Jamie Gornall hails from England, but he feels like a true Californian. He began calling California home only a few years ago, but already the place has him hooked. At his favorite winter circuit, specifically Desert Circuit 8, presented by Kask and Vogel, Gornall got a big win aboard Nordic van de Fruitkof, owned by Opus Sporthorses, in the $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic to kickstart the week of jumping.

Coming in quite late in the order, Gornall didn’t quite realize how fast the time to catch was. Kyle King went first aboard Diamond, owned by Strasburg Morin Inc., and posted a time of 64.192 seconds, which no one could come close to.

“I walked the course and then had to go ride another horse of mine,” Gornall said of not being able to watch much of the class ahead of him. “I had an idea of my plan and saw Kyle was way in front. I saw a couple horses go and thought I could just be tight and savvy and see what I could do. I’m still figuring the horse out as well. We’re jumping by feel in there, really.”

Jamie Gornall and Nordic van de Fruitkof. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Feel was plenty to get the job done. The new time to beat became 62.194 seconds after Gornall sped around the course on the 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Balou du Rouet x Caretino 2). Only Mark Kinsella came close with Ben Asselin’s Quality H, scoring second place and putting King and Diamond in third.

“It’s a strong start back to the season here,” Gornall said of Nordic van de Fruitkof’s win, which came after about a six-week break for the horse from competing. “I really like him. A really nice horse, really genuine, watches every pole, pricks his ears, and has a go. There’s a lot more in him also were still a new partnership, and we’ll aim to do the [$50,000 Kask & Vogel] Grand Prix this week and keep building.”

Though he speaks of California like he’s been there his whole life, it really hasn’t been long since the British Nations Cup rider made the move to the West Coast of the United States, and it came after an incredible string of working opportunities that shaped him into who he is now.

Jamie Gornall and Nordic van de Fruitkof in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I lived in Germany for about seven years in total,” he said of his initial years outside his home nation of England. “I rode for Janne Friederike Meyer and Rolf Bengsten. Then I worked for Ludger Beerbaum for three and a half years, which was amazing because the time I was there was great. Ludger was in the height of his competing days, Marco Kucher was there, Philip Weishaput, Henrik Von Eckermann, Oliver Lazarus – who I managed to convince to come over here, and Christian Kukuk, so there was a group of great riders, and great horse people.”

Gornall still carries with him so much of what he learned in that environment. It was not only a privilege to learn from riders of their caliber, but their similar physical stature to his played a helpful role as well. “We were all about the same height and build, which was good for me also to learn from people that have similar stature,” he shared. “We had to do it all. We had to ride horses from 4 years old to 14 years old. We had 100 horses in the stable. Really good ones, really bad ones, everything in between.

“It was a great experience and a great team spirit,” he continued. “What you learn from here is also work ethic. You have to follow a plan, have a system, get up, get at it, keep going. That’s what that place really taught me. Seeing the effort and routine from the best in the world, that really sets you up for what you need for success in this career going forward.”

One may think when you have easy access on the same continent to riders like those, why leave? But Gornall knew there were bigger things for his business across the pond.

“We had a lot of changes happening, so I wanted to see what America had to offer,” he said of his decision to move across the Atlantic Ocean. “I decided to try the West Coast first to see what I thought. I brought a group of younger horses here and it was a real fresh start. The first place I came to was [Desert Horse Park]. I fell in love with it. It’s the best tour I’ve been on throughout Europe or America. The horses really grow in confidence here.”

The park is evolving every year, and even every week, so Gornall knows he has to keep improving all the time to keep up.

“Life’s getting hard around here now; there are a lot of good riders,” he reflected on the level of show jumping at DIHP. “But the more people that come the standard lifts. We all have to do better. You shouldn’t run, you shouldn’t hide, you should always seek to try and get in amongst it and everyone helps each other. I think better riders and better horses and better sport just raises the bar.”

As for returning to Europe, Gornall doesn’t plan on it, save for a few big shows at some point. California is home and he does not intend to change that.

“It really feels like home,” he shared. “I’m in Northern California at the minute. For the foreseeable future I’m going to spend all my winters down here in the desert. I love it down here. I feel like I found my home here.”

Lilah Nakatani Scores a Win in $5,000 1.35m NAJC Trial

Lilah Nakatani and Livius P. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Lilah Nakatani has been to the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) before, but if she were to make it back this year, she’d move up several levels. Competing in the Junior category of the NAYC Trials at DIHP during Desert Circuit 8, presented by Kask and Vogel, Nakatani got a big win in the $5,000 Andalusia Country Club 1.35m NAJC Trial aboard Livius P.

Up against very speedy young riders, Nakatani was late to go in the order, and the pace just kept getting faster. Each rider seemed to post a new leading time, up until Nakatani went and no one could catch her. Djuna Lauder ended up second with Fazenda Semilly, while Emmeline Adamick was third with Apollo Z.

“I have had him for a little over a year now,” Nakatani said of her partnership with Livius P. He’s 12 years old. We call him ‘LP’. He’s an interesting horse; he’s a little grumpy in the barn but the minute cookies come out hee’s great. And the minute he goes in the ring he knows his jb and he takes over. He just flies. Today he followed me great throughout the turns and was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

Lilah Nakatani and Livius P in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Returning to NAYC would be a thrill for Nakatani, especially in the Junior category, which is a big step up from what she’s done before at the event.

“I went in 2021 and 2022 in the Children’s with my grey mare,” she said of her past experiences at NAYC. “It was a lovely experience; I had a great time and I’m hopefully going to be able to go back this year. We’re starting off pretty good. I do have another one in the Pre-Juniors so we’ll see how it goes.”

NAYC Trials are an opportunity that Zone 10 riders get but not everyone does. The format allows them to jump courses that present similar challenges as the ones they’ll see when they get to NAYC in Traverse City, MI.

“It’s fantastic,” Nakatani said of getting to jump these trials. “When you get to [NAYC] there’s that moment when you realize this is it. This is the real thing. It’s lovely that we get to test the waters here and also get to join with everyone who may be at [NAYC]. Desert Horse Park is lovely. The weather is so nice right now. It’s a great facility.”

The NAYC Trials continue Friday with the $10,000 Whittier Trust NAYRC 1.40m Trial and the $2,500 NAPJC 1.25m Trial.

Leslie Steele and No Reservations Ride to 3’6” Performance Hunter Championship

Leslie Steele and No Reservations. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Leslie Steele can’t say enough good things about No Reservations, an entry she pilots for Curtis Holdings Inc. The horse comes into the ring every time as focused as ever, even after a break, and puts in the most consistent rounds, allowing Steele to just enjoy the ride.

“He did indoors and then took a pretty big vacation,” she said of his show schedule over the winter for the 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding. “He is just so consistent. You just go in there and aim him at the jumps and let him do his thing. It’s so much fun. I have a barn full of really green horses and then you get to ride one like that and it is so fun and easy. I love it.”

The season may only have three weeks left, but they are a big three weeks for most riders at the park, and especially hunter riders with their eyes on the prize.

“Hopefully we’ll do the big [$49,900 USHJA] International Hunter Derby,” Steele said of the upcoming plan for No Reservations. “That’s the direction. He does the Amateur hunters with [his owner] but our plan is the big derby and the [$100,000 WCHR Hunter Spectacular] at the end.”

Steele comes to DIHP from nearby so she is able to balance getting the horses home and keeping them extremely competitive, making for a great season. “I’m lucky enough I’m not too far away so when I get a week that I don’t want to go I just zip them home and let them go in the paddocks. Then I come back and it keeps it fresh. I love it here,” she shared.

Hunter action resumes Friday with the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Open, sponsored by Platinum Performance and the $10,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby – Jr/Am, sponsored by 100X Equine.