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

Karrie Rufer has known for quite some time that she had a special horse on her hands with Stern Dei Folletti. Now, with several grand prix and FEI wins under their belts, the rest of the world knows it too. Saturday afternoon, she and the Morning Star Sporthorses-owned 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Toulon x Berlin) added another victory, topping the extremely competitive $50,000 Pyranha National Grand Prix.

In the middle of a seven-horse jump-off over Joey Rycroft’s track, Rufer knew the pace had been set at a quick pace by Kyle King, but she also had faith in Stern Dei Folletti. She blazed to a time of 41.752 seconds, leaving the rest of the field to catch her. Mark Kinsella and Ben Asselin’s Quality H came very close, clocking in at 42.001 seconds, ultimately taking second place. King ended up third with SIG International’s SIG Chiari.

Karrie Rufer and Stern Dei Folletti in their winning presentation, pictured with Christina Grindt of Pyranha and Stern Dei Folletti’s groom, Cristofer Mendoza. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“With that horse, you have to find a good [distance] to the first jump with a nice rhythm and balance and then you follow his lead,” Rufer said of her jump-off strategy with Stern Dei Folletti. “He doesn’t ever want to slow down. It’s really just using his pace and his stride to make up the time in the turns and in the long gallops. The gallop down to the double today was a long ways away. You had to land, gallop, and trust. Luckily we found it really nicely and he backed up beautifully for me. I was very proud of him.”

The partnership has been years in the making, but the wins are coming in spades recently, proving her efforts and patience have been worthwhile. “He knows what jump-offs are,” Rufer continued. “He’s very smart about that. I’ve never had a horse that good at understanding the job in a jump-off. He’ll do everything in his power to miss the jumps to help me out. Feeling that fight is an incredible feeling. I have had him for six years and he’s just gotten better and better. It’s fun to have days like this where it all goes right.”

Mark Kinsella and Quality H. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Rufer, an amateur rider, admits the horse’s progression was a team effort with many key players.

“I wish I could take all the credit; I had some great help along the way,” she shared. “In Europe I had Eoin McMahon (IRL) help and start him as a 7-year-old, I had Enrique Gonzales (MEX) who rode him as a young horse, and Mark Kinsella (IRL) actually had him for a little bit and taught him the flatwork and adjustability. It was a huge group effort and it took a lot of patience.”

Kyle King and SIG Chiari. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The win Saturday gave Rufer something extra to raise her glass to. Her groom, Cristofer Mendoza, was prepared with her celebratory glass of ringside rosé.

“The rosé is key to my success,” she joked. “It’s probably because [Cristofer] knows I’ll go faster so I can come out and have a glass. My team is so supportive. It’s been so lovely to have the group of people we have who take care of the horses and really love them.”

As a top amateur rider competing daily against the best pros in the business, Rufer has an excellent outlook on how to stay strong despite the pitfalls every rider will inevitably experience.

“You have to have a short-term memory because things go badly way more often than they go well,” she shared. “You have to let it roll off your back and start again the next day. Win or lose, have a good attitude. Enjoy the times when it goes well but if it doesn’t go well, you have to move on, have some rosé, and get up the next day and try again.”

Final Results: $50,000 Pyranha National Grand Prix

1. Stern Dei Follettti / Karrie Rufer / Morning Star Sporthorses, LLC / 0/0/41.752
2. Quality H / Mark Kinsella / Ben Asselin / 0/0/42.001
3. SIG Chiari / Kyle King / SIG International Inc / 0/0/42.617
4. Peninsula Swanky / Samara Heinrichs Prak / Samara Heinrichs Prak / 0/0/46.442
5. Scato Van De Molenbrug Z / Jennifer Waxman / The Scato Group LLC / 0/0/49.988
6. NKH Mr. Darcy / Nicolas Gamboa / Windsor Davis Gerrish / 0/4/40.757
7. Palina De L’Escaut / Kaitlin Campbell / SWS Training & Sales / 0/8/40.293
8. Castelissimo / Shawn Casady / Tiffany Sullivan / 4/80.676
9. Odysseus / Kyle King / Patricia Vasey / 4/81.174
10. Sherlina Ale / Jeffrey Fields / Sahana Ganesan / 4/81.314
11. Granito Noordenhoek / Michael Williamson / Michael Williamson / 4/82.060
12. Ittolo / Kyle King / Kerri Volek / 4/82.173

Conor Swail Secures Casturano’s First FEI Win in $38,700 CSI3* 1.45m Classic

Conor Swail (IRL) and Casturano. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Conor Swail (IRL) has a new kid in town. Casturano has earned top placings at the National level throughout Desert Circuit, but during Desert Circuit VII, Swail stepped his new mount up to the FEI levels, taking their first FEI victory together Saturday afternoon in the $38,700 Kask CSI3* 1.45m Classic.

Swail was one of five to navigate Joey Rycroft’s (CAN) course clear and had the pole position of last to go in the jump-off. A slick inside turn set Swail up for success early on, and the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Castelan x Canturo) used his stride to cover the rest.

“The course was nicely built by Joey,” Swail remarked. “If you look at the horses that were clear there are a few five-star grand prix horses in there. I was very pleased with how he handled himself and he gave me a great jump-off ride. It was nice and slick. I’m very happy for him because he needs to learn to go faster to be able to win at this level.”

Swail unseated leader at the time Katie Laurie (AUS) and her FEI World Championships mount, Django II, who ended up in second. Kyle King (USA) and Cerolino, owned by Strasburg Morin Inc., took third.

Conor Swail (IRL) and Casturano in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I just got him at the beginning of the year and we just [showed] National up until now,” Swail remarked on the still-new partnership with Casturano. “He did three weeks of National and we worked our way up to the FEI level. So far so good; he’s been great. He was second the first day, jumped around the 1.40m very nicely and then I thought he was very good today.”

The inside turn from the second to the third fence in the jump-off proved to be crucial, with many riders debating whether that was necessary. King set the standard and Swail ended up using his horse’s weakness to his advantage in this particular scenario.

“There was an inside turn there that Kyle took and I felt that my guy could go high and land quite dead, so I let him do that so I could nip inside. He did that very well and I cut across the next vertical very sharply,” Swail shared.

His jump-off time of 37.79 seconds put him more than a second ahead of runner-up Laurie, proving Swail and Casturano are a pair to watch for the future.

“James Chawke has been with us the last 10 or 12 years; his friend Sam Buirs was riding [Casturano] all last year and has produced him extremely well,” Swail said of how the horse came into his current and very powerful string. “James thought I should go sit on the horse. Thankfully I did. We’re a good partnership; we started off well together and we got on very well. I’m really excited about him; I think he’s going to be a very big part of my string.”

Using the horse’s incredible jumping ability came in handy in Saturday’s class, but overall Swail is working on encouraging Casturano to jump lower and pick up more speed. “He goes a bit high, too high,” Swail continued. “Jumping high is good but you don’t want to jump 2.10m over 1.50m. I wanted to make sure he didn’t overjump things. At home he’s quite level and very smooth and relaxed. When I tried him it was just to make sure he wasn’t over-careful. Sam had done a beautiful job on him so it’s easy for me to continue what she has already done.”

Show jumping continues Sunday with the $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic and the $145,100 Talus CSI3* Grand Prix.

Final Results: $38,700 Kask CSI3* 1.45m Classic

1. CASTURANO: 2013 HOLST gelding by Castelan x Canturo
CONOR SWAIL (IRL), Mannon Farm: 0/0/37.79

2. DJANGO II: 2011 gelding by Lordano x Brilliant Invader
KATIE LAURIE (AUS), Katie Laurie: 0/0/38.91

3. CEROLINO: 2013 HOLST gelding by Cero x Come On
KYLE KING (USA), Strasburg Morin Inc.: 0/0/38.93

4. MR. EUROPE: 2009 KWPN gelding by Mr. Blue x Cassini
KARRIE RUFER (USA), Morning Star Sporthorses, LLC: 0/0/40.53

5. CARMELA Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Candillo 3 x Nissan Caretano Z
VANESSA MANNIX (CAN), Vanessa Mannix: 0/4/41.33

6. THEO 160: 2012 HOLST gelding by Christian 25 x Calando IV
CONOR SWAIL (IRL), Team Philippaerts: 4/70.69

7. UN DIAMANT DES FORETS: 2008 SF stallion by Diamant de Semilly x Papillon Rouge
JIM IFKO (CAN), Eventyre Farms Ltd.: 4/75.48

8. JEFFREY JARDEN: 2014 KWPN gelding by Bustique x Warrant
TALI DEJONG (USA), Tali DeJong: 4/76.11

9. MANTUA LS LA SILLA: 2012 SLS mare by Manzanillo LS x Risueno
KAITLIN CAMPBELL (USA), SWS Training & Sales: 4/79.87

10. LIVESTREAM 2: 2010 OLDBG gelding by Lordanos x Landadel
LISA CARLSEN (CAN), Lisa Carlsen: 8/76.17

Trust Paves the Way for Anna Kotler in USEF/NCEA Medal

Over in the Grand Equitation ring, junior riders gave it their all competing in renown medals. In the USEF/NCEA Medal, 15-year-old Anna Kotler of Sammamish, WA, took the win following a jumping and flat phase of competition. She rode Gusti CK, owned by Vianne Storrs, under the training of Tasha Visokay of Parkside Stables.

Kotler and the 13-year-old Warmblood gelding have about as new a partnership as they come, but she found quick trust in her mount. “This is only my second day riding him,” Kotler explained. “I tried him yesterday and we decided to go for it. He’s been so amazing, I trust him so much already.”

It’s clear that this pair will continue to be strong competition for their fellow junior athletes as their relationship grows. Kotler herself, however, is a regular in the USEF/NCEA Medal.

“I did the [USEF/NCEA Medal Finals] two years in a row,” Kotler said. “I am hoping to do it again. I actually love flatwark. I think it is a great experience to practice dressage, which a lot of us don’t get to do a lot. I think it’s a really great opportunity.”

In addition to the USEF/NCEA Medal, Kotler has already qualified for ASPCA Maclay Finals and USEF/Dover Saddlery Hunt Seat Medal Finals. She also has hopes to qualify for the EMO Insurance/USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals and USEF/NCEA Medal Finals, plus several of the various medal finals offered in California.

Kotler is a DIHP regular and frequents the horse park year after year. “I have been coming to DIHP since I was riding my pony,” she remarked. “I don’t know how many years it’s been, but more than five years! I just love it, they keep making such good improvements. I love that they are so kind and care for the horses.”

During week 8, the USEF/NCEA Medal will be held in the Grand Prix Arena under the lights Friday evening, so riders will feel an added pressure but also a sense of special occasion. Equitation competition comes to a head during week 9, when the R.W. Mutch Equitation Championship takes center stage Saturday evening.

Equitation and hunters conclude Sunday, featuring the Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derbies set at the 2’-2’3” and 2’6”-2’9” fence heights, as well as the conclusion of Amateur-Owner Hunters.