Keith Cruises to Victory in Maui Jim 1.40m Grand Prix

Kassidy Keith (CAN) doesn’t always win in the Grand Prix ring at Thunderbird Show Park, but when she does it’s usually with Havana.

The veteran pair started their 2024 season at tbird’s April Season Opener the same way they ended the previous one—with a victory. In September 2023, Keith and her speedy bay capped their U25 career with a pair of wins at tbird’s Harvest Celebration. This week, they’re back at tbird and back atop the podium as winners of the week’s feature event, the $10,000 Maui Jim 1.40m Grand Prix.

“Havana and I normally take a break [over the winter],” said Keith, who runs Keepsake Farm in Langley, BC with her mother Cheryl Keith. “I went to California at the start of February and ended up doing the four star the last week. I haven’t really jumped [Havana] since we got home.”

As it turned out, one 1.35m warm-up class on Friday was all they needed. Six pairs found a clear path around Chris Jones’ first round Grand Prix track to advance to the jump off—among them, Australian Olympian and known speed threat Katie Laurie on all three of her mounts.

Second to return for the short course, Keith and Havana set a speedy standard, using the mare’s turning ability and their well-established partnership to their advantage.

“[My strategy] was just to be smooth, but I had to take the risks that needed to be done because [Katie] rides really fast,” said Keith, noting that she has complete trust in Havana. “I turned super sharp [to the double], and I just pulled on the left rein and she was right there with me.”

An inside turn after the Maui Jim vertical gave Keith a straight shot to the penultimate oxer. The pair rolled back quickly to the final vertical to stop the clock in 44.87 seconds. Their time not only held up, it proved to be 2 and half seconds fastest.

Georgia Knight (CAN), who swept the U25 division this week, slotted into second on new mount Ero Del Pierire in 47.21 seconds as the only other double clear on the day. Laurie took third on Tuluar Zirensky with four faults in a time of 48.73.

Havana has been under Keith’s saddle since age four. Developed by the 26-year-old rider up to the 4* level, the 12-year-old mare is something of a 1.40m specialist. In 29 international starts at the height, the pair boasts a 59% clear round average and average just 1.5 faults, according to Jumpr App.

This year, Keith has her sights set on top sport with the mare.

“My goals for 2024 with Havana are to jump a five star Grand Prix, whether that’s at the start of the year or the end of the year, and just to be consistent with her. [We plan to] jump the three stars [at tbird], working towards some World Cup qualifiers again in the fall.”

National jumping continues next week at tbird with the Spring Festival, April 24–28. Catch all the action from the Thunderbird Arena live on tbird TV, powered by Horse & Country.

Mache Masters Amy Brattebo Real Estate Canadian Hunter Derby

Chloe Mache (CAN) recorded a milestone victory Saturday at tbird, as the junior rider bested a field of accomplished professionals in the Amy Brattebo Real Estate Canadian Hunter Derby.

It marked the first derby win at the 3’6″ height for Mache, whose winning partner was her longtime mount, St Martin’s Lane. The pair boasted a winning score of 106 points from the judges, followed by Tracey Epp (CAN) and Heartvit ZH (105) and Charlotte Reeve with Corona OS (96).

The Canadian Hunter Derby is a one-round competition judged as a handy hunter class. Additional bonus points are awarded for jumping up to five high options on courses as well as for additional handiness and high performance displayed on course. The competition also serves as a qualifier for the Canadian Hunter Derby National Championship, held at the Royal Horse Show in November.

Saturday’s derby track was both big and technical, offering several opportunities for inside tracks, and a new fence at the back of the arena caught several experienced pairs by surprise. For Mache, navigating that fence in strong form was a highlight of her round.

“I quite liked the inside turns that I took. We’ve been working on that a lot at home, and it was fun to be able to go inside and slice [the angles on] some of those jumps,” explained Mache, who trains with Eliza Hunt. “I think my favourite part of the course was probably the spooky jump at the top, because he jumped it super well.”

Mache and the now-11-year-old St Martin’s Lane have been paired for the better part of four years, and they’ve climbed the ranks together, competing most frequently in the Large Junior Hunter 3’6″ division. Mache’s next goal is to jump a USHJA International Hunter Derby.

“It’s been a bit of a learning journey with [St Martin’s Lane]. We were both pretty young and new to each other [when we were first paired],” Mache shared, “but we’ve really gown our partnership, and it’s become quite a good bond over the years.”

Derbies have quickly become a specialty, given the bay’s game-for-anything attitude and affinity for fresh challenges.

“He’s a bit of a silly guy. He loves to scratch your head and lay his chin on your shoulder,” Mache shared. “He can be a bit sensitive, but he’s a super good guy, and he just loves [to have] fun and do different things.”

Amy Brattebo Real Estate Canadian Hunter Derby
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Score

1. St Martin’s Lane / Chloe Mache / CAN / Chloe Mache / 106
2. Hertvit ZH / Tracey Epp / CAN / Tracey App / 105
3. Corona OS / Charlotte Reeve / CAN / Charlotte Reeve / 96
4. Oxo van de Bien / Allison Lagan / CAN / Signe Dixon / 92
5. Candelo Edel / Thea Muller / CAN / Thea Muller / 83
6. Grayt Tito’s Encore / Shannon Haney / CAN / Shannon Haney / 62
7. Cavendish / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 59
8. Light My Fire / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 52

Knight Completes Sweep in MarBill Hill U25 Grand Prix 1.40m

Langley, BC — Saturday at Thunderbird Show Park, things came in threes.

Georgia Knight (CAN) bested a three-horse jump-off to win a third consecutive U25 competition in the Thunderbird Arena, completing a clean sweep of the division at the April Season Opener. She left all the jumps up over Chris Jones’ 1.40m first round track with all three of her horses, ultimately taking a third win with her longtime partner, Ecolano vs Romano, affectionately known as “Romeo.”

No one was able to jump double-clear on the day, but Knight was fastest among the three four-fault performers in the jump-off. The winning time was 48.72 seconds. Jillz and Natalie Popham (CAN) finished second (4/49.29s), with Knight also third aboard Indy (51.9s).

“It’s just such a great way to start off the season. I can’t wait for May and the rest of the U25 classes,” Knight exclaimed. “I’m so happy to be doing it—competing in these classes on the horses I have, especially Romeo; he’s just so special. And after having him for two years, it just really means a lot to be able to have these wins on him.”

Knight jumped off first aboard Indy, a newer and younger mount that Knight only began showing in February. The mare had an early rail over the short course and gave Knight valuable intel for her second ride—her experienced ace.

“I meant to turn inside after jump three, but I got a bit flat to that. Luckily [Indy] left it up, but I decided not to turn inside there. Then I went inside on Romeo, and I think that’s where I made up the time—and galloping to [jump] five.

“This is the biggest track I have jumped on [Indy], and I’m honestly most proud of jumping clear [in the first round] with her,” she added. “I’m working on everything with her. She’s so different from my other horses.”

Knight plans to continue jumping in the MarBill Hill U25 division this season at tbird, with the goal of representing Canada at the North American Youth Championships at the end of the summer.

“I’m going to keep riding, and I’ll see where it takes me,” she said.

MarBill Hill U25 1.40m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Ecolano VS Romano / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/4 48.72
2. Jillz / Natalie Popham / CAN / Natalie Popham / 0/4 49.29
3. Indy / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/4 51.9
4. Ero del Pierre / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/WD
5. Cella / Colby Winther Konig / CAN / Taylor Winther / 4 85.08
6. Canberre 59 / Sloane Betker / CAN / 4 85.67
7. Lestat OLD / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 12 88.35
8. Nuovo Supremo / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 42 128.59

Knight Impresses Again in MarBill Hill U25 1.40m

Langley, BC – Georgia Knight (CAN) had a plan for Chris Jones’ speed track in the MarBill Hill U25 1.40m.

Then she changed it. With longtime mount Ecolano vs Romano, it proved to be the winning move. She and “Romeo” produced the only clear round of the afternoon to earn a second consecutive win in the division at the April Season Opener, having also won Wednesday’s 1.35m jump-off competition.

“My original plan was to do a few more inside turns. And then as I watched the class, I realized it was a hard course. [The other riders] did the inside turns, and then they had a couple rails,” Knight explained. “I know my horse really well, and he’s fast, naturally. So I said, ‘I’m not going to do the inside turns. I’m not going to risk him being off balance or on an angle.’ So, I just decided to go around everywhere, and I trusted him that he’d leave all the jumps up.”

Even with a more conservative track, Romeo’s footspeed carried the pair quickly around the course. If a rail would have fallen, they still would have been faster than runners-up Natalie Popham (CAN) and Jillz; the winning time was 72.61 seconds, while Popham finished with a single rail in 77.26 seconds. Knight also finished third with new mount Indy, bookending the podium (8/72.51s).

[Ecolano vs Romano] is the type of horse where you just need to gallop with his head up, and he reads the jumps. So, it is definitely easier for him and easier for me if I’m just galloping the whole way around,” Knight shared. “I find I usually have one of the fastest times, because that’s just the way I need to ride the course.”

Knight has been paired with Romeo for nearly two years, and the bay helped his rider secure the overall MarBill Hill U25 series title at tbird in 2023. Last year, he complemented a more seasoned lease mount in Onyx, but in 2024, the 15-year-old anchors Knight’s U25 string alongside younger mounts Indy and Ero del Pierre.

“It took me a while to learn to ride him, but now I just know him so well. I know all his buttons and what he’s thinking, and that just gives me so much confidence,” she expressed.

Knight credits Romeo for making her a stronger, more accurate rider and helping evolve her seat from a lighter, hunter-styled position to being more effective in the saddle for tackling bigger, more technical tracks.

Beyond that, his quirky personality has won Knight’s heart in the barn.

“Romeo is my favourite horse ever. He is very strange, but he’s just the most cuddly horse. He likes when you rub his eyes, and when you stick your finger up his nose—it’s really weird—he just falls asleep,” she laughed. “And the weirdest thing about him is that when you give him a treat, he has to lick something for a good 20 minutes after. It’s nonstop, whether it’s your hand or the side of the stall wall.”

MarBill Hill U25 1.40m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Ecolano VS Romano / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0 72.61
2. Jillz / Natalie Popham / CAN / Natalie Popham / 4 77.26
3. Indy / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 8 72.51
4. Canberre 59 / Sloane Betker / CAN / Sloane Betker / 8 74.83
5. Lestat OLD / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 8 75.56
6. Nuovo Supremo / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 8 85.27
7. Cella / Colby Winther Konig / CAN / Taylor Winther / RT

Horse Profile: Light My Fire

When Ashley Arnoldt first watched a video of Light My Fire, the 2012 Hanoverian stallion was in Germany, competing in the 1.40m division. She was initially impressed by his scope, jumping form and rideability.

A big thing that kind of drew me to him was that he’s partially related to [my U25 jumper] Lestat OLD through Lordano and he’s also a three-quarter brother to Los Angeles, a stallion that sired a lot of nice hunters in the U.S.”

The Arnoldt’s imported the horse with the intention that he’d be Ashley’s next Grand Prix mount and a breeding stallion for their family-run Dreamscape Farm in Langley, BC.

But plans with horses are always subject to change.

In their first show together, Arnoldt and Light My Fire contested a 1.35m class at Thunderbird Show Park and finished in third place. The following week, they were in the hunter ring—winning.

“He was very successful that first week in the jumpers. He was just a bit slow. So we thought that maybe we should try him in the hunter ring,” explained Arnoldt.

The pair made their hunter debut the following week and were champions in the Amateur-Owner 3’6” division at tbird, winning 5 of 6 classes. Two weeks later, they swept the Performance Hunter and Low Hunter divisions at Milner Downs, then started making rounds in the Derbies.

“That’s kind of how he became my Hunter Derby horse because it just it clicked and we knew he liked it, so we stuck to it.”

Still, it wasn’t an easy choice to swap disciplines, admits Arnoldt. Grand Prix horses are few and far between, especially when your prospects are limited by finances.

“It was a hard decision. But at the same time, he made it so much easier by how good he is at it and how well we work together,” she shared.

“Going to the Royal Winter Fair for [the Canadian Hunter Derby National Championship] is always something that I love to do. So when this all unfolded and we stepped into the hunters, I could see all those goals and dreams and possibilities we could do as a team together.”

The 12-year-old stallion has been proving her move right ever since, most especially in the Hunter Derbies. Arndolt and Light My Fire have won the Canadian Hunter Derby and Western Derby series championships every year since 2021.

“He’s just so consistent in his performance in the derbies. I always joke that if he doesn’t win, it’s because I messed up.”

Light My Fire is as easy to work with outside the ring as he makes winning in it appear, said Arnoldt. “Everyone thinks he’s a gelding,” she continued.

“He’s honestly so simple. I don’t have much prep with him. We do the Amateur Owners on the weekend before the Derby and then we go.

“I think that’s what makes him the best hunter. He is so quiet and chill all the time, and I can always rely on him to step up and be good. Even when we take him to the big shows like indoors at the Royal, I never have to worry about anything. I walk into these rings and know that he knows what he’s doing.”

When he’s not competing, Light My Fire is an in-demand breeding stallion. But he’s always up for a little downtime and a snack.

“He loves Stud Muffins. He loves to nap. He loves to go for trail rides and hang out. He loves his day off after the horse show. He loves people! He thinks it’s the best thing ever when anyone ever comes to visit him. He feels like a little pop star, I think.

“And he can always spot a camera,” laughs Arnoldt. “If we’re taking ribbon pictures or he’s standing somewhere, he finds the camera every time.”

Watch for Ashley Arnoldt and Light My Fire as they look to defend their Canadian Hunter Derby Series title this season at tbird—that is, when the stallion isn’t napping ringside.

“’He’s just Lennie’ is the best way that I can explain him. He’s just so quiet and chill and awesome.”

Timing is Right for Natalie Popham and Jillz at Thunderbird Show Park

Natalie Popham got introduced to high performance equestrian sport later than many of her peers contesting the MarBill Hill U25 division at Thunderbird Show Park.

The 21-year-old young professional, based out of Victoria Island, Vancouver with Lizzy Gingras’ New Heights Equestrian, didn’t get her feet wet in competitive equestrian sport until she was in her teens, having spent nearly seven years taking lessons at a riding school.

She may not have known about international show jumping, but she knew that riding was all that she wanted to do. Horses dominated the conversations she had with her parents, and she spent all her free time in the barn.

“A lot of my peers have been coming [to tbird] since they were 9 or 10 and showing ponies, but I skipped that part,” Popham said. “I don’t have horsey parents, and no one else in my family rides. I was slow getting to the competitive part [of riding], at least the higher-level aspect of it.”

It was when Popham followed some friends to train with Brittney Turner that she had her first experiences on the “A” show circuit. She later found her way to Gingras, who for the last three and a half years has helped take Popham’s riding to the next level. Wednesday at tbird’s April Spring Opener, Popham and her 10-year-old KWPN mare Jillz jumped double-clear for a top five finish in the first U25 class of the venue’s 2024 show season.

As it’s turned out, Jillz was also delayed in reaching her potential in the sport. After Popham acquired her as a 7-year-old from Langley-based Highland Farms, Jillz missed nearly a year and a half due to injuries sustained in a trailer accident.

“I was on my way to Thermal with my mom, and we were in Oregon when we got the call,” Popham recalled. “[Jillz] had gotten her leg over the center divider [of the trailer], and when the trailer door was opened, she was basically hanging from her leg.”

Jillz also broke some ribs in the accident, greatly delaying her competitive pursuits. Popham spent the next year and a half attending vet appointments and rehabbing her horse.

“It was pretty traumatic. I had just gotten her when it happened. We had done one horse show, and I was super excited to kick off our partnership,” Popham expressed. “It’s been slow for sure.”

Popham and Jillz stepped into the U25 division during tbird’s 2023 show season, but it was mostly for experience—”We made it through the year, but it was challenging,” she said. This year, Popham feels a difference in both her horse and in her own riding.

“I feel a lot more confident with the way she feels. She’s jumping better and better. She’s paying attention, and she’s happy overall,” she shared. “We’re slowly able to go faster and turn tighter. I’m not quite at a place that I can gallop down to a vertical the way Georgia [Knight] and Ashley [Arnoldt] did with their horses, but we’re slowly getting there. She’s jumping up [to me], and she’s opening her step up.”

While the show record may be lighter, the homework has been extensive. During Jillz’s downtime, the pair strengthened their relationship on the ground—despite the mare not being the most personable in nature—and since they’ve gotten back to work, adjustability and rhythm between the fences have been the focus.

Ultimately, horse and rider are eager to simply have some competition consistency. After spending the winter in California, they’re hitting their best stride—this time, with perfect timing.

I am really hoping to have a consistent year,” Popham said. “We’ll probably stick with the U25 [division] this year, but the goal is to get up to a higher level and jump some Grand Prix [events] and FEI [classes], eventually.”

Knight Dominates MarBill Hill U25 1.35m

Twenty-year-old Georgia Knight has entered the 2024 show season at Thunderbird Show Park with a new mindset. But the results have quickly proven to be the same.

Knight, tbird’s 2023 MarBill Hill U25 overall series champion, claimed the top two spots in Wednesday’s U25 1.35m jump-off class at the April Season Opener, taking the win with her longtime partner Ecolano vs Romano (37.21 seconds) and finishing second with new mount Ero del Pierre (39.82s). Ashley Arnoldt finished third with Lestat OLD (40.58s) by way of a five-horse jump-off over Chris Jones’ shortened track.

“Last year, I started off the year, and I didn’t expect to win [the series]. It really, really boosted my confidence,” Knight said. “I [realized], I can actually do well in these classes. Coming into this year, I was just going to try and be consistent again.”

The Victoria, BC native certainly had a consistent scorecard Wednesday, with two double-clear efforts producing zeros across the board. She used the jump-off to experiment. After an attempt at an inside turn went awry aboard Ero del Pierre, she utilized the footspeed that has made she and Ecolano vs Romano difficult to beat in this division.

“I’m still getting to know [Ero del Pierre], and I wasn’t sure how fast I could go [in the jump-off], because he’s bigger and has a big stride and a slower canter, so my strategy was to do an inside turn after jump three,” Knight explained. “I tried to do it, but I missed the turn, so I just galloped around to the next jump. I knew there was no point in trying to do that turn again.

“The thing about [Ecolano vs Romano] is that he’s so fun to do jump-offs on,” she continued. “I was just going to go as fast as I can. He loves it.”

Knight has not only entered the season with boosted confidence, but she’s also more seasoned, having spent a month in California showing this past winter under the tutelage of her trainer Lizzy Gingras. She’ll continue to compete in the U25 division this season at tbird, while also pursuing new goals.

“My goal is to try and be consistent, because that’s sort of what happened last year: The consistent consistency led to the [series] championship,” she said. “And I would like to compete in my first FEI show—hopefully that will be in May.”

The MarBill Hill U25 division continues Friday and Saturday, April 19-20.

MarBill Hill U25 1.35m
Horse / Rider / Nationality / Owner / Faults / Time

1. Ecolano VS Romano / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/0 37.21
2. Ero del Pierre / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/0 39.82
3. Lestat OLD / Ashley Arnoldt / CAN / Jennifer Arnoldt / 0/0 40.58
4. Jillz / Natalie Popham / CAN / Natalie Popham / 0/0 41.99
5. Kristalstar / Sloane Betker / CAN / Sloane Betker / 0/14 65.89
6. Canberre 59 / Sloane Betker / CAN / Sloane Betker / 4 85.98
7. Nuovo Supremo / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / 35 117.84
8. Arctic Outflow / Jessa Rae Girard / CAN / Jessa Rae Girard / EL