Katie Laurie started and ended her week with a one-two finish. This one, however, got her a slightly bigger paycheck. On Sunday of Desert Circuit 8, presented by Kask and Vogel, Laurie took first and second places in the $50,000 Kask & Vogel Grand Prix as the only two double-clear rounds.

Over Colm Quinn’s first-round track, Laurie went first aboard Django II, a horse very special to her heart, and waited to see who else would join her for jump-off action. Only Nicolas Gamboa with NKH Vittorio S and Zoe Brown with Bling VD Zuvelshoeve Z were able to jump clear as well, plus Laurie’s second mount, Cera Caruso.

As a single rail fell for both Gamboa and Brown, Laurie was left at the top with both her rides, a few seconds faster with Django II, putting him in first and Cera Caruso in second. Brown and Bling VD Zuvelshoeve Z, owned by Rooster Run Foundation, took third, as well as The Surrey U25 Classic win.

Overall, Laurie is thrilled with her horses’ initial outing for the season. “They’ve been so good. They’ve obviously come in quite fresh and feeling good,” she shared. “It’s great to have a good start here, it’s such a great place. I’m so proud of them because they’ve come from indoors in Calgary in the winter and they’ve been really good here.”

The horses were clearly craving some warmth and sunshine, with her top three mounts each taking podium placings every time they came out during week eight. Django, her top horse, is clearly feeling good and ready for bigger challenges ahead in the final week.

“I was hesitant to jump Django this week but I wanted to get him in the Grand Prix Arena before the four-star,” Laurie explained. “Originally it was going to be a night class which is what the four-star [Grand Prix] is going to be but I still thought it was great for him. Next week I was going to keep it very easy and hopefully he’ll be feeling good and ready for the four-star.”

Django is a horse Laurie has had since day one, and she wholeheartedly believes in him, even though he can get a little excited at times.

“We bred him; he’s from a family of really good horses,” she shared of the 13-year-old New Zealand Warmblood (Lordano x Brilliant Invader). “My dad rode the mare, [Flower Power], so it’s a long family history. He’s a special character but he’s got the most massive jump. I started him this week so he could get going a bit and jump a few rounds. Today he felt so good. He’s so scopey and I always have to think very calm on him; even if there’s a long line I’ll always just make it down there without pushing. He’s an unbelievably good horse.”

It’s not a mindset many show jumpers have to have when going in to jump a 1.50m course or bigger, but Laurie has mastered the art of keeping Django at the pace he needs. To keep the calm, she gives him a different ride than she does her other horses.

“I have to try really hard to keep not much leg, and just be very soft,” she explained. “If we can keep things calm from the start he jumps big and beautiful and round. If we can keep it slow he keeps it together. He is inclined to get excited, and I get excited, so I have to trust him and trust that we can canter down slow to a big jump and he has enough jump.”

Cera Caruso, her second-place mount, is also one she adores and who specializes in speed a bit with his compact build and springy jump.

“He’s such a cool horse,” she said of Carissa McCall’s 16-year-old Australian Warmblood (Casall x Capone). “Every time he goes in there he tries his little guts out. He just wants to jump the jumps and he absolutely loves it. He’s so fast so I thought just be sensible and try to jump another clear round. He was really good.”

Nicolas Gamboa and NKH Mr. Darcy Top $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic

Nicolas Gamboa fully believes that NKH Mr. Darcy has changed his life for the better. The pair has jumped CSI4* FEI World Cup Qualifiers as well as the Pan American Games, but after a brief break from the action Gamboa is gearing back up again, and the pair took the win Sunday in the $30,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic to get ready for an even bigger week to come during Week 10.

“We’re bringing him back up,” Gamboa said of his decision to enter this class, which is a favorite among DIHP riders who either want to let their horses jump something a little smaller than a grand prix, or perhaps challenge one that is jumping the 1.35m level consistently. “The horse has been jumping great, and we don’t want to overuse him so we’re trying to save him for some of the big classes. We have to get back into the ring and get back into the swing of things.”

Gamboa is aiming NKH Mr. Darcy, who is owned by himself and NKH LLC, at the CSI4* event the final week of Desert Circuit. The pair has a strong record in CSI4* action, taking second place in the FEI World Cup Qualifier in Las Vegas in November and sixth in Sacramento in October.

“I’ll be honest, and I tell everybody this, this horse has changed my life,” Gamboa said of getting to ride NKH Mr. Darcy, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding ((Darco x Chepetto). “Neil Knox and the team at October Hill Farm, they’ve always supported me. This horse fights every time he goes into the ring and it’s been an honor to ride him.”

There were X pairs in the jump-off out of a starting 47 entries, so Gamboa knew he had to be quick navigating the short course. “I trained a girl in the class four or five before me, and so when we walked we went over a plan,” he explained. “Her horse had a bigger stride than my horse, and I knew my horse would be quicker in the turns, so we just walked our own plans and stuck to that. It paid off at the end of the day.”

Katie Laurie ended up second with McCaw MVNZ, owned by Carissa McCall, and Amanda Gomez was third with Charly-Ann, owned by Rising Star Equestrian.

As the next two weeks come, Gamboa is looking forward to CSI3* action with two horses during week 9, then pulling NKH Mr. Darcy out for the final week.

“I think this place is honestly one of the best, especially this Grand Prix ring, and I think it rides lovely,” he said of the venue. “We had a pretty gnarly windstorm yesterday and everything looks great and beautiful today. This place always holds up well.”

Cameron Trimino Aces $20,000 Brown Advisory 1.45m NAYC Trial

Cameron Trimino isn’t fazed under pressure. She has competed on major stages and into FEI divisions, and that experience in high-pressure situations was on her side Sunday of Desert Circuit 8, presented by Kask and Vogel, as she took the win in the $20,000 Brown Advisory 1.45m NAYC Trial aboard Adalberto Audi Scappino.

Among a very competitive group of young riders, all with the hopes of the FEI North American Youth Championships on their horizons, Trimino was one of only two clear rounds over the initial course. Up against Brooke Mostman and Feyon, Trimino put in ultimately the only double-clear effort, topping the podium. Mostman was second, while Emilie Bell celebrated her birthday by taking third aboard Veuve Clicquot.

“He’s the best; I got him about two or three years ago and our connection was strong off the bat,” Trimino said of Adalberto Audi Scappino, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding. “We went to Young Riders two years ago and did the Pre-Junior division, and we’ve been stepping into the FEI recently. I was able to pull him out just for one class this week and he came through and performed his best. He always gives 100% every time and we have a super strong bond so he always tries his heart out for me.”

The course was built for the occasion by Colm Quinn, and it was meant to prepare these riders for a course they may see at the FEI North American Youth Championships. The challenges were evident, including an open water obstacle, something not typically seen in junior/amateur or lower-level grand prix action.

“I didn’t feel that it was built too big for us,” Trimino remarked of the track. “It was a decent height. It asked a few questions with tight lines and forward lines but thankfully my horse’s stride is very adjustable so we were able to do those well. The water jump is something some horses are good at and some horses aren’t, but my horse doesn’t bat an eye at that, so we were able to go around really nicely.”

Last time Trimino went to NAYC, she was a Pre-Junior, and if she attends in 2024, she’d be a Young Rider, competing at the highest level of the championship.

“To get there has been my goal for so long,” Trimino said of attending NAYC in the Young Rider category. “To be able to go there for Pre-Juniors allowed me to be less nervous about it this year because I’ve experienced it at a lower level. Going back at a higher level is a little bit intimidating because it’s a bit of an ask for us, but I have full confidence in my capabilities, so I think if we get there we will do a good job.”

A highlight of NAYC is that it’s a team event, and often riders get to be on teams with their friends or make new friends, taking advantage of the team environment. Many NAYC athletes go on to be part of senior teams for their home nation, so it’s a wonderful early experience to taste being on a true team.

“Going to NAYC last time I went there was such an awesome experience because it was my first time being on a real team,” Trimino reflected. “So to have that team experience and rely on your teammates and have them support you and create those bonds is great, plus you can represent your zone and it’s such an awesome thing.”

Trimino is trained by Sean Leckie and Sophie Simpson-Leckie at Blue Ridge Farms, and, like most barns, they are a strong team themselves. Blue Ridge trains quite a few young athletes and prepares them for the highest levels, including events like NAYC, so Trimino is in good company preparing for a successful career in show jumping.

“Being able to train with Sean and Sophie and have so many friends who are trying to qualify for NAYC has been so nice because we’ve been able to bond over the experience,” she elaborated. “A lot of us have gone already so we know what to expect and we can lean on each other to get advice and be able to do our best. We always support each other. If you watch one of us go, all the others are somewhere nearby cheering you on. It’s such a great community.”

Trimino isn’t stopping at NAYC, and riders who make it there rarely do stop there. She has big dreams ahead, and she’s well on her way to making them a reality.

“Ultimately my biggest goal is to make it to the Olympics someday so I’m really just working backwards from that,” she explained. “I’m going up the path of Young Riders and hopefully will jump a Nations Cup one day, and eventually to reach the top of the sport is my ultimate goal.

Show jumping resumes on Wednesday, March 6, with CSI3* and National action.

Lisa Wu Gets her First Hunter Derby Win with Golann

Lisa Wu stepped into the hunter derby ring for the first time aboard Golann, owned by Mary Masterson, on Sunday, and made magic happen. In just her second-ever course with the horse, she laid down a beautiful trip in the Antares Sellier 2’6”-2’9” Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derby, piecing together each round seamlessly, and took the win.

“I am absolutely elated,” Wu said of her feeling after her win. “I’ve been coming to Desert International Horse Park for almost seven years now and this is the first time I’ve ever even gotten close to winning a derby. I feel amazing. I don’t know the horse very well; this is only my second time on him in the show ring and he’s an amazing animal. Finally, after all these years I did it this time.”

Golann and Wu rode to scores of 82 and 84 for the win out of 45 entries, making it feel even more special. Elizabeth Bohlin took second place aboard Idea-K, and Glynis Schultz took third with Million Heir.

A truth for many who compete on a long circuit is that not all days are equal, and Wu knows that to be true this season. “I’ve had some really high highs and some pretty low lows but today was all highs,” she remarked of her season so far. “I’m here for two more weeks and I don’t know how much better I can get.”

Wu, at one point, competed regularly in the 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunters, but she’s been out of that ring for a bit, working on her riding with trainers Jenny and Katrina Karazissis and forming new partnerships with horses like Golann.

“I’m dabbling in a bunch of different divisions,” she remarked. “I used to be over in the AOs and then I’ve had to take a step back a little bit because, at the end of the day sometimes we have to learn new skills in order to get back into the bigger ring. I’m working on honing my skills so that I can be more consistent. That’s a tough ring to be in, doing the 3’6” AOs, so I really have to sharpen up my game. I’m inching my way back up the hunter rings to get back in Main Hunter eventually.”

All in all, a derby win is special, but even more special is the fact that it was Wu’s second course on the horse, first horse show, and first-ever derby victory. “Maybe next week you might see me in a different hunter ring, but right now I feel elation. This is the best horse on the planet and I love him,” she concluded.

In The Modern Horse 2’-2’3” Child/Adult Hunt & Go Derby, it was Lauren Zarnegin’s lucky day, taking the win with Socialite, owned by Peppermint Stables LLC, after earning scores of 85 and 85.5. Second place went to Victoria Borge and Chacco’s Love RW, owned by Havens Secord, while Savannah Barker claimed third with Notorious, owned by West Coast Equine Partners LLC.

Hunters pick back up for Desert Circuit 9, presented by Kubota, on Wednesday, March 6.