Monday, May. 20, 2024

Murkas Rockstar Gets Standing Ovation At L.A. International Jumping Festival

Macella O’Neill earns her first World Cup-qualifying win in California.

Murkas Rockstar brought the house down in the $50,000 Los Angeles International Grand Prix CSI-W, garnering rider Macella O’Neill her first win in a major grand prix. O’Neill had consistent top five placings throughout the last World Cup season, and she is starting out this year in 10th on the World Cup West Coast leader board.
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Macella O’Neill earns her first World Cup-qualifying win in California.

Murkas Rockstar brought the house down in the $50,000 Los Angeles International Grand Prix CSI-W, garnering rider Macella O’Neill her first win in a major grand prix. O’Neill had consistent top five placings throughout the last World Cup season, and she is starting out this year in 10th on the World Cup West Coast leader board.

While the victory was sweet, especially for owner Kimberly Butts, O’Neill was equally delighted with the gelding’s performance. “I know I should want to win every big class, and I do, but I was so happy with how ‘Rocky’ jumped,” she said.

O’Neill is a fierce competitor, but she is also passionate about her horses and relishes the relationships she develops with them. “Rocky is one of my winningest horses, but I also love his personality. He is a prankster around the barn. He is super charming and he begs for mints,” said O’Neill.

In fact, when O’Neill took over the ride on the 12-year-old gelding from Peter Charles of Great Britain, she received a few, succinct instructions. “The instruction manual from Peter is short,” said O’Neill, laughing. “Keep the red flag on your right and keep the white flag on your left. Don’t do dressage. Make him beg for his mints.”

O’Neill herself is outspoken and marches to the beat of her own drummer. Murkas Rockstar seems to match the same cadence as his rider. “He will jump everything, and he wants to be clean,” explained O’Neill. “He is naturally fast and has his own style. I just try to stay out of his way.”

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O’Neill followed her own advice, and Murkas Rockstar didn’t disappoint. He handled the questions course designer Guilherme Jorge asked of the riders in the first round and was one of only three to jump a fault-free round.

The No. 4 fence, a plank, caused trouble. “It was a visual question,” O’Neill said. “You needed a careful horse.” From there, the course built to the last line. Riders went diagonally across the ring to fence 10, a wide oxer. Then they had to get the horses back for No. 11, a tall vertical set right next to the crowd. There was a short distance to fences 12 AB, both oxers.

The final fence was a black vertical right at the in-gate. “It was an easy fence for horses to lose concentration,” O’Neill said. “The course was hard to jump clean but easy to jump. The time allowed
was tight. The course demanded a fairly obedient, schooled horse.”

In the jump-off, they out-ran Jill Humphrey on Lou Bega for the top check. O’Neill barely pulled on the reins and the gelding jumped forward, out of stride, and nothing seemed to faze him.

“We got the horse early this year during [the HITS Desert Circuit (Calif.)],” said O’Neill. Owner Kimberly Butts rides in the amateur jumpers, and she and her husband are enjoying the thrill of owning a competitive grand prix horse.

“They bought him as an investment horse, and they have fallen in love with him,” said O’Neill, who is also clearly in love with the adorable chestnut gelding. “Peter Charles started him as a 4-year-old. I rode the horse several times and loved him. I told Peter that if he was ever going to sell the horse I wanted to have him.” The call came in February and O’Neill jumped.

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Rocky and O’Neill earned ribbons in the $25,000 Ariat Grand Prix at the HITS Desert Circuit, the $30,000 Jennifer Marlborough Memorial Grand Prix at the Golden State Horse Show (Calif.), the $30,000 Golden Gate Grand Prix at the Golden Gate Classic (Calif.) and the $25,000 Blenheim Jumper Classic at the Oaks Blenheim Fall Tournament (Calif.).

When O’Neill and her partner Charlie White started Diamond Mountain Stables in Calistoga, Calif., in 1983, she promised her parents she would only train horses for five years. Now, 25 years later, she believes the ranch deserves partial credit for her success.

“The horses love it,” she said. “It has a magical feel. Most of the horses do work twice four or five days a week. One of those times is on the trail. In the U.S. Cavalry manual it said the average horse’s workday should be six hours. They have a biomechanical need to be in motion, like land sharks. It’s fantastic for their systems to be out in the hills, going up and down and stepping over logs. We live in a really hilly area.

“We can accomplish in 20 minutes on the trail what it would take an hour and a half working on the flat in a ring. It’s important for the horses. Everyone says our horses are so good minded, so cheerful, and so happy; they have never seen such a happy group of horses.”

Marnye Langer

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