It’s evident watching them in the ring that Robert Blanchette and Chardonnay have found their rhythm, and it played in their favor Thursday as they took victory in the $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic during week one of the National Sunshine Series. 

The pair had a midway draw in the order of 58 entries, and, as Blanchette might say, just had a nice trip around Anderson Lima’s speed course. The mare’s speed is so undeniable, however, that it was enough to take the win by a convincing margin. Coming home in 62.597 seconds, the pair was over three seconds faster than second-place finisher Kyle King with Cerolino, owned by Ilan Ferder.

“She is better this year than ever,” Blanchette said of the mare, owned by RTS LCC. “I’ve been riding her since she was 9; she’s 12 now and each year she’s gotten a little better. This year at Spruce Meadows she gained a couple gears. She won a five-star derby there and after that she won a four-star World Cup Qualifier. Today I was going to canter around at the pace she likes and it’s enough to win. She’s just a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

Robert Blanchette and Chardonnay. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

When asked what qualities make her a once-in-a-lifetime horse, Blanchette replied, “Her heart. There’s a lot of things: scope, carefulness, rideability, but it’s her heart. She wants to win. She wants to please. We’ve been together so long now that we know what each other is thinking. I know five or six strides out if she might touch something. And I know if she won’t touch something.”

After his blazing fast round, Blanchette did what he always does: gave Chardonnay a cookie. She’s come to expect the gesture after jumping, and quite a bit in the barn as well.

“[I’ve given her treats] since the beginning,” he said of his treat-focused training. “I had a coach as a little kid and he always gave horses treats constantly. I still do, too. My whole life – as my wife will tell you – has been one washing machine full of horse cookies after another.”

Robert Blanchette and Chardonnay in their winning presentation, pictured with Chloe Staiano and Sarah Chenoy of FarmVet. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

The past few years with Chardonnay in the picture have changed Blanchette’s riding, but he also has another secret weapon in working with a performance coach for the last three to four years. When negative thoughts creep in while on course, he is able to change the subject and think positively.

“I have a [performance] coach that says don’t think [negatively], so I try to change the thought,” he said of the mindset he’s adopted. “It’s improved my riding in every aspect, mostly the focus and the ability to switch your mood at the snap of a finger. It’s what you need to do in a sport like this when it’s just you in the ring and you have pressures outside. You might’ve just gotten off a 4-year-old hunter and you have to change gears right away, and there are techniques to do that that you can learn.”

The Aptos, CA, resident is pleased to be back in the desert enjoying all it has to offer for the two-week National Sunshine Series, also looking forward to a season full of highlights for himself and his barn of clients and owners.

“It’s a great show, and has great footing,” he said of DIHP. “Steve is improving everything. Every time I come it’s better and I’m really happy about that. We’ll be here a lot.”

The schedule for National Sunshine Series week 1 isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Friday features the $15,000 Hidden Creek Farms 6-Bar, the $10,000 Platinum Performance USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open, the $10,000 Adequan® USHJA National Hunter Derby – Jr/Am, and the 3’ Butet Junior/Amateur Equitation Challenge.

Joie Gatlin and Oslo Claim 3’6” Green Hunter Championship 

Joie Gatlin started the season at Desert International Horse Park on a high note, earning championship honors with Oslo, owned by Alexis Meadows. 

“He’s one of my favorite horses ever, hunter or jumper,” Gatlin said of the 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding. “We’ve had him for just over a year now. We found him in Europe from Desiree Johnon. He’d been doing the jumpers over there and he was such a nice mellow athletic type. Beautiful horse, great mover, great jumper.”

Joie Gatlin and Oslo. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Oslo is in his comfort zone at the 3’6” fence height, thriving with both Gatlin and Meadows in the irons.

“We started nice and easy last year and he did the 3’6” all year,” Gatlin said of the horse’s progress in the United States. “He’s had a great year. He was Circuit Champion here, and he did the 3’6” Green Hunter Incentive Finals and tied for tenth his first time traveling outside of California. He’s the nicest easiest horse there is. He and I get along really well and I love riding him. We’ll move him up to the 3’9” [Green Hunters] next year. He’s just lovely. He’s easy and good about everything.”

Gatlin and her team base in the desert for the winter, meaning they’ve set up camp for everything to come over the next few months.

“It’s really nice to be back in the desert,” she reflected. “There’s always improvement. There’s such a variety of classes – fun classes, money classes, good derbies, the WCHR weeks. It’s the place to be. It’s a great place to build up your horses and they can really grow up through a circuit with the variety of classes. They have good footing, great jumps, and great course designers. It’s such a nice place to build [young horses] and – with your seasoned horses – win. There are so many great classes to win and great prize money to jump for.”

Hunters continue Friday with the $10,000 Platinum Performance USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open and the $10,000 Adequan® USHJA National Hunter Derby – Junior/Amateur.