After seven weeks of riding, coaching and showing at the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, Calif., Nick Haness was ready for a vacation. So after watching the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix on March 16, he drove home, did a load of laundry and hopped on a plane to Spain for a week of relaxation.
But horses are in his blood, so what started as a relaxing vacation to Spain quickly turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.
Haness was offered the ride on Jens Baackmann’s Carlchen 52 for a weekend of showing at the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour’s third week of competition in Valencia, Spain, and he made it count by winning the 1.40-meter MET Bronze CSI** Grand Prix on March 23.
Not only was it Haness’ first Fédération Equestre Internationale show, it was also his 26th birthday.
“I’ve never even been in an international horse show, let alone an international Grand Prix, so that was all new firsts for me,” he said. “It was sort of crazy. It was like the best birthday present ever!”
Haness’ best friend and fellow California rider Jett Martin helped find him the ride when he arrived in Spain.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be there for a week, I might as well show, so if you find a horse for me to ride, let me know,’” said Haness.
Martin trains with Baackmann and Haness has done business with him, so he trusted them to find him the right mount.
“The first day they just said, ‘Here’s the 1.40-meter, go right on in there,’ he said. “It was kind of crazy. I never even jumped a line on the horse or got to practice anything. I just had faith that the horse was going to be good. It was all fine and dandy until right before I walked in and [Jens] said, ‘Oh by the way, the horse has never shown on grass before.’ That was sort of interesting!”
The grass field proved no problem for Carlchen 52, a 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Colander—Gerda V. Bohnenkaemper, Grossglockner) and they finished second in their first class with a clear round.
“I was very nervous to show this horse because his personality is a little bit crazy and wild in the practice ring,” said Haness, of San Clemente, Calif. “He was spooking and afraid of other horses and didn’t want to go in the arena and was rearing. Once he went in the show arena and started to jump, he was great. I think the first day was the most nerve-wracking day. Then by Sunday for the grand prix, it was just the pressure of doing well. I wasn’t nervous anymore but wanted to do well on my birthday!”
Seven other horses went clear in the grand prix and as the second to last to go in the jump-off, Haness went all out. “I thought, ‘I have nothing to lose here, go for it.’ So I went for it and it worked out perfectly,” he said. “It was just really cool to be there in Spain because they played the American national anthem for the awards presentation which was kind of a proud moment.”Haness enjoyed the leisurely pace of only riding one round per day and the amenities at the show grounds.
“The horse show was set in a resort so you could walk there,” he said. “There was great food and restaurants next to the arena. It was definitely different coming from the hunters in California. I’m used to doing 15 different catch rides a day, 20 to 30 rounds a day. Just doing one round per day was a nice change. It was sort of funny to show up to a horse show where nobody knew you.
“It was fun for me because I’m a professional and I have to do the in and outs of the barn everyday,” he continued. “This trip I felt like I was an amateur. I just showed up. I slept in everyday, I went to the pool, there was a spa and a beach. I sort of had the joy life for the week and had to show up for my one class each day.”
Haness has been spending more time in the jumper ring in California over the last two years. Before his win, he’d only ridden in one grand prix, but had competed in 1.30- and 1.40-meter classes.
“I love the jumpers,” he said. “I’m excited to start doing more jumpers and hopefully get a grand prix horse, hopefully buy up the horse I rode in Spain. We’re working on that. It was just kind of fun to step in and not chicken out at the last minute and just go for it.”