Conor Swail decided to go west—and stay west—this winter season, and so far that choice is paying off handsomely.
During Desert Circuit 3 in Thermal, California, the Irish rider won two CSI3* classes, including the week’s marquee $117,000 U.S. Bank Grand Prix CSI3* on Saturday with Theo 160, a horse that excels in the desert.
Swail was up against several top competitors in the U.S. Bank Grand Prix jump-off, with only four riders jumping clear over Portuguese designer Bernardo Costa Cabral’s track, including 2023 Pan American Games team gold medalists and veteran five-star winners Karl Cook and Caracole De La Roque.
Cook put on the pressure, setting the time to beat at 40.62 seconds. But thanks to holding a tidy track and taking fewer speed checks than Cook, Swail and “Theo” came home in 40.25 seconds to take the win.
“I knew I was close, but it was a beautiful round. I was so delighted with him. He does everything I ask, and it’s another great win for him,” said Swail, who was a bit surprised when he took over the lead by a small margin.
“Honestly, when Karl is in it with his good horse, you’re going for second place most of the time,” Swail said. “I did feel that my guys can run. It was very important I got [fences] one to two in the seven strides, and I got down [the next line] in the nine. I think that’s where I had time on Karl. His round, he had to balance a little more.”
Cook ended up in second with Caracole De La Roque, and Swail’s student, Vanessa Mannix of Canada, took third with Carmela Z, as the third of three double clears.
Swail has been partnered with Mannon Farm’s 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Christian 25—Julia, Calando IV) since 2021, and together they’ve racked up titles across the globe.
“He’s just such a great little athlete, and I think the two of us know each other really well now so we’re very in tune with each other,” he said. “I know I can take what risks I’m going to take, and I know he’s going to help me out, so I take big risks.”
Watch their winning jump-off round, courtesy of ShowGroundsLive.com:
Swail has spent the past few seasons competing at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, and this season he’s opted to stay out west and forego the Florida circuit, aiming his string instead at California wins.
“There are still seven weeks left, so I am trying to give myself a good opportunity to win each grand prix,” he said. “I’m lucky enough I have three or four very good horses, so we’ll be changing them around and swapping each week. Hopefully I can get good results and the horses are jumping well. That’s what I’m looking for.”
To that end, Swail came back out the day after his victory in the U.S. Bank CSI3* Grand Prix (see full results here) and won the $32,000 Pegasus Show Stables CSI3* 1.45-meter Classic on Sunday afternoon with another of his longtime partners, Mannon Farm’s 17-year-old Hanoverian Count Me In.
“He had a bit of a quieter year,” Swail said of the gelding. “He started off really well, but then he wasn’t feeling the big classes so we dropped into the 1.45- meter and 1.50-meter. He seemed to be more comfortable there. I feel him getting back into good form again. This week I just wanted to give him a jump around.”