Megan McDermott (USA) had a lot to smile about on Thursday of Desert Circuit 6, presented by IDA Development and Barnwalkers. She likes to smile regardless, but her heart horse, Nintendo, carried her to another big victory, this time in the $32,000 Barnwalkers CSI3* 1.50m Speed on the grass.

The day was hot in the desert, but the competition was hotter, with the time to beat just getting quicker and quicker. Several top athletes saw that leading position at some point, but McDermott, with a late draw, came in and blew them all away, coming in with a time of 55.87 seconds. She edged out Conor Swail (IRL) who took over the lead right before with Casturano, and most thought he was going to top the podium. Even McDermott thought that as she walked in.

“I’m a huge Conor Swail fan,” she said of her competition in Thursday’s class. “He’s a wonderful human being and an incredible rider. He went two before me and he blew the leading time out of the water. I knew my horse was fast and I knew I had a different plan than Conor did, because he had a slower moving but big-strided horse, so I said, ‘Don’t try to beat Conor, just go and try to ride your plan as well as you can’. To come out and edge him out, it means a ton because he’s just so epic.”

Megan McDermott (USA) and Nintendo. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Swail took second on the leaderboard, while Oliver Lazarus (RSF) took third aboard Miss Paris.

Going into the week, McDermott had to adjust a few things about her partnership with Nintendo, a 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Nintender x Chaco Blue), but the win Thursday was proof her small adjustments are working.

“I love Nintendo so much. He’s the best horse in the whole world,” she gushed. “He’s very quirky and doing different things all the time. In a lot of ways he can be very random, but he’s the horse I’ve had in the barn the longest, so he’s my steady in a way. He’s the horse I feel most confident going in the ring on and especially trying to win. The past two weeks we worked out kinks and updated his program, so it was really nice today he came out and was able to start out with a win. We feel like we’re on the right track.”

Megan McDermott (USA) and Nintendo in their winning presentation, pictured with Fabian Coulon of Barnwalkers. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The atmosphere is being mixed up again for week six, putting hunters in the spotlight in the Grand Prix Arena and moving FEI and National show jumping back to the grass field. It’s a change welcomed by the riders and McDermott is enjoying the setting.

“I love jumping on grass but it has to be really good grass,” she remarked. “I think it’s a phenomenal grass field. Even when we jumped last time the ground was a little wet and it was still perfect. Today it’s a sunny warm day and it’s also the same. It’s beautiful.”

McDermott takes every class as a learning opportunity, not just from her own riding but from all the spectacular talent surrounding her. This particular class she had a stellar learning opportunity from Swail, going just behind him in the order.

“He’s a great person if you need advice; he’s always there,” she reflected on being around Swail in a competition setting. “You feel like you’re learning just by being in the same class as him. In 2021 we were stabled next to him for two weeks and my horse was just not consistent. We were having nice rounds but just a few down and I asked Conor to watch a video. He said it was fine; to keep riding the same and it was fine. The next show we went to, I won the five-star grand prix and we didn’t change anything. He’s always good for a course walk; he’s always so honest and forthcoming.”

As Desert Circuit continues into the second half, McDermott knows she’ll continue to up her competitive nature and that the groundwork has been laid for even more success.

“The first half [of Circuit] has been great,” she reflected. “All of my horses have won classes. They’ve all been consistent in building up. We came here after a long break and we used the first half a little bit to get back in the ring and work out the kinks. For the second half of the season we know exactly what we have, so we’re looking to be more competitive and use them to win more than to learn.”

Gregory Wathelet and Beau Gosse du Park Go for it in $25,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic

Gregory Wathelet made waves on the grass field as well Thursday of Desert Circuit 6, presented by IDA Development and Barnwalkers, scoring a win with Beau Gosse du Park in the $25,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic.

Wathelet brought a different string of horses for the 2024 edition of Desert Circuit than the previous year, so he hasn’t seen the same volume of wins, but he’s seen progress in the newer rides and the ones he’s bringing back from time off.

Gregory Wathelet and Beau Gosse du Park. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“This horse has done good things already but he was out for a bit so I decided to bring him here to get him back in the rhythm and do some shows with the hope that after he will be ready again for bigger stuff,” Wathelet said of Beau Gosse du Park, a 13-year-old Selle Francais stallion (Quaprice Bois Margot x Kannan). “It’s a horse with a lot of scope. He was tricky sometimes, spooky about a few things, but he’s quite a good horse. I think he has the potential to do big things.”

Wathelet was last to go in a competitive field, but the time to beat, held by Kyle King with Diamond, was achievable, set at 67.620 seconds.

“I was the last one to go and knew it was not crazy fast,” Wathelet reflected. “Normally [this horse] is not supposed to be the fastest one but I knew if I went a little bit inside everywhere and I could do my own turns and course I had a chance. It went quite well. He was focused everywhere but was not crazy fast.”

Gregory Wathelet and Beau Gosse du Park in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Wathelet came in at 66.092 seconds, just enough to take the win for himself. King took second with the Strasburg Morin Inc. entry, and Gabriel Rodriguez Honorio took third with Harley D, owned by Hybrid Horsemanship.

“The grass is for sure amazing. In general I really like to compete on the grass,” Wathelet said of returning to the grass field for competition this week. “Last year the grass was fantastic and that’s something to make me feel good when I get to show at this kind of place because the footing is very good here.”

The goal for 2024 was different for Wathelet in returning to the desert. In 2023, he won quite a few international classes, as well as multiple FEI grand prix classes. But this year, he’s shifting his focus, while still maintaining a travel schedule to big events globally.

“It’s a bit different from last year because last year I came with many really competitive horses that I knew and that could win,” he explained. “This year I brought two or three horses that are a bit out of rhythm. For example, Clarity was out for a few months and is just coming back now, and it will be a few weeks before he is ready [to win] again. Beau Gosse is back in the ring after six months.”

He also has taken the ride for Karrie Rufer aboard several top and up-and-coming mounts while she awaits the arrival of her first child. “I ride a few horses for Karrie because she is pregnant, and they are horses that are very good but I don’t know yet enough, but they can do big things,” he shared. “It’s a different routine this year but at least I hope the second part I can do a few good rounds. I have already been second many times but I hope the second half will be the same, even a bit better. But I know I don’t have the kind of horse like last year that I could win a grand prix every week.”

Show jumping resumes Friday with the $5,000 YETI CSI3* 1.45m Speed.

Big Shot Takes His Shot in 3’6” Performance Hunters

Jenny Karazissis and Big Shot. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Jenny Karazissis was looking forward to getting Big Shot back in the Grand Prix Arena, and her excitement was warranted, as the horse, owned by Dulcie Lou Morris, took championship honors to start the week in the 3’6” Performance Hunters during Desert Circuit 6, also a World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) week.

“It’s just so great,” Karazissis said of her first time doing the division in the Grand Prix Arena, a new offering for “Hunter Week” in the desert. “I just love it out there. It’s so much fun. I’ve done derbies out there before and the [WCHR] Spectacular, but to have the whole week in the Grand Prix Arena, I’m so grateful they did that. The horses have fun, it’s a change of scenery, and it’s really fun for us.”

Big Shot, known as “Dude” in the barn, rode to two blue ribbons in the highly competitive division, and after a hunter derby victory last week, Karazissis feels the horse is back in top form, and right in time.

“He just feels so right right now. I couldn’t be happier with him,” she said of the feeling she gets aboard Dude. “Our plan this week was to qualify for the Winner’s Stake Saturday night, so that will be great practice for the Spectacular during week 10. Week 9 there’s an International Derby on this [Grand Prix] field so I’m looking forward to that too. I’m hoping he’ll peak for those two events.”

Last week, Karazissis won two hunter derbies in just one day, and both victories came aboard horses that have been long-term partners for her, but who have both had quite a bit of time off recently. With the uncertainty of the past year with each horse, the wins felt huge for her.

“I am so grateful for the ride on those two horses,” she said of Big Shot and Really, who each took home a derby win during week five. “There have been ups and downs and gaps – both of them have had over a year off – but to have them back again, you just never know if that’s going to happen. Even if that had been the end of their careers, they had a huge career. But honestly with both of them I feel like they’re even better than they ever were. So it’s very exciting.”

The week serves as a WCHR qualifying event, so many hunter riders have their eye on the prize in earning points toward WCHR year-end awards and qualifying for events like Capital Challenge. Karazissis enjoys that the WCHR program rewards riders for their top performances, so she doesn’t have to put as many show miles on her horses.

“I think it’s been great since its inception,” she said of the WCHR program. “It’s such a great idea to have a program where you don’t have to show week after week to qualify or even win. You can do it with your four best shows. You can really plan out your year if that’s your goal and make it happen without overdoing it with your horse.”

Hunters have a big weekend ahead, beginning with Friday’s $25,000 CWD Nations Cup Hunter Team Challenge, followed by the $10,000 DIHP Under Saddle Championship, which goes under the lights of the Grand Prix Arena at 6pm.