Gregory Wathelet (BEL) came out with a bang during his first trip to Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). The Belgian Olympic team bronze medalist took two big victories Thursday as FEI and National show jumping kicked into gear for Desert Circuit II.

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Berline Du Maillet Z. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

As the day began, it was FEI action taking center stage in the $5,000 Hygain CSI3* 1.40m Two Phase. Colm Quinn (IRL) set the track for athletes to prepare their mounts for the week’s upcoming events. Wathelet piloted three mounts, the second of which proved to be the cream of the crop, but showed he will be a true contender no matter the ride as Desert Circuit continues.

In the first FEI class of the circuit, Wathelet claimed top honors aboard Berline Du Maillet Z, owned by Mambour Delphine. Of the 19 international entries, his second-phase time of 26.99 seconds was plenty to seal the deal.

Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Clarity, standing in for Berline Du Maillet Z, in their winning presentation, pictured with Andrenna Flores of Hygain Feeds. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I’ve had her for two years already,” Wathelet said of the 12-year-old Zangersheide mare (Berlin x Action-Breaker). “She’s very competitive up to 1.50m. It’s a really careful mare. She’s done some really good things. I’ll do the 1.50m Friday and the 1.45m on Saturday; that’s the plan for this week.”

Wathelet knew he had the horsepower, but actually planned to rein it in prior to getting in the ring. “The plan at the beginning wasn’t to go very fast because she hadn’t jumped for six weeks now,” he continued. “I wanted to see how she felt because sometimes she can feel very careful, but right away she felt really easygoing and confident.

Stella Buckingham (USA) and Great White. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I’m really happy,” Wathelet continued regarding his time in the desert thus far. “I must say everything is really great. The ground is super; it’s what we have at the best shows in Europe. It’s big with good fences, big warm-up, lots of space, and stables are very good for the horses, which for me is the most important.”

Second-place honors went to Stella Buckingham (USA) and Great White, while Elisa Broz (USA) and Kardenta Van’t Meerhof claimed third.

Elisa Broz (USA) and Kardenta Van’t Meerhof. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Wathelet’s winning streak continued in the $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic as he sped to the win in the single-round speed class aboard Ace Of Hearts. In a convincing manner, the pair crossed the timers in 59.738 seconds, over four seconds faster than the second-place combination.

The course, built by Quinn, was all about track and eliminating strides wherever possible around the tight turns. Wathelet’s strategy proved extremely effective as the 13-year-old Estonian Sport Horse stallion navigated the course flawlessly. Broz took another podium finish, this time finishing in second place aboard Crispo R, while McKenna Norris and Billy Nala claimed third.

Gregory Wathelet and Ace Of Hearts. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“[Ace Of Hearts] is a really, really careful horse,” Wathelet said. “He’s older but very green because he was injured for quite a long time. He’s been back for over a year and is a really good jumper. I wanted to start National this week and increase next week, and the next tours go a bit higher. The quality is very good. I’ve had him since he was 5 years old but he spent about four years out between [ages] 8 and 11.

“He didn’t show much in November and December because I wanted to save him for these shows; I think there are really good classes for him here. I also wanted to bring him for the FEI grand prixs during the tour,” Wathelet remarked.

Gregory Wathelet and Ace of Hearts in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Wathelet’s first trip to DIHP has proven fruitful already. “The idea was to try something else,” he said about attending a new event. “It’s a different system here and different classes. I wanted to change for the winter and get a new experience. On top of that, I really like California. I thought I’d combine the sport here with a vacation.”

Planning to stay for additional weeks of Desert Circuit, Wathelet traveled an impressive up-and-coming string to contend for top results. “I wanted to see what kind of level it was here; it’s always difficult to say and compare what you can get here to Europe,” he continued. “I brought horses who have done really good results at two- and three-star shows in Europe. It was a good fit for me to be competitive. That’s my goal is to be competitive and have fun. It’s a good start.”

Show jumping at Desert Circuit II continues Friday with the $38,700 Morning Star Sporthorses CSI3* 1.50m Speed and the Non Pro 1.20m Gambler’s Choice to benefit Manes for Movement.

Final Results: $5,000 Hygain CSI3* 1.40m Two Phase

1. BERLINE DU MAILLET Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Berlin x Action-Breaker
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Mambour Delphine: 0/0/26.99

2. GREAT WHITE: 2008 HOLST gelding by Cavalor Cumano x Julio Mariner
STELLA BUCKINGHAM (USA), Santa Rosa Group: 0/0/27.72

3. KARDENTA VAN’T MEERHOF: 2010 BWP mare by Cardento x Concorde
ELISA BROZ (USA), Hidalgo LLC: 0/0/27.98

4. NADALE VAN DORPERHEIDE: 2013 BWP gelding by Zilverstar T x Winningmood
CASSIO RIVETTI (BRA), Ilan Ferder: 0/0/28.45

5. CATINKA 25: 2009 OLDBG mare by Catoki x Luxano
VANESSA MANNIX (CAN), Vanessa Mannix: 0/0/28.47

6. CASIANO: 2014 Anglo European gelding by Casino Berlin x Iroko
CHANDLER MEADOWS (USA), Chandler Meadows: 0/0/30.02

7. PASQUINELLE: 2012 Swedish Warmblood gelding by Centaurus x Feliciano
EMILY FITZGERALD (CAN), Emily Fitzgerald: 0/0/30.88

8. CHAGALL DE TOSCANE: 2012 SF stallion by Norton D’Eole x Opium De Talma
LAURA HITE (USA), HF Farms LLC: 0/0/31.27

9. TASHMIR Z: 2012 ZANG gelding by Toulon x Kashmir Van Schuttershof
ALEXANDRA BIEDERMAN (USA), Alexandra Biederman: 0/0/31.37

10. CARISSIMO 25: 2013 HOLST gelding by Cascadello x Clinton
MAVIS SPENCER (USA), Georgy Maskrey-Segesman: 0/0/31.72

11. CALYPSO V/D/ ZUUTHOEVE: 2008 SBS gelding by Otangelo x Thunder Van De Zuuthoeve
LAURA HITE (USA), HF Farms LLC: 0/0/32.86

12. INTERACTIVE MORTGAGE CAYJANO: 2013 WESTF gelding by Cayetano L x Danekonig
ANNA DUFF (IRL), Delong Equestrian Ventures LLC: 0/0/32.97

Final Results: $30,000 FarmVet 1.45m Open Classic

1. Ace Of Hearts / Gregory Wathelet / Gregory Wathelet / 0/59.738
2. Crispo R / Elisa Broz / Elisa Broz / 0/64.044
3. Billy Nala / McKenna Norris / McKenna Norris / 0/64.606
4. Mantua LS La Silla / Kaitlin Campbell / SWS Training & Sales / 0/71.829
5. Hunters Conlypso II / Lorcan Gallagher / Lorcan Gallagher / 4/61.474
6. Mr. Europe / Karrie Rufer / Morning Star Sporthorses / 4/61.505
7. Edita / Zume Gallaher / Blue Gate Stables, LLC / 4/61.774
8. NKH Carrido / Brooke Rose Morin / Strasburg Morin Inc. / 4/63.959
9. Escapado S / Ian McFarlane / Mountain View West Farm LLC / 4/64.577
10. Charlie Red Wine CS / Simon Schroeder / Morris Simchowitz / 4/65.060
11. Gucci Musterd / Bruno Diniz Das Neves / Laura Khorshid / 4/ 65.895
12. Calgary IV / Nicole Haunert / Cherokee Show Horses / 4/66.844

Class and Talent Lead McQueen to Top the 3’6” Green Hunters

Nick Haness is no stranger to the winner’s circle at DIHP, but he has a relatively new partner joining him there. Thursday afternoon, Haness piloted McQueen to championship honors in the 3’6” Green Hunter division, under the watchful eye of Traci and Carleton Brooks of Balmoral.

When asked what qualities the 8-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding possesses to captivate the judges, Carleton’s answer was simple: “Class and talent.” Those two adjectives have launched Carleton to the winner’s circle at the nation’s most prestigious hunter horse shows, including the Devon Horse Show, the Capital Challenge Horse Show, and the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, just to name a few.

Nick Haness and McQueen. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Haness, of Temecula, CA, rode to the win in several classes Wednesday and Thursday in the 3’6” Green division during Desert Circuit II, which surprised no one part of McQueen’s journey. “He’s coming into his own,” Carleton continued about McQueen. “He’s a very special one. He’s not just good, he’s going to be great. He has the aptitude to do the job. He’s the whole package.

“Nick is a freak. He’s a freak in that he can analyze and understand a horse,” Carleton reasoned regarding his choice of Haness sitting aboard Strasburg Morin Inc.’s promising gelding. “He bonds with a horse right away. It’s a unique ability that very, very few people have. He can adapt to any horse. I admire him.”

Balmoral has a relatively new and young string, both equine and human, at DIHP this season with big plans to grow and excel. “We have interesting and very talented horses, and they’re all very marketable. The riders have improved immensely and we’re really looking forward to everyone stepping up,” remarked Carleton.

As longtime supporters and more recent additions to the new barn sponsorship program at DIHP, Traci and Carleton Brooks have spent years basing their operation out of the horse park for the winter months.

Nick Haness and McQueen, pictured with Traci and Carleton Brooks of Balmoral. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Traci, who spent time in Wellington, FL, at the close of 2022, heard the buzz echoing across the East Coast about how incredible the facility in Thermal has become. “A lot of people have heard great things and want to come here, so I think [DIHP] has got some street cred now,” Traci said, expecting to see more and more top names venture out west as years go by.

Carleton added, “We like the openness of the facility [at DIHP]. It’s very open and the horses seem to be very comfortable here. Having been here long enough throughout the years, we see a massive effort behind the scenes.”

Hunters continue Friday with the $25,000 TALUS International USHJA Hunt & Go Derby beginning at 8:00 a.m. in Main Hunter, followed by the $5,000 Platinum Performance Hunt & Go Derby – Open and the $5,000 Voltaire Design Hunt & Go Derby – Junior/Amateur.