Despite being a bride in her own wedding in September of 2022, Karrie Rufer had been a bridesmaid in the show ring a few too many times. On Saturday of Desert Circuit II at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP), she broke her streak of second-place finishes, winning the $50,000 Kask National Grand Prix aboard Stern Dei Folletti, owned by Morning Star Sporthorses.

Karrie Rufer and Stern Dei Folletti. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

After walking out of the ring from her prizegiving, Rufer exclaimed, “The curse is broken!” The California-based rider has come second quite a few times in grand prix action with all of her horses over the past year and was ready to be in the number one spot again.

“Consistency is great; I’m not begrudging the second place but after a while I just want to win one,” she explained. “We’d lose by a tenth of a second. It was so close, so I got a little frustrated. This is our first Grand Prix of 2023 so it looks like I’ve broken the curse. But I’d rather be second 10 times than first one and not for a while.”

Karrie Rufer and Stern Dei Folletti in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Her winning ride, Stern Dei Folletti, is 12 years old this year and has really come into his own over the past few years with Rufer aboard.

“He’s such a little fighter and an athlete,” Rufer explained. “I got him when he was 6 years old and he’s very unconventionally built. He has a very short back and the way he went was a bit funky at the beginning. He figured out his body and how to make things work for him. I adjusted to him and he adjusted to me and now we’ve built a great partnership.”

Della White and Gucci. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Rufer and “Stan” were one of seven pairs to qualify for Colm Quinn’s short course, including Rufer on her first mount, Mr. Europe.

“I was lucky I had two in the jump-off so I got to go first on [Mr. Europe],” Rufer detailed. “I had an early rail on that one so I took a few risks just to experiment with what I could do with Stan and where I could do the leave-outs. Stan is really great off the long gallop so I took advantage of his huge stride and booked it across the middle of the ring. Turning to the last line, my plan was to do one less to the last fence and the way I came in just didn’t seem to lend itself to that without possibly having that jump down behind. I decided to add and luckily I was just a little faster.”

Lorcan Gallagher was unseated from his lead at the time with Hunters Conlypso II and eventually took third, while Della White and Gucci came in last and just barely snagged second, only two-tenths of a second behind Rufer. White was named the EquiFit U25 champion in addition to taking the second-place finish in the Grand Prix.

Lorcan Gallagher and Hunters Conlypso II. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Rufer is a huge believer in the horsepower she has in Stern Dei Folletti. The horse is afraid of no challenge she throws his way, which is part of what makes the relationship a strong one. “He’s just incredible. He’s afraid of nothing. The harder it is the more he rises to the occasion. He knows the day it’s a grand prix. You push him and he gets more careful. He never gets scared and he never backs off from a challenge. It’s a really special horse to have. He always walks with this strut like he thinks he’s the man, which he is,” she concluded.

Final Results: $50,000 Kask National Grand Prix

1. Stern Dei Folletti / Karrie Rufer / Morning Star Sporthorses LLC / 0/0/37.820
2. Gucci / Della White / Della White / 0/0/38.009
3. Hunters Conlypso II / Lorcan Gallagher / Lorcan Gallagher / 0/0/38.345
4. Chess / Kyle King / The Chess Group / 0/0/38.707
5. California Sunshine / Susan Artes / Alix Fargo / 0/4/41.290
6. NKH Carrido / Brooke Rose Morin / Strasburg Morin Inc. / 0/8/40.353
7. Mr. Europe / Karrie Rufer / Morning Star Sporthorses LLC / 0/12/38.045
8. Triton Hastak / Laura Hite / HF Farms LLC / 2/82.072
9. Ace Of Hearts / Gregory Wathelet / Gregory Wathelet / 4/74.521
10. Mantua LS La Silla / Kaitlin Campbell / SWS Training & Sales / 4/76.061
11. Gucci Musterd / Bruno Diniz Das Neves / Laura Khorshid / 4/76.278
12. Epsilon De Brenil / Andrew Lopez / Andrew Lopez / 4/76.716

Karrie Rufer was awarded a brand-new fence from Sky-Hi Industries for her win in the $50,000 National Grand Prix.

Gregory Wathelet Gives DIHP Deja Vu in CSI3* 1.45m Classic

Before National Grand Prix action, FEI competitors took to the Grand Prix Arena, and it was none other than Gregory Wathelet back in the winner’s circle aboard his winning mount from Thursday, Berline Du Maillet Z. The pair topped a three-horse jump-off to bring home victory in the $38,700 CWD CSI3* 1.45m Classic.

Gregory Wathelet and Berline Du Maillet Z in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Kaitlin Campbell was first to jump off with Feyon, putting in a quick clear and making Wathelet chase her. He did just that, shaving off precious time and taking the lead. Laura Hite and Chagall De Toscane claimed third with another double-clear effort.

“We were only three in the jump-off and I saw [Kaitlin] going; she was really fast,” Wathelet said. “I know my mare is also very fast. I wanted to establish my rhythm. I was a bit lucky to the last one; she twisted a bit to the right but she jumped well. It went exactly to plan.”

The 12-year-old Zangersheide mare (Berlin x Action-Breaker) was off her game Friday in the CSI3* 1.50m Speed, but she redeemed herself by jumping on form Saturday. “I did the big class yesterday and she jumped well but I also tried to go for the time,” Wathelet explained. “She was not really [on her game] yesterday. Today she was perfect. She was nice, relaxed, easygoing, and she did her job. She’ll have a rest next week. We have a few more weeks coming so I won’t jump every week with all of them.”

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Berline Du Maillet Z. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Wathelet is, without a doubt, an athlete many of the younger and less experienced competitors at DIHP admire and want to watch anytime he is in the ring. For himself, he has his own riders he looks up to, many of which he gets to study frequently being based in Europe.

“We are lucky in Europe that there are so many good riders with different systems,” Wathelet said. “For me it’s very important to try to take the best of each riders and improve myself all the time. The sport is moving up and is getting so fast now so if you don’t improve yourself even when you get good results, [you’re falling behind]. When you think everything is right it’s never right. You need to advance all the time.

“I am a big fan of many riders; [a few in particular are] John Whitaker and, over here, Eric Navet when he was in Europe. He is a super rider with super technique, and I was lucky that when he was in France I was spending a lot of time there. I have learned a lot watching him. That was one of the rides who inspired me.”

Show jumping concludes for Desert Circuit II Sunday with the $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic and the afternoon’s feature event, the $145,100 Whittier Trust CSI3* 1.50m Grand Prix.

Tonya Johnston and Galactic are Out of this World in 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunters

Tonya Johnston has built a stellar partnership with her horse of a lifetime, Galactic. During week two of Desert Circuit, the San Rafael, CA, native took home championship honors in the 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunters, as well as the win in the Marshall & Sterling 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic, further solidifying their partnership.

Tonya Johnston and Galactic. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I have had him for five years, since he was 5, coming 6,” Johnston said of the now 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding. “He is absolutely my horse of a lifetime. I’m so lucky to get to ride him and be his person. He’s super spoiled and gets lots of carrots, bananas, and cookies.”

Clouds fell upon DIHP Saturday morning as the competitors grabbed their coats and braced for potential rain, but Johnston welcomed the change in climate. “The weather was actually helpful because he can get a bit quiet on the last day. I loved the canter [we established] and he was really with me and following me. It was super fun. The teamwork felt really good,” she remarked.

Johnston is not only an accomplished amateur rider, but also a well-known Mental Skills Coach for equestrians and athletes of all kinds, as well as a renowned author. The esteemed professional is always eager to take time away from her busy schedule to compete in the desert, especially when the results fall in her favor.

Tonya Johnston and Galactic. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“It’s so nice to be able to look forward to this,” she said of her return for Desert Circuit. “I’m from the Bay Area and we’ve had so much rain, so it’s amazing to look forward to coming to the desert. They’ve done such nice things. To come down and have such good footing [is amazing]. As a horse show, the consistency of the competition and the way they put the days together is all great, and the special classes are amazing. I really appreciate all they do to make it special and include highlight classes to look forward to.”

Hunter competition concludes Sunday with Junior Hunters and their respective classics.