Thermal, Calif.—Feb. 13
“Tough” was the word on everyone’s lips during the HITS Thermal $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier, the last West Coast qualifier. The 13-obstacle first round course, designed by Germany’s Martin Otto, proved impossible to clear for the first 10 rounds.
Otto knew he’d designed a technically demanding course. “It was the final qualifier,” he said, “and it was the qualifier for the indoor [ring, where the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden]. So even in this great ring, it needed to behave a little bit like an indoor.”
Several top U.S. and Canadian riders made incredible efforts, including Karl Cook who rode fast and tidy aboard Tembla until a rail down at the Longines oxer put him on top of the leaderboard with 4 faults.
The large crowd pinned their hopes on Olympic gold medalist Will Simpson and his mount The Dude, who were 10th to go in the first round. But rails down at obstacles 7 and 9 and then a stop in the final element of the triple combination led him to retire. Next up was Eric Navet of France, who rode Catypso, a 9-year old Hanoverian gelding owned by Signe Ostby. The audience exploded when the pair landed over the final fence in the first clear round of the afternoon.
Jamie Barge, from Malibu, Calif., put in a clear round aboard Luebbo, an 11-year-old gray Oldenburg gelding owned by Kylie Co., ensuring a jump-off. Then Nayel Nassar and Lordan, his 12-year-old bay Hanoverian gelding, also went fast and clear, adding their names to the jump-off roster.
Navet rode first in the short course, and the gelding knocked the front rail of the Longines oxer, ultimately landing the pair in third. Navet was thrilled with Catypso’s performance. “[He] has an unbelievably easy scope, and I feel he can jump anything,” said Navet. “It makes me very optimistic for the rest of the year and the rest of his career.”
Barge entered the ring next and piloted Luebbo to a double-clear result. “Luebbo is a really good horse,” she said. “He’s a little bit spunky and has some attitude, but that’s what I love about him. This was his first World Cup qualifier class, and it was the biggest class that I’ve seen here in three or four years that I’ve been coming (to Thermal).”
The class ended with Nassar and Lordan, who let out a few enthusiastic bucks between fences but did not slow down. An inside turn and a faster gallop proved strategy enough to steal the lead and seal the victory.
“I only kind of saw Jamie go, but people said that she didn’t go inside the Longines oxer, going away from the gate, so I knew if I slipped inside there, I didn’t have to go crazy to catch her,” Nassar said. “I did six strides in the first line, eight in the second line; my horse has a small stride. But then it was just a matter of jumping the last two jumps clean.”
He beat Barge’s time by more than a second to win the class. “I just tried to keep a good rhythm,” said Nassar. “I knew that I just needed to stay tidy everywhere and fly home.”
Lordan was sidelined for a year with an injury, and Nassar was ecstatic to be riding him again. “He loves his job; he’s a competitor,” Nassar explained. “He’s the horse of a lifetime. I honestly think he’s one of the best horses in the world, and it’s just an unbelievable feeling to have him back.”
Nassar, 25, rides for Egypt and is currently based in Encinitas, Calif., after graduating from Stanford in 2013. “I’m mostly a horse trainer, with one client that I teach; I like to work with horses more than people,” he joked. “I’ve been lucky so far, with a great group of horses that I’ve been able to produce to the top level.”
In the press conference, he had nothing but praise for both the course and his competition. “The course was where it needed to be for a class of this magnitude. You saw that in the results, three clear and two double clear,” said Nassar, who has already competed in a World Cup Final twice, and said he hopes to go again this year.
As for the two riders with whom he shared the podium, “I think all three of us who were in the jump-off are fighters,” said Nassar. “It could have been any of us today, and I was lucky enough to go last, so that helped. That’s just how the sport goes, and I think we’re all just really pleased to be here.”