Karl Cook (USA) was looking to make history at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). Fate almost stepped in the way of him etching his name as the very first on the Coachella Cup, a new Waterford trophy presented to the winner of the inaugural $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix, presented by Brown Advisory. But his strength and determination carried him through the week and onto the top of the podium in the United States’ richest FEI Grand Prix.
Cook and his long-time partner Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet, owned by Signe Otsby, were one of 35 entries to tackle the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix. With a course set by Alan Wade (IRL) the challenge was steep, the course was long, and the crowd was large. Cook, who suffered a hand injury Tuesday evening, went around the midway point, cranking out a clear round and guaranteeing a jump-off for the crowd.
Six other pairs joined him for the short course: Mark Bluman (COL) with Ubiluc, Mario Deslauriers (CAN) with Bardolina 2, Callie Schott (USA) with Garant, Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) with Faquitol-S, Roberto Teran (COL) with BP Wakita, and Kent Farrington (USA) with Landon. Cook’s double-clear effort and time of 44.99 seconds was enough to get the job done. Farrington had a rail down with a faster time, putting him in third, while Deslauriers was the only other double-clear, landing in second in his first trip to the desert.
Cook felt that this night was different from any other big event he’s attended. “There have been million-dollar grand prixs at this facility before but never like this,” he remarked of the Coachella Cup. “Because this is five-star, this is a million, with so many riders coming in. This means so much more. The event is so much more prestigious under the lights, with great footing, and great atmosphere. It’s about the whole event, and the management team here really did a great job.”
Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet has helped Cook achieve two consecutive CSI5* Grand Prix titles at Desert International Horse Park, having won the last running of the Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) finale. She’s been a crucial member of Cook’s impressive string, and hadn’t stepped out for competition since representing the United States at FEI Nations Cup Finals in Barcelona.
“I don’t know what’s in her but she’s just amazing,” Cook reflected. “She just brings passion and when you ride her you can feel that passion. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming when she’s leaping in the air. But she just has such drive and such desire to do the job well, and she loves doing the job. It then inspires you as a rider and as anyone who’s around her. She inspires them and lifts everyone up.”
Cook’s week was uncertain on Wednesday morning, but he took the reins anyway and it’s been smooth sailing, despite a little bit of pain.
“It’s just a few stitches to the hand, a flesh wound,” he remarked. “I was always going to ride. It was just how bad it was going to hurt. Everyone has issues they’ve got to overcome and I had some issues with my hand this week. I just had to put it in the back of my mind, because at the end of the day I still have to jump clear. I have to go in, I have to do my job with my horse, and I have to give it the best ride.”
Deslauriers almost didn’t come to DIHP this week. On thanksgiving day, he changed his mind.
“It was a good call,” Deslauriers said. “During Thanksgiving, we were cooking and I told my wife, I said, ‘I think I should call Matt [Morrissey] and Keean [White] and see if I can get in there.’ We worked it out, and I called the owners and they were all on board. The horsemen always say jump your horse while it’s going good, so I figured I’d come and give it a shot. This facility looks great, the jumping was great, the whole week was very nice, and people are so nice. I will definitely come back.”
Farrington is bringing up a star in 9-year-old Landon, who just accompanied Cook and other United States riders to the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, where they took the gold medal.
“He’s stepping up to that level,” Farrington said of Landon. “He’s still very inexperienced. The major focus was to qualify the U.S. for the Pan Am Games, which we did in Chile. This is his next show from there so this is how I wanted to wrap up the season for him. Karl’s horse is very fast, and my horse is not the fastest against the clock, so I had to take all the risks. I’m still happy with third.”
Cook took the very first sip out of the custom perpetual Waterford trophy for the Coachella Cup, and it’s surely a prize he’ll continue fighting for year after year. He also won the American Gold Cup in 2023, taking a swig out of that as well. “They all make them drink shaped so you can drink out of them! So you just have to do that,” he joked. For his win, he also received a custom pet pendant from Irene Neuwirth, as well as a cooler from Hermes.
“I feel great,” Cook said about his big night. “It’s been a long season – a great season – with a lot of highs. There have been some lows that have been important to overcome. But Major League this year, for me, has been great. The horses have been great. It’s all due to [my team] and their work that gets me to the ring and allows me to do what I do in the ring. It’s that culmination of everyone’s job that allows this to happen.”
Steve Hankin, President and CEO of DIHP, would echo Cook’s sentiments about needing a team to make nights like these happen.
“It’s been a great week,” said Hankin, whose team purchased DIHP in 2019. “If you had told me four years ago we’d be in the position we are in today, I would have never believed it. But riders have been thrilled with the place and the competition has been great. This is what the West Coast needs and this is why we did it. We’re really proud of where we are.”
With the Coachella Cup in the rearview mirror, the team at DIHP and MLSJ now look ahead to Desert Holiday 2, presented by Visit Greater Palm Springs, which will feature the MLSJ Team Final with $1 million in prize money yet again.
See full results from the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix here.
Elisa Broz Bests the Pros in $76,000CAD Premier Equestrian CSI2* Grand Prix
Some riders would be intimidated knowing Conor Swail (IRL) was following them as the final rider to go in a 12-horse jump-off, but not Elisa Broz (USA). Broz and Tinkerbell, owned by Hidalgo LLC, put in a blazing fast round in Friday’s $76,000CAD Premier Equestrian CSI2* Grand Prix to make Swail catch her, and he was unsuccessful, pulling a rail in his effort and awarding the win to Broz, just 20.
“I’m feeling great. It’s always great to have a win, especially at a horse show like this with top riders,” Broz reflected following her victory. “I’ve been competing against Conor since the winter and know he’s fast and was the last to go, so I was on the edge of my seat watching him go. I’m very, very happy.”
Over Wade’s course, Broz was far enough through the order of go that she knew how the jump-off was riding, but she also stuck to her plan and got it done. She unseated then-leader Darragh Kenny (IRL) with California Pie, owned by Oakland Ventures LLC, who ended up second. Third went to Easy Boy D’Aubey Z, owned by Maplepark Farm, with Kara Chad (CAN) aboard.
“I’ve had Tink for almost three years now and she’s incredible,” Broz said of her partner, a 13-year-old Mecklenberger mare (Chacco-Blue x Silvio I). “She’s such a trier and has a heart of gold. She’s super quick, but super honest. I love her. I’ve taken her to Young Riders and she’s been my steady speed horse.”
The horse is suited for speed, which meant she had to approach the track slightly differently, knowing she didn’t have tons of stride to spare. “The one thing I looked at in the jump-off was the line to the double,” Broz said of her plan for jumping off. “I know her stride isn’t big so I was going to have to add in nine [strides], but I trusted that she was going to be quick enough everywhere else that I could do that.”
Broz was up against several of the world’s top-ranked riders in Saturday’s class, as she was also in the CSI5* division during the week. To emerge on top of a field of Olympic-caliber riders is a good feeling for the young athlete.
“I think it’s incredible; you only get as good as the people you’re competing against, so being able to compete against these riders just makes me a better rider,” Broz said of the caliber of rider that’s come out to the desert for Desert Holiday. “It’s incredible to see them coming to this venue that I’ve grown up showing at. I’m very happy to be able to compete against riders like this.”
Tinkerbell is one of several top mounts Broz is building, which is giving her the edge at several different levels.
“My grey horse Kardenta, who I took to World Cup Finals, is incredible, and she’s been teaching me the top of the sport,” she elaborated on her string, working with Cassio Rivetti (BRA) to learn the ropes of the higher levels. “I also have Crispo R who is my newer one who I’m hoping to do the bigger classes on. I’mjust getting to know him. And I have a young one I’m developing which is really exciting and fun. I’m learning patience but I really enjoy it.”
See full results from the $76,000CAD Premier Equestrian CSI2* Grand Prix here.
Karl Cook and Caracole de la Roque Come Out Strong to Capture $40,000 National Grand Prix
Last time Karl Cook competed his newest mare Caracole de la Roque was representing the United States at the Pan American Games. While it wasn’t their best outing so far, Cook is always a student of the sport, and he took valuable lessons that he implemented and is already back in winning form, topping Saturday’s $40,000 Marshall & Sterling National Grand Prix.
Only five of the original 59 entries jumped clear over Wade’s course, and Cook was towards the tail end, knowing he had intense speed with the 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding he sat on. He blazed through the course in double-clear fashion, and the final pair couldn’t catch him, putting him in the winner’s circle, a very familiar place for him this year.
“We had some work to do after the Pan Ams,” Cook admitted. “One of the most apparent changes is that we put her in the hackamore that Julien [Epaillard] originally had her in. I’ve only shown her in it once in a 1.40m class but we tried it again and it seems to be working. It still feels rusty because she feels so different in it. I’m getting used to that. A lot of good things, not just double clear – that’s a bonus – but the rideability and everything is significantly different in a way that I think we can really build on.”
Basing out west in California, DIHP is like returning home for Cook. In 2023, he spent much of the winter on the East Coast, making it back for the final leg of the MLSJ tour.
“I spent the entire year away so it’s always great to come back to a place where you don’t feel bad showing your horses and where the show management puts in such an effort to really put on a good show for the horses and fans and makes you want to ride,” he reflected on returning to the park.
There’s still one week remaining for Cook to place his two stellar mares. “The most likely option [for Caracole] is to do the team class with her next week, but there’s also an option to do the [CSI5*] Grand Prix, so that’s what we’re shooting for,” he explained. “If it goes really well with Kalinka [van’t Zorgvliet] tonight we’ll probably just leave it there. She hasn’t shown since Barcelona so it’s been a long break, so she’s fresh. But by the same token, next year is a long year so if we do well tonight we’ll probably leave it there.”
Cook plans to spend more time in his home state this coming winter, knowing it’s less taxing on the horses to be close to home and to be competing at a venue like DIHP.
“[We’ll spend] much more time here and less time in Florida, so I’m excited about that,” he shared. “They put in more FEI and honestly that helps me justify staying here. It’s a good thing for the other horses to have a calmer preparation for the rest of the year because once we leave here it will be more intense. We can get everything set and ready. A four-star is no joke and we’re excited for that.”
Michael Williamson was the winner of The Surrey U25, aboard Badaedos JK, owned by MK Equestrian USA, LLC. See full results from the $40,000 Marshall & Sterling National Grand Prix here.
Sunday features the final rounds for the USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships, the $38,500CAD Whittier Trust CSI5* Winning Round, and the $10,000 Adequan® 1.35m Open Classic to close out Desert Holiday 1, presented by Brown Advisory.