Conor O’Regan had big hopes for Big Boy Z when he purchased the horse off a video in 2020. Three years later, the gelding won its first grand prix – in only its fourth grand prix appearance ever – as the sole clear round in the $30,000 Traverse City National Grand Prix during week two of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival. The win continues a top week for Ireland after Irish riders swept all three main events in the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel International Ring so far.
Mauricio Garcia (PUR) set a tough track for Saturday’s class, and O’Regan was the only one to jump around without bringing down a rail, clinching the win without proceeding to a jump-off.
Big Boy Z, owned by Delshore Horses LLC, was behind in development when O’Regan acquired him as a 7-year-old, but his canter and technique spoke to him enough that he made the decision to purchase the horse. Now 10, the Zangersheide gelding (Big Star x Caridor Z) has all the pieces to become a top grand prix mount.
“[Big Boy Z] was brilliant,” O’Regan said. “It’s only his fourth grand prix and he’s placed in all four I’ve done. He was very green when I got him and it took a lot of time and patience to get him where he is. I got him and he had maybe 5-year-old mileage on him but he has a great mentality. He’s a really good horse. I think he’ll do a lot of good things.”
O’Regan didn’t find trouble with the first round track, but he knew what it was that made rails come down for the others. “The oxers were square and wide, and he asked a lot of questions off long approaches to jumps where I think the horses and riders had a lot of time – maybe too much time – to think instead of acting off instincts,” O’Regan shared. “The double verticals caught out a lot of people. It was set on a half stride off the triple bar towards the in-gate. I thought it was fair. Jumps fell everywhere on the course. It was just my day.”
When asked what appealed to him the most based on the video he saw in 2020, O’Regan said, “The canter. He’s by Big Star and he’s got that big-horse canter. Even though he’s called Big Boy, he’s quite small; he’s only about 16.1hh, maybe. He’s really good in front too; his technique is excellent.”
For Big Boy Z, he will jump another National Grand Prix in Traverse City before gearing up for CSI2* action later this summer. “He could be doing the FEI classes easily now, but I have two really good horses so I’m trying to balance it all out and not push him too much,” O’Regan remarked. “It’s just about trying to manage the horses and make sure they’re all feeling good.”
The key to letting Big Boy Z develop into the horse he has become was patience. “I take my time with him,” O’Regan, who is based in Upperville, VA, shared. “I don’t jump him that much at home. I just make him rideable and try to get him to shorten his body. I take him out in the field a lot and mix it up.”
Second-place honors went to the fastest four-faulter, Tina Yates with Invaludine Z, while And Action with Joao Eduardo Ferreira de Varvalho aboard, took third on another quick four-fault round.
Show jumping concludes for the second week of GLEF with Sunday’s $145,100 CSI3* Grand Prix of Michigan.
Hundred Acre and Laurie Barna Are Crowned Champions in B&D Builders Adult Amateur Hunter 36-49 Division
Back in Northern Michigan for a second season, Laurie Barna, of Dallas, PA, took home a special championship in the B&D Builders Adult Amateur Hunter 36-49 division aboard her own Hundred Acre.
“He is special,” she said of the 15-year-old Westphalian gelding. “He is so much fun to ride, and he gives his all. I can’t say enough about him. He’s athletic and I just love riding him. He knows what to do and how to do it.”
With several horses showing, Barna had a busy and successful week, but the highlight came aboard Hundred Acre. “In his first round today he jumped so spectacularly,” she shared. “Feeling him feel that good underneath me is everything. Being champion again this year is the icing on the cake.”
In their fourth season together, Barna and Hundred Acre have hit their stride and clearly know each other well, taking first and second placings over fences throughout the division.
The relationship with her horse combined with a very trusting partnership with her trainer, Liz Perry, make for the perfect recipe for success in the Adult Amateur Hunters. “I’ve been riding with Liz for 25 years now,” Barna commented. “She knows what I need and knows what the horses need. I ride with her in New Jersey, and I live in Pennsylvania, so it’s a bit of a commute but she knows me so well that it really works for us.”
Hundred Acre’s previous owner is also extremely involved in his success, after she paired the horse with Barna, who’s kept him ever since. “Before we got the results I sent Barb his picture and told her how he did. We have a really special relationship; she loves to follow him. It’s really great she’s always supporting him,” Barna said.
“We love coming to Traverse City,” Barna said. “This is probably my last show for the season. I’ll be getting a hip replacement next month so I couldn’t wait to come spend the summer here and enjoy it.”
Suffering a hip injury last year, Barna is undergoing the hip replacement after inspiration from hunter professional John French, who had a similar injury and made a comeback into the saddle following his procedure.
“When I get up there in the saddle, there’s no pressure on it so it’s not painful,” she said of her injury. “I love riding here and love the horses I have, so every ride I’m grateful for. I’m going to take a couple months off, get better, and hopefully be back for the winter.”