Kristen VanderVeen (USA) is perhaps best known for her unforgettable victories and high levels of speed with her 18-year-old Bull Run’s Faustino De Tili, but in Friday’s $38,700 CSI3* Welcome Stake, she ended up taking victory on a horse that is nine years “Frosty’s” junior.
The day was Bull Run’s Jireh’s time to shine, and VanderVeen sees the potential in the 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Uriko x Colman) to become her next top horse.
“I think he’s going to be my top horse,” she said of Bull Run’s Jireh, owned by Bull Run Jumpers Inc. “We have really high hopes for him. We’ll see where it takes us and we don’t want to rush him because he is so special, but I’d like to do all of the things with him.”
All of the things started with a win in the Welcome Stake during Traverse City Spring III, presented by Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, against seven other jump-off contenders. VanderVeen jumped late in the starting order over Anderson Lima’s (BRA) course, and had the benefit of taking to the short course last.
“He’s such a special horse,” she continued of her winning mount. “Honestly he’s one of the most talented horses I’ve had the privilege of riding. I haven’t found a fault with him yet. He loves his job, he’s fast, he’s careful, but he’s ultra brave, and as a rider it’s super special to ride a horse like him. It gives you all the confidence in the world.”
Prior to VanderVeen going in, the leaderboard was topped by 2022 CSI5* grand prix winners in Traverse City Callie Schott (USA) and Garant, owned by Southern Arches LLC. VanderVeen shaved off just about half a second from the leading time, pushing Schott to second and putting Caitlyn Connors (USA) in third with Falcon De Hus Z.
“It was nice that I got to go at the end today,” VanderVeen reflected. “My plan was to go a little bit fast because Garant was still fast enough. I had a little rub at jump one but after that he was flying.”
Her confidence in the horse has built since she acquired the ride during his 8-year-old year, so she knew she could trust him going for speed as the last to go.
“He’s just always been there; he’s never backed down,” she explained. “His first night class and his first class on the grass, he came out like a lion. Nothing has ever made him shrink before, so I had a good feeling on him today and I never actually questioned him.”
Strictly business in the show ring, Bull Run’s Jireh is all fun and games at home with VanderVeen.
“He’s a ham,” she joked. “He is so playful, he has stuffed animals and he genuinely loves toys. He’s nice with everyone. He loves people, loves attention. Frosty gets a little jealous if we pay too much attention to him but they’re actually best friends. He has a real personality.”
This is VanderVeen’s second FEI victory of the Traverse City Spring Series, and both have been memorable. The first marked Bull Run’s Faustino De Tili’s 50th FEI win and the second marked Bull Run Jireh’s first FEI win.
“We are new to the Spring [Series] here and we’ve really enjoyed it,” she shared. “I’ve always been here in the fall and this has been great. It’s nice with this younger horse to get started up here early in the year with the two and three stars here. It’s been great weather, great footing, great course design, so what more could you want?”
International show jumping resumes Sunday with the $145,100 CSI3* Grand Prix.
Full results from the class can be seen here.
USHJA Zone Jumpers Win Medals on Team Day
The Markel/USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships for the 1.20-1.25m and 1.10-1.15m fence heights had their Team Final and second individual qualifier Friday morning, and two teams stood at the top of the podium on the lowest cumulative scores.
In the 1.20-1.25m Junior/Amateur section, two teams tied for the win, so Clayton Martines and Reese Merna went head-to-head for their teams in a jump-off. Both going clear, it was Merna who was a hair faster with Kickstart II to seal the deal for herself and her teammates, Andrea Klinefelter with Jumper and Addison Parins with Roc of Cashel, and capture the gold medal.
“I was really excited,” Merna said of when she learned she’d be the designated jump-off rider for her team. “I’ve never done anything like this before so it was cool. I trust [Kickstart] a lot so going into the jump-off with him was really fun. Everyone on the team is really supportive and the chefs [d’equipe] are very nice. I’ve really liked it.”
Merna acquired the ride aboard 8-year-old Kickstart II back in the winter in Florida and they’ve been learning and growing together under the support of both her trainer Stacia Madden and U.S. Olympian Beezie Madden.
“He’s an amazing horse,” Merna said of Kickstart II. “He’s owned by Abigail Wexner so I get to catch ride him through John and Beezie Madden. It’s an incredible opportunity and he’s such a fun, fast, careful horse.”
Learning from Beezie Madden during the winter season has been an experience Merna is very grateful for, and earning a gold medal with a ride she took over from Madden is invaluable. “She’s absolutely incredible,” Merna said of Madden. “There’s so much I didn’t know I could learn. She’s so kind, and when you make a mistake it’s no big deal, it’s just something to learn from.”
Heading into the Individual Final, slated for Sunday morning, Merna is game for a challenge. She’s one of only two on a completely clear sheet after two days of competition. “I’m really excited,” she continued. “I’m going to go into it and try to have fun. He’s such a fun horse so it’s nice to go in and have a good time on him.”
The 1.10-1.15m Child/Adult section also came to a jump-off to decide the gold and silver medals. Anya Haverfield and Rylie True went in for their teams and it was Haverfield with Galanthos B who secured the gold medal for herself and teammates, Taylor Embs with Italian Syndicate, and Allie Estes and Charlott 29.
“I had to trust my horse because I know she’s going to do anything for me,” Haverfield said of handling the pressure of being the jump-off rider. “I wanted to go in and have a really good round and I know she’s going to do what she can for me. She’s naturally fast so I was thinking to do a tight track and let her jump and she would pull through for me.”
Haverfield is still completely clear in the championships so far, so heading into the Individual Final on Saturday she has added pressure, but knows she can rely on her partner. “She’s like a tiger; she can jump from anywhere and can clear it. It’s insane,” she shared. “She’s competed up to 1.40m and now she’s taking me up to where I need to be. She’s awesome.”
In her second appearance in the Markel/USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships, Haverfield, of Glencoe, IL, has put in the work over the past year to become a true contender this time around.
“I did [the championships] once last year but we were still new,” she explained. “It’s super cool how we get to talk to other people on the team and strategize with them. It’s a great way to make friends. The courses are tough so you can really practice. The whole thing is really good to get you experience.”
There is still one more day before individual champions are crowned, but Haverfield is hopeful for a top finish. “I’m feeling really good because I had a good day today. I’m feeling confident and I already did my job with my team and I just want to have a solid round tomorrow.”