Erynn Ballard’s (Olympic) Time is Now

Langley, BC – When it comes to playing the long game, Erynn Ballard (CAN) is a master of craft.

She’s pretty talented at show jumping, too.

The world’s second-ranked female jumping athlete is a championship veteran, having represented Canada at the 2022 FEI World Jumping Championships; the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final; the 2019 Pan American Games; and the FEI 2018 World Equestrian Games. Notably, she rode four different horses in those championships.

Ballard has become known for her ability to “catch ride” and compete at the highest levels of the sport aboard horses she hardly knows. It’s come with the territory for Ballard, who grew up the daughter of equestrian professionals and who for the past 10 years has been the primary stable rider for Ilan Ferder, one of the largest dealing stables in North America. 

“If we’re doing our jobs as a dealing stable and selling all the right horses, it gives us the opportunity to keep horses,” Ballard said. “Ghakir, I’ve had for four years now, and I feel like I’ve had a lifelong partnership with him. And Libido has been with me for a year.”

The Olympic Games is the one thing noticeably absent from Ballard’s lengthy resume, but maybe, not for long. She heads full steam ahead toward the 2024 Paris Olympics, loaded with four equine candidates: Gakhir, Libido van’t Hofken, Nikka vd Bisschop, and Coconet. 

How do you choose between four elite mounts, when you’re known for being able to ride any horse put in front of you? Ballard’s worldview is simple: She’s happy to let the selectors decide.

“The good thing is that I don’t personally have to make that decision. Somebody will make that decision for me,” she said. “I believe in all of the horses and all of their abilities, and I think it says who I am as a rider that I don’t need just one horse.

“It doesn’t take me too long to create a partnership with a horse: That’s sort of my style and what I do. So whoever they believe is the right horse for the job, I [agree].”

The Dealer’s Perspective

A decade ago, Ballard’s options were far more limited, but she had one stellar horse in the KWPN gelding Appy Cara. At the time, Ballard hadn’t competed at the top levels of the sport in nearly 10 years and had only recently recovered from a career-threatening injury to her scapula. Appy Cara helped bring her back to the top level, catapulting her up the World Rankings and earning her a place on the 2015 Canadian Nations Cup team in Mexico. 

With the 2016 Rio Games on the horizon, Ballard’s name surely had to be mentioned as a candidate. But instead, Appy Cara was sold. The chestnut did go on to compete in the Olympics, jumping at Rio with Argentina’s Ramiro Quinta.

“I don’t think that you can dwell on it too much. Unfortunately, part of my job is also to be a rider for the business, and the right opportunity came for the business to sell that horse for the Olympics,” Ballard recalled. “I was equally as proud to watch Romero ride him at the Olympics as I maybe would have been if I was there myself.”

It’s that kind of mental fortitude that has allowed Ballard to fight her way into the world’s top 50 athletes and remain there as horses have come and gone through her string. But even at an event as grueling as a championship, the hardest mental component is riding fewer rounds and having too much energy.

“I’m used to coming to the show and showing in 10 or 12 or 15 classes a week,” she shared. “I would say I’m like a horse that needs a good lunge in the morning. I need to be a little bit quiet to be focused, and by the time you put me on so many [horses], I have the ability to just be calm and walk in the ring and do my thing. [At Championships], it’s about how I manage my day to make sure that I don’t have too much energy going into the ring. That’s the big challenge.”

Strong Prospects

Ghakir-Ballard’s “heart horse”—is safely qualified for an Olympic bid should he receive it, having jumped with Ballard at the 2022 FEI World Jumping Championships in Herning (DEN). Libido has his certificate of competency, having finished second in the CSI5* MLSJ Grand Prix in Monterrey (MEX) in the fall. At 10, Coconet is the youngest of the group but a mare on the rise, winning a CSI3* Grand Prix in Wellington, Florida (USA) in April. And while the newest partner, Nikka vd Bisschop might be the most exciting, having helped Canada earn their Olympic qualification at the Pan American Games (PER) with Beth Underhill. Ballard has had the mare in her string for less than two months.

“I have to jump well the next three weeks and prove our partnership,” Ballard said. “But so far everything’s going in the right direction, and she’s like a dream horse.”

But the equine that might represent Ballard’s best chance at a long-awaited Olympic opportunity is not one of the above.

“In 1991, I rode a large pony named Polaris Smarty,” Ballard shared. “It turns out that [Laura Kraut] also rode the pony as a 3-year-old. She’s been to the Olympics.

“Rusty Holzer, who rode for the Virgin Islands, rode the pony after Laura. He’s been to the Olympics,” she continued.

“McLain Ward rode the pony after Rusty. He’s been to the Olympics…

“And now it’s my turn. Laura told me, ‘This is your year. This is your year for Smarty to go to the Olympics.’”

Macari Celebrates with MarBill Hill U25 1.35m Win

Langley, BC – Tanimara Macari (MEX) doesn’t have much time left in the U25 division, but she’s making it count. The Cancun, MEX native celebrated her 25th birthday Wednesday at Thunderbird Show Park with a win in the MarBill Hill U25 1.35m, powered by Solaris Equestrian.

Macari bested a 13-horse jump-off with her and Diego Vivero’s 9-year-old gelding Febvre de Lusse, crossing the timers of Colm Quinn’s (IRL) course in 38.22 seconds. Kylie Martens (CAN) finished second with Nico 1427 (38.98 seconds), followed by Sutton Freisen (CAN) and Adare Ya To (39.52s).

“I wanted to give him a nice round. We still have two days left of this U25 [division], so I didn’t want to leave everything in there today, but I did want to give him a confident ride, just to set him up for the weekend,” Macari said. “I think that’s what we achieved today. He’s naturally a very fast horse, so we just put the gear on, and he was ready to go.”

Knight (CAN) swept the U25 classes at the April Spring Opener, and she captured an early lead with her longtime mount, Ecolano vs Romano. It was Kylie Martens and Nico 1427 who usurped their position at the top, and victory looked within reach until Macari and Febvre de Lusse entered the Fort Grand Prix Arena, with just two combinations following her in the 22-strong field. The pair understood the assignment.

“I think he has a really big heart, and he always tries his best whenever he goes in [the ring],” Macari said of Febvre de Lusse. “He’s naturally quick, and he’s also a very careful horse. So, whenever you say, ‘We are going,’ he’s like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ And then he’s always ready to go.”

Macari has only been paired with the grey for three months, taking over the ride in February from her longtime trainer, Diego Vivero. Macari and her coach are co-owners of the gelding, but after purchasing him last year, Vivero spent the first eight months as his primary rider, continuing to develop the young horse.

“We found him at a show, and [Diego said,] ‘I think this [horse] is really interesting. Are you interested in going half and half?’ And we said, ‘Of course.'”

The grey has made a believer out of Macari—at least, when it comes to geldings. The Mexican native has spent the majority of her career working with mares. Admittedly, she’s come to enjoy working with a horse with more of a go-with-the-flow personality.

“Life is so simple with him. He’s always the same every day…He wakes up, I ride him, [and] he’s always in a good mood,” Macari said. “I’m like, ‘Huh, is this what life with a gelding is like?’ He’s so simple and unlike any other horse that I’ve had before.”

The U25 division continues Friday with the $5,000 MarBill Hill U25 1.40, powered by Solaris Equestrian.

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

1. Febvre de Lusse / Tanimara Macari / MEX / Tanimara Macari / 0/0 38.22
2. Nico 1427 / Kylie Martens / CAN / Kylie Martens / 0/0 38.98
3. Adare Ya To / Sutton Freisen / CAN / Baystreet Equestrian / 0/0 39.52
4. Ecolano vs Romano / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/0 40.38
5. Ilanca / Sutton Freisen / CAN / Baystreet Equestrian / 0/0 41.49
6. Esi Jet Set / Carly Stevens / CAN / Susan Stevens / 0/0 42.46
7. Kristalstar / Sloane Betker / CAN / Sloane Betker / 0/0 42.71
8. Chambertino Z / Katrina Komitsch / / Katrina Komitsch / 0/0 43.84
9. Qualobet DW / Skylar Wireman / USA / Shayne Wireman / 0/4 38.61
10. Indy / Georgia Knight / CAN / Georgia Knight / 0/4 43.39

Meet the MLSJ Course Designer: Gregory Bodo

France’s Gregory Bodo will set the test for the world’s most prestigious championship this summer. The Frenchman has been tapped to co-lead the course designing team for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games alongside Spain’s Santiago Varela. It’s a dream come true for Bodo and career making achievement. 

This week, Bodo is at Thunderbird Show Park masterminding the tracks for the first leg of the 2024 Major League Show Jumping season. 

We caught up with him to talk course designing, his signature style and what to expect this week in the tbird ring. 

tbird: Gregory, you had said in a 2018 interview that your dream was to one day build the courses for the Olympics. Now that dream is coming true. Talk a bit about how you’re feeling at this moment?

Gregory Bodo: My feeling is fine. I am not nervous. Effectively, the Olympic Games will start two months from now. So there’s no stress at this moment. Maybe it will be different the first day of the Olympic Games! But right now, I am so proud to have this appointment. It’s a good experience, a good challenge also, for me. 

tbird: You’re quite literally at the top of your game.

Bodo: Yeah, absolutely. I’m very excited.

tbird: You started course designing quite young. What made you want to pursue this craft?

Bodo: I started course designing at 18. At around 15 years old, I followed different regional course designers, because this aspect of the sport is very interesting.

Besides course designing, I am also a marketing teacher. I split my time between course designing approximately 30 events per year and the rest of the time, two days per week, I am a marketing teacher. It’s very important to me to have a good balance in life.

tbird: Describe your course designing process.

Bodo: I think with the modern sport, you need to take into account a lot of parameters. The level of the horses, the level of the riders, of course. The type of footing, the landscape. After considering the technical requirements, the fences and the obstacles and so on, I need to take into account all the details—the decoration, the profile of the fences, the different colors. 

For me, the details today are for the eye, for the spread, for the distances—all parameters are very important to give a good course and also to have a good result. It is very important maybe to be perfectionist. I am a perfectionist. I try to respect all details.

tbird: How has your course designing style evolved over the years?

I like to propose to the rider always a problem for them and never for the horses. This is the first point. After that, I like a forward course from the start line to the finish line. 

And, usually I don’t build very high, very big. I respect the height of the competition, but for me I like [the course] to be subtle, to be delicate, to play with the profile of the fences, the colors of the poles, the distance. All details like that are very important for a Gregory Bodo course.

tbird: What can we expect for the Major League show jumping team event and the Grand Prix this weekend?

Bodo: This is my second time designing for Major League. The first time was two years ago in Monterrey, Mexico. I think I’m going to propose for the team class a [flowing] course. Not so big. Just to see the horses jump very well. This is very important for me. The horses must jump very well. After the result of this class, I’m going to prepare correctly the Grand Prix. I’m going to build like usual, with [questions] for the riders, of course. Always fluent, always forward.

I hope it will be a good show with good sport this week and the best [pair] wins the Grand Prix.

Tickets for the MLSJ Team Competition, sponsored by ClipMyHorse.tv, and MLSJ Grand Prix are available on tbird.ca

It’s Game Over for Erynn Ballard in CSI2* Grand Prix

A top Canadian female rider led another victory gallop at Thunderbird Sunday afternoon, to close out the MLSJ Canadian Premier Week for 2023. 

Former leading female rider in the world, Erynn Ballard piloted Game Over with precision and tact to a double-clear, shaving 0.09 of a second off Conor Swail’s time to cross the finish in 38.70 seconds — a time that would hold up for the remainder of the class.  

A new partnership coming into Ilan Ferder’s sales stable, Ballard has competed Game Over less than a half-dozen times. She’s the first to admit sometimes horses just come into your life and there is an instant connection.

“Some of these horses appear in my life and it was like an instant match,” says Ballard. “I feel like this horse can make me fly. I believe so much in him. And he goes the way that I like — he’s forward. He’s a little spicy. He has a big opinion. And honestly, I just adore him.

I liked the course [today] when I walked it. I thought it was quite suitable for him. The tight time allowed also suits him. His feet always need to be moving. So you ride every round like it’s a speed class. And he also doesn’t have so much experience going fast. So the more he learns it, the better he gets. But he’s naturally fast. He doesn’t even have to go as fast as the others or do as few strides and he’s already faster. He’s just light in the air. He’s light off the ground. He’s really agile. And I think that we will see big things from this horse. I’m very excited about him.”

Ballard anticipates Game On becoming her true “second horse” to back up top horse Gakhir, a luxury that not all Canadian upper level riders manage to maintain.

“We rely on Gakhir so much. And he always steps up to the plate and he always gives us a result. But how nice would it be for him to have to have another horse so that he doesn’t have to be the one that we rely on all the time? It just shows how hard it is to get that horsepower and keep that horsepower. But when you have a horse that makes you feel like you can fly, you already are ahead of the game. So I have a team now and that’s really cool and really special.” 

It was truly an international field of competitors in the immaculate grass Fort Grand Prix Arena, with the top ten alone including riders from Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Korea and the United States. 

Ireland’s Conor Swail, the number 10 rider in the world, finished just behind Ballard in second place with a clean jump off round and a time of 38.79, with Patricio Pasquel of Mexico in third and Alicia Santa Rosa fractions of a second behind in 38.79.

This being Thunderbird Show Park’s 50th Anniversary, much discussion has centred around the idea of “legacy” over the past week. When asked what her legacy might be, Ballard very thoughtfully remarked, “In this sport I feel like there’s so much more to it than just riding. I hope people will remember me for being a great rider, but also a big influence in the sport and an influence to young girls that see me and they say ‘one day I want to be just like her.’ I think that Tiffany [Foster] probably feels the same way. So to have that for Canada — to have such a strong female presence and influence, I hope I’m remembered for things like that as well as for being the rider that I am.”

Game On, Erynn, Game On.

CSI2* $38,500 Grand Prix 1.45m 

Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / JO Faults:Time

  1. Game Over / Erynn Ballard / Ilan Ferder / CAN / 0:38.7
  2. Casturano / Conor Swail / Rider / IRE / 0:38.79
  3. Alicia Santa Rosa / Patricio Pasquel / MEX / 0:38.98
  4. Kadans Van De Mispelaere / Jaehee Jeon / KOR / 0:41.3
  5. Chicago CM / Eric Krawitt / Rider / CAN / 0:41.86
  6. Cerolino / Kyle King / Ilan Ferder / USA / 4:38.78
  7. Chic D Emma Z / Samantha Buirs-Darvill / Rider / CAN / 4:39.52
  8. NKH Cento Blue / Shawn Casady / October Hill Sales / USA / 4:40.27
  9. Howard Du Seigneur / James Chawke / IRE / 4:42.36
  10. Chili Pepper H M Z / Lillie Keenan / Rider / USA / 4:43.72

Nicole Bourgeois Finds Way to Top of 7Up Stables USHJA International 3’6” Hunter Derby

Nicole Bourgeois of Wilsonville, Oregon, captured the $25,000 USHJA International 3’6” Hunter Derby with Wayfinder owned by Hilary Sosne. 

Leading from start to finish with an overall score of 348, Bourgeois topped her closest competitor Samantha Smith with Pierre, by a full 22 points.

When asked about her strategy for the two rounds, Bourgeois was quick to praise Wayfinder and their partnership:

“My strategy in the first round was just have a really smooth round,” she commented. “He’s an amazing jumper. As long as I somewhat get him near the jumps, he will do his job. It’s really nice to have a horse that jumps that well. I’m lucky he’s not spooky, so I don’t have to worry about that. I spooked a little bit at the barrels because in the Derby on Thursday the barrels were trouble for some. He’s not spooky, but I was a little spooky at them. He didn’t care at all and he couldn’t have been better. I’m lucky that I have such a nice horse to ride.

“I was a little conservative on my second round. Normally, I kind of go guns blazing in my second round, especially lately coming from California where there are just so many in the class. I was lucky here. There weren’t quite as many in the class, so I had a little bit of more of a conservative approach in the second round. I didn’t jump any of the high options. I just was going for a nice smooth second round, which he gave me.”

Congratulations are also in order as Bourgeois is an aunt to a new pony rider — her sister Kendall had a baby Friday night. The next generation of tbird riders is born just in time for another 50 years.

©tbird/Kady Dane

Young Brit Charlie Jones Tops the $15,000 MarBill Hill U25 1.40m Grand Prix… And it All Started With a Girl

Charlie Jones (GBR) took top honours in Sunday’s $15,000 MarBill Hill U25 1.40m Grand Prix to cap the U25 division at Thunderbird Show Park’s 2023 Canadian Premier week.

When asked how he came to be here, from his native Warwickshire, England, the nephew of Olympic gold medalist Nick Skelton replied with a smile “Well, I met this girl…”

Jones, 24, and 8-year-old Montserrat are now based out of Calgary, with fellow international show jumper Bretton Chad (the girl) at Stone Ridge Farms. 

They had the luck of the draw on their side, going last in the nine horse jump-off. With only three double-clears in the second round, leaving the rails up already put them in the top three. Stopping the clock in 39.15 seconds put them three tenths of a second ahead of runners-up Virginia Bonnie (USA) and Heldorado on their 39.43. Canadian Lexie Ray finished in third with Cara 199, on a clean round and time of 42.17.

“[Montserrat] was right on it today. He’s a small horse so it’s not always so easy, but he has a big stride. He’s really sweet and is one of my favourites because he just is really hungry when he goes in a jump off. He really wants to win.

“He’s just 8, I’ve had him for a year. He’d done a few 1.30m classes in England as a 7-year old, and then we bought him from there. We competed here last year, and he won the 7-year-old Final here and then was second the next week. So he just loves that field!” 

The 1.40m Grand Prix was the final class in the week-long U25 division presented by MarBill Hill. Marion Cunningham and Bill Tilford of MarBill Hill Farm in Bradford, Ontario are big proponents of Canadian young riders and since 2017 have supported the U25 Young Riders Development series with competitions at Angelstone, Ottawa and Caledon (all Ontario) in addition to here at tbird.

“The U25 division is just a fantastic division,” remarked Jones. “You need it from when you’re coming out of young riders, especially to the age of 25. It’s a big step to go straight into CSI5* grand prix and big classes. So it’s a really good division to have at the 1.40m level, with good prize money. And this is one of the biggest tracks my younger horse has jumped to date as he’s just moving up to this level. Big thank you to MarBill Hill for this division.”

$15,000 MarBill Hill U25 1.40m Grand Prix

Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / Rd 1 Faults/JO Faults:Time

  1. Montserrat OS / Charlie Jones / Stone Ridge Farms / GBR / 0/0:39.15
  2. Heldorado / Virginia Bonnie / Nina Bonnie / USA / 0/0:39.43
  3. Cara 199 / Lexi Ray / Rider / CAN / 0/0:42.17
  4. Ielinea JTL / Jaydan Stettner / Rider / USA /. 0/4:38.45
  5. Carquilot / Francisco Pasquel Vega / Rider / MEX /. 0/4:39.69
  6. ESI Jet Set / Carly Stevens / Grant & Susie Stevens / CAN / 0/4:40.84
  7. Cabablue / Patricio Pasquel JR / Rider / MEX / 0/4:41.7
  8. Texas / Justine Cha / Christine Cha / CAN / 0/4:44.27
  9. Dustin 254 / Aren Ozker / Rider / CAN / 0/4:45.79
  10. Pesto Adelheid Z / Lily Van Elliot / Yvonne Van Duin / CAN / 1:83.58

Tiffany Foster Comes Full Circle with First 5* Star Grand Prix Win

It’s hard not to lead with a bit of a cliché following Tiffany Foster’s win in Saturday’s CSI5* MLSJ Grand Prix at Thunderbird Show Park.

“Hometown Hero” seems the obvious choice, Foster having grown up here and going on to represent Canada at the Olympics. (She’s currently is the highest placed Canadian rider on the FEI Longines World Rankings.) But you could also lead with “nestled in the foothills of BC, with Mount Baker peeking through the trees surrounding the grand prix ring, under a clear blue sky…” Or you could start with it’s her first CSI5* Grand Prix title. 

It’s all true. 

Clean rounds were in short supply over the maximum-built 1.60m course from Germany’s Olaf Petersen. 

Fifth in the ring, Canada’s Erynn Ballard posted the first clean aboard her Herning 2022 World Championship mount Gakhir, much to the delight of the capacity crowd (and Olaf, presumably). Then the waiting game began. Horse after horse racked up faults on the leaderboard as the class wore on and then Karl Cook (USA) and Kalinka Van’T Zorgvliet with a heartbreaking two time faults.

Fortunately, Foster (CAN) with Northern Light and Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with James Kann Cruz were also able to find a fault-free path in the first round, followed by Lillie Keenan (USA) and Fasther, who stopped the clock smack on the time allowed of 73.00 seconds. Had she been 73.01 she would have had a time fault. Now we have a jump off.

First to return, Ballard had no choice but to play all her cards and force the rest to chase her. It was not to be, with the tbird vertical followed by the final fence coming down.

Foster was next, riding the fine line between a more conservative clear and still putting the pressure on. Clear in 39.18 seconds moved them into the lead.

Sweetnam’s spectacular James Kann Cruz, a horse with a 71% top 10 finish rate at the height (Jumpr App), had an unfortunate early rail. Keenan’s proven campaigner Fasther — the pair have earned 13 podium finishes and over 324k euro in prize money since 2019 (Jumpr App) — had a very hard look heading to the first fence, followed up by a refusal at the tbird vertical. The win was Foster’s.

Her first five star Grand Prix title. 

“It still hasn’t quite hit me, but I’m so happy and I’m so happy that this happened here at Thunderbird,” said an emotional Foster.

Northern Light (‘Nora’) is not the horse that she generally uses for these larger classes.

“I’ve called on her a couple of times to step up and jump some of these big 1.60m classes,” Foster explained. “But in general, I sort of keep her in the 1.50m/1.55m slot. That’s partly because I am so lucky with my owners and I have other horses that can jump that height so easily in Figor and Hamilton. 

“She’s the kind of horse who doesn’t like to jump that big every single week, because I think she has to make such a great effort. So I have played with jumping really small rounds and just keeping her happy, comfortable and relaxed. I think that I’m figuring out the formula with her. She also likes a smaller sand arena.

“So if I continue with my strategy and place her in the right spots, I think that I should never say that she’s my ‘third’ horse again!”

Both Sweetnam and Keenan admitted fault for their faults on course. “I’ll take the blame for that [rail]. I just wanted to be tighter to the triple bar, and the distance didn’t really come up,” said Sweetnam.

“But I’m very happy with the way he jumped and it was great class.”

And Keenan: “My horse could not have done any more for me and I made a really stupid mistake. That’s how the sport goes when you’re trying to win, but I mean, with the mistake I made, with the fact that I ended up third, I don’t deserve to be third, but my horse deserves everything. So I’m just really, really happy and grateful that I got to keep going with him and looking forward to the next show.”

Course designer Olaf Petersen didn’t anticipate a big jump off, but admitted to a moment of nerves.

“I knew we had a very good group of horses,” said Petersen. 

“Also it was an Olympic qualifier and so today was really five star to the maximum build. I knew that we wouldn’t get more clear rounds. But the riders walked the course and they thought it was a little bit on the easy side. Then I got a little bit nervous, until I watched the first horses jumping.”

Show president and operations director Chris Pack summed up how the tbird family feels about bringing the Major League Jumping tour to the Park: “I think I speak for them when we say we’ve become fans. We’ve had three riders in the top ten in the world here this week. That’s never happened. This was our biggest purse for a Grand Prix, and for Tiff to win it at home is pretty cool. We had a great afternoon, lots of people. So we’re really appreciative of what Matt Morrissey and Keean White have started and brought to us and we’re really grateful to be a part of the circuit.”

CSI5* $414,300 Grand Prix 1.55m

Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / Round 1 Faults/Round 2 Faults:Time

  1. Northern Light / Tiffany Foster / Artisan Farms LLC / CAN / 0/0:39.18
  2. James Kann Cruz / Shane Sweetnam / Gizmo Partners LLC / IRE / 0/4:38.80
  3. Fasther / Lillie Keenan / Rider / USA / 0/4:44.95
  4. Gakhir / Erynn Ballard / Ilan Ferder & Esperanza Imports LLC / 0/8:37.07
  5. Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet / Karl Cook / Sign Ostby / 2:74.33
  6. Legacy / Daniel Coyle / Ariel Grange / IRE / 4:69.05
  7. Ariso / Jordan Coyle / Elan Farm / IRE / 4:70.92
  8. Oakingham Lira / Alison Robitaille / Alison Firestone LLC / 4:71.35
  9. Emerson / Mario Deslauriers / Wishing Well Farm LLC / 4:71.69
  10. Greya / Kent Farrington / Kent Farrington LLC / 4:72.10

 

Eye Candy Jumpers Takes Top Two Spots in Winning Round 1.50m

In a jump-off field of ten, it’s almost a given there will be an Irish rider somewhere in the mix. Saturday afternoon was no exception at tbird’s MLSJ Canadian Premier. 

FEI Nations Cup™ Final individual silver and team gold medalist Paul O’Shea was almost casually efficient in his approach to riding at speed with Squirt Gun, jumping to the top of the leaderboard in the 1.50m Winning Round class on a time of 39.25 seconds.

America’s Charlotte Jacobs and Rincoola Milsean had the quicker time, clocking in just over 37 seconds, but dropped a rail, which meant they would have to settle for a spot much further down the list.

“I saw Jacqueline [Steffens] go. She was very quick and her horse is a very fast horse. And Darragh [Kenny] was behind me, so I thought I had to give it a really good go, because Darragh’s one of the fastest riders in the world. So we just went to go as quick as we could in a comfortable way for Squirt, and he really jumped fantastic today.”

The pair boasts a 63% clean round average over 43 rounds at the 1.50m height (Jumpr App). For O’Shea, the goal with his sometimes high spirited mount is to keep calm and carry on.

“I just try to ride him nice and relaxed. Sometimes if I feel he’s holding a lot of tension, we gallop for a few strides, just a little faster, and then he kind of lets a squeal out and relaxes again,” shared O’Shea. “[I] just keep it all nice and easy and calm and no big deal, no pressure. He really wants to do the right thing. He’s a very honest horse.”

Finishing second, also for Eye Candy Jumpers, was Canada’s Jacqueline Steffens with Hellcat, posting a clear round in a time of 40.71. Fellow Canadian Nicole Walker rounded out the top three Excellent B, on a clean round in 40.74.

CSI5* $39,000 Winning Round 1.50m 

Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / Jump Off Faults:Time

  1. Squirt Gun / Paul O’Shea / Eye Candy Jumpers / IRE / 0:39.25
  2. Hellcat / Jacqueline Steffens / Eye Candy Jumpers / CAN / 0:40.71
  3. Excellent B / Nicole Walker / Rider / CAN / 0:40.74
  4. Carmela Z / Vanessa Mannix / Rider / CAN / 0:42.56
  5. Rincoola Milsean / Charlotte Jacobs / North Star / USA / 4:37.05
  6. Yoghi Flp / Grant Seger / Fox Lair Performance / USA / 4:39.00
  7. California Pie / Darragh Kenny / Carol Sollak / 4:39.27
  8. OO Seven De L’Equipe / Jessica Mendoza / 4:40.91
  9. Callisto Blue / Caroline Mawhinney / Rider / 4:41.09
  10. Conrado 12 / Ali Ramsay / Ramsay Equestrian Inc / 4:41.45

Team Eye Candy Takes the Season Opener of 2023 MLSJ Team Competition, presented by Premier Equestrian

Three seconds is about the time it takes you to sneeze. Or if it’s added to your jumping score in a Major League Show Jumping gold medal round, the time it takes to hand the gold to Team Eye Candy and settle for silver. That’s exactly what happened Friday night at Thunderbird Show Park in the MLSJ Team Competition presented by Premier Equestrian.

Taking place over three rounds, speed and rails determine which teams move on and which ones go back to the barn in rapid succession. Modelled after other major league sports and F1, the MLSJ team event is now in its third year and boasts an impressive roster of top horse and rider talent. The 10-stop tour starts at tbird and spans three countries, offering $11,000,000 in prize money in 2023; $1,000,000 of which will go directly to the Team Final in December.

Round one quickly established who was in it to win it and as Eye Candy anchor rider Amy Millar said, “You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one.”

Teams with eight and 12 faults in the first round didn’t make the cut. The four teams to advance to the second round were the Crusaders (4 faults and combined time of 218.67 seconds); the Roadrunners (1 fault, 232.98); the Trelawny Trailblazers (0 faults, 217.05); and Team Eye Candy (0 faults, 227.03).

The second round over Olaf Petersen’s shortened course established who would ultimately be riding for medals. The bronze medal was battled out between the Trailblazers and Roadrunners, leaving gold medal match to be fought by Crusaders and Eye Candy in the third and final round.

Going head to head for the bronze were Kaitlin Campbell and Diacco-Blue for the Roadrunners and world no. 10 Conor Swail and Theo 160 for the Trailblazers. Campbell pulled the penultimate fence adding a 3-second penalty to her time leaving the door open for Swail to post a (somewhat) conservative clear and take the bronze.

In the gold medal round, Eye Candy’s anchor rider and Canadian Olympian Amy Millar wound right up with Christiano. With his huge stride and a bit of a lucky rub at the second fence, they posted a clear round in a time of 34.11 seconds. As soon as the Crusaders Grant Seger and Freida pulled the rail at the tbird oxer, it was all over.

At the post-event press conference, team Eye Candy had the opportunity to talk about their strategy, their team relationships and their chosen charity, the Kevin Babington Foundation.

Of her longtime partner Christiano, with whom she has a 49% clean round rate in 91 starts (Jumpr App), Millar remarked “It’s well proven that he loves this class and it makes him feel important. He loves going out there and having everyone cheer for him! When you ride for [owner/manager] Erica Hatfield you bring your best. I love riding on the Canadian team and I love riding on team Eye Candy.”

Teammate Jessica Mendoza coaches Caroline Mawhinney and both had an exceptional debut to the Major League series Friday evening. Named to the team in 2022, Mendoza suffered a broken shoulder and was unable to compete; Mawhinney is just 17 and tbird was also her CSI5* jumping debut.

The advice she got from Mendoza: “Don’t think about the pressure. Just go in and try to do your best,” shared Mawhinney. “I know she’s set me up in the best way possible to be prepared for these classes. So it’s really riding the best that I can. I was really nervous but I know she was supporting me the whole way.”

This year MLSJ has introduced a charity element to the mix with each team riding for their chosen charity and donating a portion of their winnings each show. Team manager Erica Hatfield chose the Kevin Babington Foundation at the beginning of the year, not realizing how connected it would become to the Team. 

Amy Millar’s brother, Jonathan, suffered a traumatic spinal injury in Florida earlier this year, and is now one of the many riders benefitting from the support of the Kevin Babington Foundation while receiving intensive rehabilitation therapy at the prestigious Shepherd Center in Atlanta. 

“Having the opportunity to be there and receive treatment will totally change the trajectory of Jonathan’s recovery,” said Millar. 

Major League Show Jumping continues at Thunderbird Show Park with the $414,300 CSI5* Grand Prix taking place Saturday afternoon.

For tickets, schedule and additional information visit www.tbird.ca.

Daniel Coyle Guides Jasper to First FEI Win in the CSI2* Cabana Coast Qualifier

Any horse person will tell you the old expression “the best laid plans gang aft awry” is never more true than with horses. And Daniel Coyle can attest to that following his win with Jasper in Thursday morning’s CSI2* Cabana Coast Qualifier 1.45m speed class at Thunderbird Show Park to come out ahead in the field of 59 starters by nearly two full seconds.

The class marks the 9-year-old gelding’s FEI debut and while they won, it didn’t go quite as Coyle intended. 

“Nothing went according to plan,” he laughed following the presentations. “The first line and the triple bar also [as the first fence] when they’re a little green and it’s a speed class, they can either jump it very well or not at all—and usually both ways clear it. 

“Jasper didn’t really cover the ground to the second fence so I had to do one more stride there and then I was very tight back on the third fence, which left me very dead and slow. I had to do an extra stride…and then I knew I was a few strides behind, so I took some risks on some of the roll backs and I think that’s where I caught it. It was never in a straight line that made me win today.”

Purchased by Ariel Grange as a 5-year-old, Jasper is new to Coyle having been brought along by Hyde Moffatt and Brady Hayes before taking an unplanned vacation during the covid pandemic. Coyle’s philosophy is to teach his young horses to go slowly and relaxed before learning to run and jump — because generally going faster is the easier part.

“Jasper needs to learn to be faster. But he also is not very good at being slow and lazy. So I start there and if I can get him to achieve that, he’ll learn the quick thing pretty quick,” he explained.

“I feel like if I can use my experience to make him better horse, then that’s also better for him rather than just leaving everything to him always.”

Fellow Irishman and tbird’s winningest rider Conor Swail took second with Casturano on a time of 63.96, and Mexico’s Patricio Pasquel with Alicia Santa Rosa took third on 64.6.

CSI2* $38,500 Cabana Coast Qualifier 1.45m

Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / Faults:Time

  1. Jasper / Daniel Coyle / Ariel Grange / IRE / 0:61.87
  2. Casturano / Conor Swail / Rider / IRE / 0:63.96
  3. Alicia Santa Rosa / Patricio Pasquel / Rider / MEX / 0:64.6
  4. Oaks Come By Chance / David Cameron / Rider / AUS / 0:64.99
  5. Fasole Du Seigneur / Alexis Sokolov / Rider / USA / 0:65.4
  6. NKH Cento Blue / Shawn Casady / October Hill Sales / USA / 0:65.62
  7. KS Coradina / Susan Horn / Kingsfield Farm / CAN / 0:66.9
  8. GCS Athena / Amy Millar / Brookstreet Stables / CAN / 0:67.01
  9. Viamdios D’Avril / Lauren Esdale / Pauline Esdale / USA / 0:67.69
  10. Edita / Zume Gallaher / Blue Gate Stables LLC / USA / 0:67.8
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