6, presented by IDA Development and Barnwalkers, as did Karrie Rufer, who sat on the sidelines and watched both her horses win.

Rufer, who runs Morning Star Sporthorses, has an impressive string of show jumpers and has meticulously passed along the rides while she and Kevin Winkel await their first child. Wathelet was fortunate to get the reins on Stern Dei Folletti and Mr. Europe, each of whom won a grand prix Saturday.

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Stern Dei Folletti. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

In the $117,000 IDA Development CSI3* Grand Prix, it was Stern Dei Folletti’s turn to play. Wathelet was one of seven to jump Peter Holmes’ course fault free, and ultimately one of only three double-clear efforts. He was the quickest by a comfortable margin, but Kyle King (USA) grabbed second place with SIG Chiari, owned by SIG International, and Ali Ramsay (CAN) took third with Conrado 12, owned by Ramsay Equestrian Inc.

“The first time I rode him was a few weeks ago and it’s a bit of a funny horse,” Wathelet said of Stern Dei Folletti, a 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Toulon x Berlin). “He has a bit his own style and when I did our first 1.35m he gives you an okay feeling but you don’t expect he’s going to jump this kind of class so easily. You realize quite quickly that he has a really good mind and is a real fighter and super careful.”

Rufer has taken some impressive wins on “Stan” before, so Wathelet knew he was sitting on a winner, but, as all riders do, he needed to bond with him before he started producing results. “I needed to get to know him a bit because I was riding him more like I needed to help him to get over the jump,” he explained. “But now I don’t have to help him anymore, I just trust his scope. Two weeks ago he was quite good, second in a big class the first day, and I got a really good feeling. And this weekend was even better. Today I had a good feeling and he really tried.”

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Stern Dei Folletti in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Stan is an unassuming little horse, with a short build and endless scope. “I also realized about him that he’s so quick and has a huge stride,” Wathelet said of what he’s learned as he’s continued getting to know the horse. “When you are in the ring and start to open the gear he has a massive stride. I just have to be careful I don’t override the jumps.”

Wathelet and another of Rufer’s mounts, Mr. Europe, also took a win in the $40,000 Antares Sellier National Grand Prix, making it two grand prix wins in one day for the Belgian World Champion.

“It was good; he knows his job he knows what he has to do,” Wathelet said of Mr. Europe, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Mr Blue x San Patrignano Cassini). “I was a bit lucky in the end, but he jumped well and was good to ride. In the jump-off I was number one to go and I went a bit and took some risks, had an unlucky four but the rest was very good.”

Gregory Wathelet and Mr. Europe. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

With the one rail down in the jump-off, Wathelet was still quickest on Mr. Europe for the win. Mark Kinsella was the next fastest for second place, with a heartbreaking final rail in the jump-off, aboard Marquis Le Beau Courally, owned by Katherine Huffstutler. Wathelet took third as well aboard Beau Gosse du Park. Amanda Gomez took the Surrey U25 Classic win aboard Coldplay.

Piloting the Morning Star Sporthorses rides has proven fruitful already, and Wathelet looks forward to four more weeks of jumping these two mounts and more for Rufer.

“It’s always nice because I knew they were good horses, ready horses also, because I was helping her last year here,” Wathelet said of his rides. “It’s always a challenge also. When I arrived I had never sat on them and then you have to go straight and show at a high level. It’s a challenge but I like it. I’m really happy she thought of me for that. I feel like week after week I know them a bit better and I really enjoy it. It was a good day for both of them.”

Gregory Wathelet in his winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Both classes provided entertainment for the crowd, a display of top show jumping, and a great day for Wathelet and for Morning Star Sporthorses. “It’s always for me a pleasure to jump at this kind of place,” he shared. “It was a good course, it was fair and nice to everyone today. It was a fun course to ride on the grass.”

Wathelet has jumped all the grass fields the world has to offer, and he keeps returning to the one at DIHP to praise it.

“We are lucky we have plenty of really good grass fields in Europe but this one you can compare to the best ones we have in Europe,” he shared. “It’s as good as If you jump at the Sunshine Tour or Valkenswaard, where you know the footing is really good, and on top of it we have the weather which helps even more. I would say even better than Aachen for the ground. [Aachen] is one of the best shows, but if it’s raining a lot it can [lose quality]. Two weeks ago [here] it was raining a lot and the day after it was perfect.”

Amanda Gomez and Coldplay in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Show jumping resumes Sunday with the $32,000 Legacy Hunters & Jumpers CSI3* 1.50m Classic and the $25,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic.

See full results from the $117,000 IDA Development CSI3* Grand Prix here.

See full results from the $40,000 Antares Sellier Grand Prix here.

Estimated Prophet Rises to 3’6” Junior Hunter Classic Win

In the winter of 2023, Estimated Prophet arrived at DIHP and was noticed for his efforts with Nick Haness in international hunter derbies. Fast forward one year, and he’s excelling in the Junior Hunters with Djuna Lauder, taking the win in the $5,000 Voltaire Design 3’6” Junior Hunter Classic.

With scores of 87 and 86, they took the number one spot by a small margin against other very competitive junior hunters, but trainer Carleton Brooks was confident the already expert show hunter, owned by Roaring Fork Farms, would prevail.

“He’s come to the party every event,” Brooks said of Estimated Prophet, a 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Cornet Obolensky x Argentinus). “He is very intelligent, and he does know when it’s special. He’ll give you 100% if you ask for it, and he’a always ready to compete. He is a competitor; he’s not going to let us down.”

Djuna Lauder and Estimated Prophet. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Brooks has seen the horse progress since he came into their training, and he’s been along for the victories and the special moments. “That’s the best part is the process,” he shared. “I watch the process and that’s what gets me to work every day. You’re always trying to make it better. You never can be satisfied with what you have. The sky is the limit.”

“Hunter Week” has been a major hit among all hunter riders, trainers, and fans at DIHP. Brooks is especially fond of the event, which showcases the hunters in the Grand Prix Arena.

“I think the presentation of the event has been off the charts,” he said of week six, presented by IDA Development and Barnwalkers. “The arena we are competing in is second to none, the jumps in the arena are second to none, and the competition level is here. The cream did rise to the top.”

Estimated Prophet in his winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The hunters in the Grand Prix Arena has given hunters an opportunity to do something new, even in a more comfortable setting like the Junior or Amateur-Owner Hunters. “[The clients] love it,” Brooks said of the switch-up of arenas, giving hunters the stage. “They love galloping, they love jumping out here. The horses love the freedom. It’s been a very very beneficial week. I wish we could do it again.”

Brooks is based not too far down the road in Los Angeles, so he calls DIHP home for the entire winter season. Having a show of this caliber in his home state is a pleasure for him as he recognizes the effort put into the venue and the quality that comes out of the venue.

“People need to open their eyes to the fact that there is more than one venue now. This venue has surpassed everyone else, hands down,” he said of DIHP. “Once it takes off they’re going to have many sections of every special class. Everyone is recognized. Everyone feels special, but they have to earn it, they don’t just get it. They’re special because they came to the competition and competed.”

For Brooks, it’s always about the horses, but it’s also about the owners, who provide everyone the opportunity to even have the horse in the first place. “Owners have to be recognized, more so even than they are,” he expressed. “Owners are the backbone of the industry. Without owners you have nothing. With the racehorses it’s all about the owner. The horse should be recognized also more so than it is.”

Balmoral Farm is filled with young talent, as well as seasoned talent, and Brooks is as excited as ever with the caliber of horse in his stable. “They have proven themselves at the higher levels or the younger ones have shown everything possible,” he said of his squad. “I don’t know if we’ll have them long enough, but they are exceptional. And you have to have an exceptional athlete to perform at this level.”

Hunter Week comes to an end Sunday, but not before the Amateur-Owner divisions come to an end in the Grand Prix Arena. Sunday also features the EquiFit 2’/2’3” Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derby and the Modern Horse 2’6/2’9” Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derby.

Ian McFarlane and Brooke O’Malley Conquer Barnstyle Equitation Challenge

Ian McFarlane and Brooke O’Malley in their winning presentation, pictured with Cynthia Krantz of Barnstyle and Susie Schroer of MeadowGrove. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Once a year the professionals and the junior/amateurs get to team up in an equitation setting, and the day was Saturday of Desert Circuit 6 to have a go at it again. In the Barnstyle Equitation Challenge, it was team MeadowGrove – professional Ian McFarlane and junior Brooke O’Malley who emerged victorious.

The riders went in the THIS Grand Eq ring together and each one did a different course. The professional had to ride a gymnastics-style course, with added challenges, while he junior or amateur had a more straightforward jumper-style equitation course.

McFarlane and O’Malley nailed all the aspects of the course, coming home on a score of 171 and taking the win. But interestingly, McFarlane never had much of an equitation career as a junior.

“We have a lot of equitation horses and equitation riders at the moment [at MeadowGrove] and it’s fun to partake every now and again,” he said of why he chose to step into this setting. “It’s a fun class. I teach a lot of equitation but I actually didn’t ride a lot of equitation as a junior. I stuck to the jumpers.”

When asked what the duo really focused on to try to put in consistent rounds, McFarlane replied. “What I teach my kids every week.” And by that, he meant, “Basics: be straight, try to land our leads, be smooth, don’t cut your turns. all the good stuff.”

The team aspect, which shows up in all three rings at DIHP, adds something new to the challenge of horse showing. Teams rely on one another to show up and do their part, which provides a fun atmosphere but also makes riders work that much harder. “There’s definitely always pressure,” he continued about a team setting. “For me one of the most important and useful things in the equitation that these kids learn to deal with is an added element of pressure.”

When the teammate is his own student who learns from everything he says and does, the pressure is even higher. “It was even an added element of pressure of not wanting to let your teammate down,” he continued. “If one of you guys did really well and the other has a mistake, that’s an added element. It was a fun class and a good opportunity for anyone. It feels like there’s a lot on the line.”

O’Malley echoed that it was a very fun class to do that switched up the typical schedule of equitation classes, as she’s an avid equitation competitor every week.

“I thought it was a lot of fun that we got to do different courses,” she said of the format. “There is definitely pressure since [Ian] did very well. I watched him and was in the ring with him so it was pressure for me to do well but it was a lot fun.”

Just earlier, McFarlane coached O’Malley through her equitation trips. Then, she got to switch gears and see it as a partnership. “Earlier today he was helping me with my rounds so it was fun to go into this together,” she reflected. “It was both a trainer-student relationship and a team partnership. Before I went, he said, ‘Stay on your corners and keep your pace.’”

Both the horses, Uno! and Quijote, that the winning team rode are equitation mounts of O’Malley’s, so she was beaming with pride that they both got to be winners.

“I was really happy with both of them,” she said of her rides. Uno! is owned by Nick Haness and is still learning the ropes of equitation, so this was an added challenge for him. “They’re both newer to the job and Uno is a lot newer; he’s been doing the eq for a little bit less than a year. I was so happy with both of them and how it turned out, especially with the trot poles and the grids.”

Equitation continues Sunday of Desert Circuit 6 with the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal, the CPHA Foundation Equitation Medal, and the NHS Hamel Foundation Medal.