Nayel Nassar (EGY) had to wait for a win during Desert Holiday, but a win finally came his way on Friday night of Desert Holiday 2, presented by Visit Greater Palm Springs. Aboard Coronado, owned by Evergate Stables LLC, Nassar rode to the win in the $221,600CAD Visit Greater Palm Springs CSI5* Grand Prix, bringing home the victory he had been waiting for.

Over Peter Grant’s (CAN) course, Nassar was one of 10 to jump clear in the first round. Coming back in a promising position, Nassar was the first to really bring the speed up a notch over the short course, and he left the remaining few pairs to try to catch him, which none could ultimately do. Only Amy Millar (CAN) and Truman, owned by Millar Brooke Farm & Overland, came close, taking second place. Shawn Casady (USA) landed in third on the podium with Cool Quarz, owned by Morning Star Sporthorses.

Nayel Nassar (EGY) and Coronado. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“He’s been incredible this year; he’s won three grand prixs,” Nassar said of his partner, a 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cassini x Accord). “I’ve had him for two and a half years now but it feels like longer. He’s just such a trier and he’s totally an adrenaline junkie. My wife likes to ride him at home and you would never guess that he’s got that sort of energy when you watch him flat around. He just knows when it’s time to shine and just has all the attributes of a superstar show jumper.”

Coronado showed off his superstar qualities under the lights in the Grand Prix Arena, turning tightly and staying ultra careful as Nassar steered him into the lead. The horse was particularly careful through the double combination in the jump-off, the second to last element of the short course.

“That was actually part of the course that I wasn’t supposed to take any risks but I felt like I was really conservative the whole way around,” Nassar said of his strategy turning tightly back to the one-stride combination. “He’s an amazing combination jumper so I knew I could turn up to that. I tried to push a little wider but also keep my rhythm and it worked out.”

Nayel Nassar (EGY) topped the podium. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Nassar knew the time was beatable when he stepped foot in the ring, but he also knew it wasn’t over after his round, so he had to be quick enough to prevent others from catching him.

“I have to say when I went in there wasn’t a fast round that had been laid down yet so I tried to be relatively conservative but still be efficient enough for the people after me to have to take some risks,” he explained of his jump-off approach. “My horse is naturally quick, and the jump-off actually suited him with long gallops and a couple of turns. I thought I nailed that turn to the double, that was probably the place where I took some risks that some other people weren’t able to take.”

Returning to DIHP is like coming home for Nassar, who spent quite a while in California and competed at the park when he was in school at Stanford.

Nayel Nassar (EGY) and Coronado. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I really love this horse park,” he remarked of DIHP. “I spent a lot of time here when I was in college and after. It does feel like home. It’s always great to come back to the West Coast and see all the familiar faces. This is a special win for us. It’s the end of the season, and it’s been a long year. To get this kind of win towards the end is super rewarding.”

The week isn’t over for Nassar, though. Saturday night is the $571,000 CSI5* Major League Show Jumping Team Competition, and his team, the Trelawny Trailblazers, sit in the lead, just one win away from potentially winning it all for the 2023 season. Nassar will certainly use the confidence to carry him into the team final, along with his other teammates, who are hungry to bring it home.

“Winning is the best confidence booster so I’m just looking forward to a good team class tomorrow. We’ll try to wrap up our season the way we started it. I’m excited,” he concluded.

Saturday features back-to-back FEI classes, with the $76,000CAD MeadowGrove Farm CSI2* Grand Prix, followed by the $571,000 CSI5* Major League Show Jumping Team Competition under the lights.

Katie Gardner Makes Equitation Dreams Come True in $15,000 Pro Eq Challenge

Katie Gardner had two firsts this week: she attended Desert Holiday for the first time, and she competed in the $15,000 Pro Eq Challenge, sponsored by Seahorse Riding Club, for the first time. And she won.

Gardner didn’t even have the class on her radar at the start of the show, but working with Christa and Mike Endicott of Pegasus Show Stables, she quickly realized the class would be a great opportunity for both herself and the string of equitation horses in the barn.

“We have some really amazing eq horses right now, so Christa and Mike thought for sure that we should do the two that Jake [Endicott] and I did,” Gardner remarked of her reasoning behind why the class was a good idea for her. “The one I rode is 6 years old so it’s his first real championship class. He’s just learning the ropes and we thought it would be a good experience for him.”

Katie Gardner and A Loonar T. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

As a former equitation rider herself, it was nice for Gardner to step back into the eq ring and go up against other top professionals in a slightly different format.

“I was so excited to do this class; I was thinking about it all week and trying to not get too nervous,” she laughed. “I took a little hiatus [from riding] – I was off for maybe a year and a half – so I’m getting back into the groove, but it’s such an amazing team I work with so I’m very lucky. They’re super supportive and always cheering me on and making me feel confident.”

Gardner put in a solid first round with A Loonar T, owned by Emma Post, scoring an 89 and coming back in fourth as the top 12 jumped a second round. After round two, she moved up into second place with a 92 to add. Then, the top four switched horses for a tricky test.

Swapping horses with then leader Skylar Wireman, who piloted Quax, owned by Ilan Ferder, Gardner got some trade secrets about the horse before the four went in and learned their test.

Katie Gardner in her winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“[Skylar] was really specific about holding the lead and my horse is the same way,” Gardner said. “She said he had a very nice jump and I could feel that right away. I could have maybe done the switch to the counter lead in the work-off. I played that a little bit safe being in second, which I think was a good plan. But it was hard.”

Wireman ended up second and Jamie Sailor took third, forming an all-female podium for the first iteration of pro equitation for the season.

All pro riders agree on one thing: the equitation provides a foundation for a solid riding career. Gardner grew up doing the equitation and believes her mastery of the discipline allowed her opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have had.

“I actually did quite a bit of equitation and frankly I miss it,” she reflected. I had the most amazing horse, training with Jim Hagman and Elvenstar Farm until my first pro job. It helps with the basics, the track, the strategy. All of it makes your skills so honed. When I was in the eq, I didn’t have a jumper until my last junior year and I was able to really go through the ranks quickly with that horse just because of my basics in the equitation.”

Returning to the equitation ring was a trip down memory lane combined with a positive outing for a young horse, so it was a win-win situation for Gardner and the Pegasus team.

“I love doing classes like this. It brings me back to those days and feeling that and keeping my skills in check,” she shared. “Learning with this horse has been awesome. Every day he comes out and is ready to compete. Whenever I get to do these classes I’m all on board.”

Gardner is still fairly new to the Pegasus team, so she didn’t make the trip to Desert Holiday in past year.s

“I’ve actually never done the Holiday shows,” she remarked on making the return to DIHP. “I did take a break, so coming back to see this facility is incredible. Every aspect of it has blown my expectations out of the water. Everything feels like a real event, so it’s a really fun atmosphere. It’s nice to get to watch the classes and be a part of all of it.”

Pro equitation action returns during Desert Circuit 8, when the class will offer $50,000 and be held in the Grand Prix Arena.

Shannon Kelly Proves She Can Win in $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby

Shannon Kelly had come second and third in hunter derby action aboard her beloved Can Do This VA over the years, but on Friday of Desert Holiday 2, presented by Visit Greater Palm Springs, the pair finally got their highly-coveted win. In the best of company, Kelly and “Thomas” rose to the top of the $10,000 Valencia Saddlery USHJA National Hunter Derby – Jr/Am, marking one of their biggest accomplishments together.

“I imported Thomas with my really close friend Anneliese Kannow,” Kelly said of the now 8-year-old gelding, owned by Hermosa Sport Horses. “She saw him on a video and called me. At the time I had 1-year-old twin boys and she said, ‘We’re getting this horse and you’re going to ride it.’ I hadn’t been riding because of the kids, but he came as a 5-year-old and we started developing him as an equitation horse. He did great in that ring but then Anneliese thought he could do the hunters. He’s done the 3’6” Amateur-Owners with me for a couple years.”

Shannon Kelly and Can Do This VA. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Thomas has been like a puppy dog for Kelly through the three years they’ve been together. “He has the most personality. He’s a total in-your-pocket goofball. When I got off today he grabbed my stick and wouldn’t give it back. He’s just a goober.”

But the day, and the win, was extra special for Kelly, who had a few special guests in attendance.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few podium finishes but this is our first win. It made it even more fun that I decided to bring my boys with me,” said Kelly, who was training under Jamie Sailor for the day’s win. “They come a lot and they love horses. They have a Shetland pony named Buttercup and a mini donkey.”

Thomas is pulling double duty at the moment, as Kelly shares the ride, but he is perfectly happy coming out in both the Junior Hunters and the derbies.

“Right now I’m sharing him with a junior rider who needed a horse while she develops a young hunter,” she explained. “They’re good friends of mine and ride with Devon Gibson, who’s my other trainer. We developed him and the goal was for him to be a junior hunter so it’s really fun to see him successful in that ring with Hailey Eynon.”

Thomas seems like quite the show pony, but is truly a farm animal that likes to come play at horse shows. “He lives at the Eynon’s house, so I take him on the trail and he has pigs and goats,” Kelly said of the horse’s home life. “He enjoys his farm life and then he gets to come to the horse show and perform.”

Shannon Kelly and Can Do This VA in their winning presentation, pictured with Hannah Cole of Valencia Saddlery. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

As for her two rounds, Kelly put in two very high scores that put her at the top of the leaderboard and kept her there for most of the class. Her classic round score of 90 was the highest of the entire class, helping her hold the lead as the class came to a close. Violet Rheingold claimed second and third aboard Ballantine and SWS High Light, respectively.

“Thomas’s party trick is the trot jump; I never have to worry about that,” Kelly said of the strengths of her rounds. “I figured I’d try to get the trot as late as possible and then land and move up to the oxer. He’s always right there for me. He’s the handiest horse I’ve ever ridden. I actually was surprised that my classic score was probably the highest I’ve scored in a classic round on him.”

Being a part of the horse’s journey is perhaps the most special part of the relationship Kelly and Thomas have today. While he was meant to be a sale horse, Kelly fell in love and now plans to keep the horse for quite a while.

“It’s fun to have developed him,” she explained. “There are so many people that have been a part of his journey and he still has such a team behind him. When it came time to sell him after I’d had him for a year, I pretty much said I can’t do it. He’s an absolute blast. My boys love him, and he loves them. I’ll pick them up after school and they want to go see Thomas.”

Nick Haness and Reese’s in their winning presentation, pictured with Nora Meppi of Voltaire Design. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Earlier in the day, Nick Haness came out and did what he does best, piloting his longtime partner Reese’s, owned by West Coast Equine Partners LLC, to the win in the $10,000 Voltaire Design USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open. The duo had scores of 92 and 93 to take victory with a 13-point margin. Shauna Pennell and Clooney, owned by Ilene Kurtzman, took second while Haness also secured third with Casalluno, owned by Karle Dickerson.

Martien Van Der Hoeven Speeds to Win $15,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic

Martien Van Der Hoeven and Chance Encounter in their winning presentation, pictured with Camryn Schatzlein, Sarah Chenoy, and Chloe Staiano of FarmVet. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

It wasn’t by chance that Martien Van Der Hoeven took the win in the $15,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic. He and Chance Encounter, owned by Marlac Ventures I, were the fastest of 50 pairs to navigate the track set for the occasion by Peter Grant. Quick and tidy everywhere, he sped to a time of 64.664 seconds. In second place was Mark Kinsella with Katherine Huffstutler’s Marquis Le Beau Courally, while Savannah Jenkins and Etalon, owned by Proper 12 LLC, took third.