Technically, no horses left Anthony D’Ambrosio’s $75,000 Footing Authority CSI-W grand prix course in Thermal, Calif., without fault. But a spirited jump-off still ensued. It became a three-way contest between two Jills and a Richard—that is, top west coast World Cup-ranked Jill Humphrey, second-seated Richard Spooner, and Canada’s Jill Henselwood. Each rider rode a clean first round but incurred one time fault.
But the jump-off produced the day’s only spotlessly clean rounds both over jumps and on the clock. Neither Spooner’s signature speed aboard Cristallo nor Humphrey’s precision on Kaskaya could catch Henselwood and her speedy thoroughbred mare, Callisto.
“She’s a Thoroughbred; she’s got the ground speed,” Henselwood said simply. The pair clocked in a blazing jump-off round of 37.86 seconds while Spooner and Humphrey finished 1 and 1.5 seconds shy, respectively. And though Henselwood’s number beat the jump-off time allowed by a long shot, she and Callisto were among the 14 combinations that missed the target time in the first round. Those who managed to beat the clock, dropped rails.
Still, “I think [D’Ambrosio] is pretty brilliant,” insisted Henselwood. “By evidence, it looked like [the time] was too tight, but he still got the right result. Any one of us could have made the time, so I don’t think it was unfair, but it was certainly a big part of the test. So maybe he’s practicing us toward [world competition], which is not a bad thing.”
And while time faults marred more than half the order of go, rails fell fairly evenly throughout the technical course. Aside from time, the questions that stumped most riders were the tight rollbacks to tall verticals, especially fence 6.
But Callisto showed her Olympic heart today, said Henselwood, even though it has been a rocky road for the pair. She bought the now 14-year-old mare about 3 years ago as an Olympic prospect and began building her ability along with Ian Millar. It seemed just as Callisto’s sun began to shine, she and Henselwood hit an unexpected glitch.
“It was like a little black cloud followed her. Nothing serious, just little things,” explained Henselwood. One such hurdle was a peculiar infection in Callisto’s uterus. After realizing the horse’s discomfort and trying various methods to quell the stress, they decided to remove her ovaries.
“But this took months and months, and meanwhile, I’m sitting it out and rehabbing her. Then we’d get cooking again and another little thing would happen,” said Henselwood. “I thought I was cursed!”
But her faith in Callisto never faded. She stuck with the mare through every setback and kept her confidence elevated. “And I really like her. I’ve always liked her. The trick was to get her to like me from the very beginning,” said Henselwood. “She’s an Olympic horse with Olympic scope and she’s Thoroughbred fast. But I’m thrilled to have that kind of depth, and I’ve learned a lot of horsemanship by having her.”
Alhough she was thrilled with Callisto’s win, she was not Henselwood’s World Cup horse. SpecialEd, her point horse, finished 7th with 8 faults. But Spooner did pick up some valuable points for his second-placed finish, especially since Kaskaya is not Humphrey’s World Cup horse, which means this week’s results might shuffle the top of the west coast World Cup standings a bit.
Just before the CSI-W commenced, mid-circuit champions marched with honors through the big arena for photo ops. Among those champions were Glenda Morris and Balboa, the adult amateur hunter, 18-35, mid-circuit champions.
Watching this pair’s flowing and stylish movement in Thermal’s hunter rings never hinted that Morris, 29, had broken her pelvis only 4 months prior at Capital Challenge (Md.). Nor would one guess it to be her fifth time showing the 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding.
“I feel very safe on him, and he’s just so much fun to ride,” said Morris. She bought “Rocky” on Halloween of 2006 while still on bed rest. After she watched the horse’s sale video, trainer Archie Cox flew to Atlanta, Ga., to see him. “He called me and said, ‘you’re getting a new horse,’ ” Morris remembered.
They bonded instantly and Morris couldn’t wait another second to ride him. So only six weeks after her accident, she took Rocky to the Los Angeles National Horse Show opener in November while still on crutches. And sure enough, he was everything she’d expected. “He was such a good mover, so quiet, and had so much positive energy. He just really likes what he does and wants to do a good job,” said Morris.
Small junior hunter Urlala also received mid-circuit honors in the 16-17 year-old division with Kels Bonham in the irons. The pair hails from Claremore, Okla., where they train with Kels’ dad, Micahel Bonham. “It’s kind of a family thing,” said Kels, 16. “My mom and dad train, and my brother helps take care of the horses.”