The Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) Roadrunners finally brought home their first win on California soil Friday night in the $268,000 CAD Major League Show Jumping Team Competition, presented by Brown Advisory. With a loaded squad featuring Mclain Ward (USA), Cathleen Driscoll (USA) and Amanda Derbyshire (GBR), they were the sole team to jump clear in round one, and they brought home the gold medal in a blazing fast fashion as the next two rounds unfolded.
Now, after Desert Holiday 1, the team sits just on the brink of winning it all, but it will require another victory next week in the MLSJ Team Final.
“I think this team has rallied brilliantly the second half of the season,” said Ward, who jumped the fastest jump-off of the entire night aboard First Lady, owned by Robin Parsky. “We’ve had some injuries, Amanda and I both. Cathleen came into the group a little later in the season. And we were really behind the eight-ball in August. Looking forward, it’s a strong team. I’m proud to be part of it and I thought all the horses performed great the last couple of weeks.”
Ward went head to head against a former student of his, Lillie Keenen (USA) who rode for the Trelawny Trailblazers. While Keenan was fast, she was just that slight margin behind Ward, who was seemingly unbeatable. The Trailblazers ended up in second on the podium while Team Eye Candy took the bronze medal.
“I was excited to get a chance to jump off against her. It was a little motivation, to be honest,” Ward said of going up against Keenan, who was aboard Agana van het Gerendal Z. “I know if I looked [Lillie] in the eye the kamikaze might come out. I’m always proud to see people you’ve worked with go on and perform brilliantly. She’s going to be one of the great riders of all time when it’s all said and done, but it’s nice to still show them that I can get them.”
Driscoll just joined the Roadrunners recently, but it’s been nothing but winning form for her as a team rider.
“This is a bit of a unique format; it’s not something you see anywhere else,” Driscoll said of her experience so far. “It’s a good option for those 1.50m horses to really showcase them, and fortunately enough I have a great one at the moment. It’s been a fabulous class for [Flotylla]. I’m just really happy to be on this team and to be helpful in a couple of these events. Coming here with Desert Horse Park, on home turf, we had a good showing and a great team tonight.”
Driscoll was the first to really lay down a fast round, and it came as no surprise since she was the fastest jump-off rider during a recent leg in Greenwich, CT.
“Going as the first rider on our team in the second round, I wanted to give us a shot and I figured I had nothing to lose,” Driscoll said of her jump-off plan. “And Flotylla is a naturally fast horse, and a big mover. Everything came up just about the way I wanted it to. She’s so careful, I can really trust her on long gallops to the single fences. Amanda was able to take it home for us.”
“For my second team event I definitely had a lot to prove,” Derbyshire remarked of wanting to bring home the win for her team. “I had a little injury, but it felt good to be back again today on a great team with these two riders. It doesn’t get much better. I think everyone thought that and we all had to just ride the best we could and I think we did.”
The team behind DIHP has built not only a stellar park for the MLSJ finale, but also an incredibly strong team over the years that has finally earned its spot atop the podium in Thermal.
“These guys are great; you throw them a chance and next week we’re going to do the same thing,” said Steve Hankin, President and CEO of DIHP. “We went in this to help revitalize the sport and nothing makes me prouder than to see what it’s all about. In every regard, everyone’s been thrilled with the way the place looks. Most importantly, the ring rides amazingly. They can go as fast as they can and not worry about anything. It’s been an amazing week so far here and tomorrow night will be a big event. We’re really excited about it and couldn’t feel better about where we are.”
Both Ward and Driscoll are returning visitors to the horse park, and for Driscoll it’s her first time competing at the venue.
“I actually was out here a few years ago and I was grooming, so to come back out here as a rider now is different,” she remarked of her move into the Grand Prix Arena and into the winner’s circle. “But it’s fun to see the changes this venue has undergone in the last few years. They’ve done a beautiful job. It’s really quite a stunning venue. It’s something we look on to going forward in the calendar for years to come. They really put on a great show.”
Ward is no stranger to the West Coast, despite primarily residing on the East Coast. “I’ve actually always come West and supported the big events for a number of years,” he said of why he felt passionate about joining the DIHP Roadrunners. “My mother was from San Francisco so I have family here. I enjoy competing here. When Major League started, Steve and his partners recruited me. I’n thrilled to be back part of this team. I think the people behind this Roadrunners team have great intentions and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
The Roadrunners’ momentum will carry them into the final week of Desert Holiday and MLSJ, when they’ll contend for the overall season title on Saturday night, December 9. It will be a tough catch going up against the Trailblazers with their lead, but with the same roster going in for a second week in a row, their confidence will be high.
Saturday night, December 2, is the feature event of Desert Holiday 1, the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix, presented by Brown Advisory, under the lights.
Patience Pays Off for Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou in $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby
Michael Dennehy would say Hulla-Balou has taken his sweet time to mature into an elite hunter derby horse, but Friday afternoon was proof they have arrived at their destination. Aboard Dana Vollbracht’s exceptional 13-year-old, Dennehy took the win in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.
Meghan Rawlins set the track for the day’s event on the grass field at DIHP, and top West Coast hunters came out for the occasion. Dennehy and Hulla-Balou went towards the tail end of the order, so they knew which areas of the course might be troublesome, and they put in a stellar first round, setting them up for a prime spot at the end of the handy round. Their ultimate score of 337.5 propelled them to the top and to the win.
“It’s been eight going on nine years since we started with Balou,” Dennehy said of bringing up the horse. “We bought him as a 5-year-old. He has been slow at everything. It’s why we’re probably a good match because I’m not the quickest either. We’ve taken our time and really come along. Last year he was ready to do a lot of the derbies and I got a little ahead of myself last year trying too hard. This year my approach was just try to do what we do well.”
When asked what it is he does well, Dennehy replied, “the best thing I do well is stay out of his way. He’s such a special horse and spectacular jumper, and he’s got so much scope and so much try. He wants to be so good all the time. He’s just a very sensitive horse so he can be difficult sometimes with a lot of atmosphere. He’s growing up and it’s about time.”
The horse was prepared by last year’s derby on the grass field, but rose even higher to take the win this time around.
“We did a derby on the grass during the winter circuit last year and he was absolutely fantastic,” Dennehy said of the horse’s last performance on the grass. “I made a mistake to the last jump. This year I just wanted to be solid and I felt like through the first round he got more and more solid every jump and got more relaxed and with it. In the handy sometimes he can get a little anxious and try to guess where we’ll go next. I tried to take my time today and use the space and field we have. He was super and I couldn’t be happier.”
Sinmigo Dos, owned by Kathryn Fleck Peisach, scored second place with Marisa Metzger aboard, on a score of 332. Kat Barkema and Vex Freedom, owned by Vex Sporthorse Ltd., were third on a score of 324.5.
Dennehy echoes what other hunter riders have to say about enjoying Desert International Horse Park. “What do I like? Everything,” he remarked. “They’ve done such an amazing job here over the years. Every year we come they’ve done more and added more. Now it’s the little things but it’s a great venue. This field is absolutely phenomenal. The horses jump great on it. It’s a pleasure to be here.”
Dennehy and Hulla-Balou now look ahead to more International Hunter Derbies to come as Desert Circuit gets underway, with three more before the season comes to a close.
“I want to give a special shoutout to my owner, Dana. She’s the second owner of this horse. Dana has been wonderful. Dana, this one’s for you,” he concluded.
Djuna Lauder and Roaring Fork Farms’ Estimated Prophet scored the U25 victory, sponsored by Butet.
Noah Nelson and Catwoman Soar to New Heights in $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, Presented by Brown Advisory
Noah Nelson is ending his junior career with a bang. The 18-year-old dominated the Main Hunter ring Friday morning as he took top honors in the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, presented by Brown Advisory, aboard Catwoman, owned by Leslie Pinkerton Nelson. The duo rode to the highest score of their career together, earning a 99 in round one, then returning and sealing the deal with a 93 in the handy round for a combined total of 192.
“I’ve ridden Catwoman for about three years now and I love her,” Nelson remarked of the 14-year-old Westphalian mare. “She’s an incredible horse. She’s taught me a lot. I had a lot of my first derby wins on her. I owe everything to her. I’ve had a long journey with her. We bought her from a good friend of ours, Jill Hamilton, and she’s just been amazing ever since.”
Scoring a 99 was a thrilling and emotional experience for Nelson and his mother, who had to miss out on watching her son ride at all the indoor horse shows this past fall. “That was incredible,” he said of hearing what he and the mare scored in round one. “I think it was almost a year ago that I got a 98 on her. To beat that on the same horse was incredible.”
Catwoman, or “Kitty” in the barn, has a unique way of going that sets her apart from the rest of the crowd. “The way that she jumps is just insane,” Nelson said. “Usually, after a couple of weeks, my back starts to hurt because she throws my back out of line. She jumps so physically every time; it doesn’t matter how big the fence is, it’s a 10 out of 10 jump.”
Nelson is aging out of the junior ranks this very week, and what lies ahead is territory he has yet to conquer.
“This is my last week as a junior, and then I’m going to turn pro. I’m starting my own business mostly focusing on jumpers,” he shared.
As for the one who has influenced him the most through his younger years of riding and managing horses, Nelson responded, “Obviously my mom. My mom has been a huge part of my life.”
In second place was Avery Glynn, also in her final week as a junior, riding Jury Duty, owned by B R Farms LLC, to an overall score of 187, with the highest handy round score in the class. Jamie Sailor took third place aboard Rio Z, owned by Kate Zasowska, on a score of 179.
Copyright Claims $20,000 CWD Young Hunter Championship
Dustin Goodwin describes Copyright as “unnaturally perfect.” The duo stepped around the $20,000 CWD Young Hunter Championship quite easily on Friday afternoon, taking the top score and the win.
The course for the young hunters was welcoming with just enough challenges presented, and Goodwin and Copyright handled every portion with ease. The pair brought home scores of 88 and 82.5 for a 170.5 overall score and the win. Jamie Sailor was on the podium again with Rio Z. in second, and Marisa Metzger took home third place with Trending, owned by Laurie Jueneman.
“He’s actually only 5 but I show him in the 7-year-old section,” he said of Elizabeth Aul’s Warmblood gelding. “He just moved up to the 3’3” this week because he’s so perfect. It’s very easy for him so we stepped him up. I think he’s probably ready to go to the 3’6”.”
It was a match made in heaven when Goodwin first sat on Copyright. “Last January I went to Emil Spidone’s barn in Ocala. He hadn’t even turned 5 yet and he was so simple and sweet,” he reflected on the first time he rode the horse. “I vibed with him right away. I actually bought him for a customer and then I actually sold him again in the barn so I could keep him. I’m hoping I get to keep him forever.”
Through the months he’s had the ride, the horse has changed ownership but stayed just as steady, learning as he’s gone along and has begun taking on bigger challenges.
“When I first got him he didn’t really steer or understand basic stuff,” Goodwin explained. “He’d always go straight to the jump and never spook or get crooked. He always had a nice expression and jump through his body. He wanted to make a nice jump every time. He had to learn turning and going away from the gate and staying on task. I’ve done a couple derbies on him recently and with more stimulation and a bigger stage he is actually better and rises to the occasion.”
As a prominent hunter trainer, Goodwin knows that bringing up young hunters is part of what he does, and he enjoys the process, especially when it means he gets to see horses serving their purpose for customers once they are more developed.
“It’s a big part of being a hunter trainer,” he said of young horse development. “If you train hunters and have a hunter program, that’s just how it works. You find them, you like their quality, and you produce them. I just try to find ones I feel comfortable with and that suit me so it can be a positive.”
As for the prize money and special opportunities for young hunters at DIHP, Goodwin knows it’s unmatched by anywhere else. “It’s so fun,” he said of the Young Hunter Championship. “The young hunter classes took a few years to get support but now, especially at shows like this at this level, the divisions are well entered and very competitive. It only makes sense to have a class like this. This is fun and it’s producing that next generation and it’s keeping the chain going of producing young horses to be someone’s great grown-up horse.”
Teams Top Podiums in USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships
Riders went head to head on teams Friday morning in the USHJA Platinum Jumper Championships, a crowd favorite that has returned to DIHP for another year. After jumping their first individual and team qualifying round on Thursday, riders jumped one additional round for team medals. In the 1.40-1.45m section, Team Touch of Class, led by chef d’equipe Sean Leckie, took the gold medal outright with no jump-off, meaning team members Emmeline Adamick, Leila Diab, Madison Sanders, and Cameron Trimino all stood atop the podium and accepted their awards.
The 1.30-1.35m section finished on a tie between two teams, forcing them into jump-off action to determine whether Team Milton or Team Cruising would take gold. Nicole Haunert and Concolue jumped first with one rail, and Savannah Jenkins with Casallantum followed up with a clear round, awarding the gold medal to Team Milton, led by chef d’equipe Hap Hansen. Jenkins and her team members Calista Yun, Sarah Cline, and Lauren Frandson stood atop the podium. The silver medal was awarded to Haunert along with team members Lindsay Stefanko and Jenny Calandra, led by chef d’equipe Georges Bittar.