Julia Nagler has been working her way up to a major win with her horse Sanvano. She’s always believed in him and they’ve always been competitive, but on Sunday of Desert Circuit 5, presented by Premier Equestrian, all the pieces fell into place and she won the $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic.

“This is our biggest win,” she remarked of the occasion. “We’ve jumped 1.40m consistently. We do a lot of Northern California grand prixs. Lots of double clears but not always fast enough, so this is definitely our biggest win for sure.”

She was up against steep competition, too, with elite riders like James Chawke, Kaitlin Campbell, and more going head to head with her in the jump-off. Out of nine contenders, she proved to be the quickest of only three double clears, taking the win for herself.

Julia Nagler and Sanvano. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I thought about this before I went into the ring; sometimes you just really feel it in your bones,” she said of the feeling she had going in on Sanvano, one of two entries she had in the class. “I had one down on my first horse and I just felt it on this one. You have to just go in, stick to the plan, and just go for it. He was incredible.”

Just behind Nagler in second was Ransome Rombauer who piloted a seasoned winner Ayade Hero Z to another double-clear effort, only about a tenth of a second off the time. In third was Rachel Fields and Kimberly HX, owned by Sahana Ganesan, the only other fault-free effort.

“I’ve had him a few years now and we’ve been really consistent jumping these classes but usually have one or two down,” Nagler continued of her progression with Sanvano. The 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Sanvaro x Caretano Z) was a partner of Uma O’Neill’s up to the CSI4* level. “I got him from Uma, who is a good friend of mine, and I’ve always loved him. I watched him and kind of started stalking him. I said, ‘If you ever sell him let me know.’”

Of all the things that drew Nagler to the horse, it was ultimately his bravery that sealed the deal.

Julia Nagler and Sanvano in their winning presentation, pictured with Daran Lockhart of Marshall & Sterling. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“He’s so brave. He’s always going to go to the other side,” she said. “He’s just awesome that way. He’s a really good boy. He’s got all the scope in the world so if you’re a little deep or a little long, you know he’s always going to cover it. That’s what I’ve always really liked about it, his bravery.”

The duo isn’t stopping at 1.40m, and they have jumped higher in the past, even up to the FEI 1.45m level. Now that the pieces feel that they are coming together even further, they have grand prix action on their horizon.

“I would love to step up and jump a Saturday night class for sure,” she said of her aspirations. “I did it once with him a few years ago when I first got him but never really stepped back up to that height. I’d like to keep stepping up on both my horses.”

Nagler is truly at home at DIHP, and she’s watched the facility grow and evolve for nearly 20 years.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 13, I’m 31 now,” she reflected. “The improvements are incredible and what they’re continuing to do in sport and putting horses first is so important. I like the atmosphere and they’re making it really fun and safe. Footing and atmosphere for me is what does it so I think they’ve done a really good job with all of that.”

Making her win even more special was sharing it with two people who have been along for the ride since the beginning: her trainer, Benson Carroll, and her groom, Rigo Soto.

“I’ve been riding with [Benson] since I was 12 and have had the same groom since I was 12,” she said of the two constants in her riding career. “It definitely boosts my confidence and it’s incredible to have that relationship with someone who has seen you through so many phases of your life. I’m just really blessed that way.”

Michelle Bion Makes Magic in $10,000 1.35m Open Classic

Michelle Bion always knew she had a treasure in Madges Lane Gem, a horse owned by Baie Investments. She purchased the horse roughly five years ago and has brought her along through the levels of the jumper ring, riding her to the win Sunday of Desert Circuit 5 in the $10,000 Andalusia Country Club 1.35m Open Classic.

“She is incredible. She is my heart horse,” Bion, of Beaverton, OR, said of Madges Lane Gem. “We got her as a 6-year-old from Ireland and she was a wild woman when we first got her. She was a lot of woman, but she always knew the game. Every time we went in the ring, starting with the 1.0m as a 6-year-old, she just knew it was about jumping fast and clear. It’s been a long process to get her more rideable but the easy part has always been going in the ring with her.”

Michelle Bion and Madges Lane Gem in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Bion runs a business with Johanna Siefert out of their home state of Oregon, and the duo has spent significant time working with the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare to get her settled and master the rideability.

“She was just such a high energy horse,” Bion said of the early days with Madges Lane Gem. “I knew it was going to take a lot of time because she was a careful mare, so I tried to be very patient with her and take my time. I tried to get her out a lot at the horse shows, whether it was handwalking or just trail riding so she could see that everywhere outside the show ring was also a happy place. It was a lot of flatwork at home. The jumping was always the easy part, so I had to work more on the in-between bits.”

Michelle Bion and Madges Lane Gem. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The class Sunday welcomed 33 entries, making it one of the largest classes of the week. There were top athletes and highly competitive horses, but Bion proved her partnership with her mare, bringing home the fastest jump-off time of six double-clear efforts. Natalie Banis took second with VDL E-Cecilia, and Kylina Chalack was third with Illusion CL, owned by Elli Yeager.

“This win is pretty high up there because this is a tough horse show,” Bion continued of what this victory means to her. “It’s competitive, the courses are always hard, and I think it’s just gotten better and better. So this feels like a really neat win for me. She’s had some fun wins in the past but it’s always been later in the summer. To have this win early in the year feels pretty special.”

Continuing the forward momentum, Bion has plans to keep stepping Madges Lane Gem up into higher levels of competition as she sees fit.

“I did 1.40m with her last week and I’d like to continue that with her,” she explained. “She’s at the point now where she’s educated enough that we can dip our toes into the 1.40m-1.45m by the end of the year.”

Competition resumes Wednesday, February 14, with CSI3* show jumping on the grass field.