Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou Strut Their Stuff in $10,000 DIHP Under Saddle Championship

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Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou

Hulla-Balou has basically never lost an under saddle. That was an edge Michael Dennehy was glad to have in Friday night’s $10,000 DIHP Under Saddle Championship during Desert Circuit 6, presented by IDA Development and Barnwalkers. The duo strutted to first place in a highly competitive class under the lights of the Grand Prix Arena.

“Hulla-Balou has been the horse of a lifetime for me,” Dennehy said of Dana Vollbracht’s 14-year-old Westphalian gelding. “He has taken me places I never thought I’d go. It has been such a thrill and it is such a thrill to get to do this $10,000 Under Saddle class out here in the Grand Prix Arena under the lights so grateful that the hunters are running out here all week is such a great opportunity for us.”

The judges pulled horses away from the action one by one, until only Dennehy and Hulla-Balou remained. The thrill was unique, even though the feeling of winning an under saddle is nothing new to Dennehy.

“Well first off, Balou, as we call him, has won I think almost every under saddle class that he’s ever been in, so when I saw that in the prize list, I thought, ‘I am definitely doing that week’. Then with fact that it was here in the Grand Prix Arena under the lights, it was another great opportunity to get out under the lights and show and just get him acclimated because there are so few opportunities to get the hunters out at night under the lights.”

Dennehy comes to Thermal every winter from Denver, so his horses are accustomed to indoor riding arenas, making them a little braver under the lights in an outdoor setting.

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Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“The biggest thing about him is he is very sensitive to atmosphere, like when there’s a lot of people, and if it’s a big class he gets very keyed into that,” Dennehy explained of Balou’s energy for the evening session, which he just funneled into strong movement. “I thought he was super because the longer that we went tonight the more relaxed he was.”

Having won a major International Hunter Derby on the grass field back in December, Dennehy and Balou are on a high, with quite a few big classes still to come before the season ends. They’ve qualified for Saturday evening’s $10,000 C3RV Winner’s Circle Hunter Stake, which is another opportunity to relive the atmosphere and thrill the lights of the Grand Prix Arena bring.

But no one was surprised Balou was the judges’ ultimate pick as winner of the under saddle, even up against so many beautiful movers.

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Evie Becky and Best Blonde were the highest placing pony pair. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“First of all, he’s stunning to look at,” Dennehy explained of what makes Balou so striking. “He’s shiny and bay with white feet and the blaze. He has the big, goldfish eyes; he’s so cute and so he’s stunning to look. Then you watch him trot and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness what a mover.’ He has his enormous stride and he’s a phenomenal jumper as well.”

The jumping gets put to the test Saturday night, but Balou already had his warm-up session in the big arena to prepare.

“They really do a great job here at the horse park of making you feel special,” Dennehy continued. “I love the fact that they change the rings around. Last week we got to show out on the grass; that’s as good a grass field as there is a North America and I’ve gotten to go to a lot of places. This week we got to be here in the Grand Prix ring so it’s very special.”

Full results

Natalie Rae Sibert, Sybil Rose, and Caroline Ingalls Ride to $25,000 CWD Nations Cup Hunter Team Challenge Victory

Natalie Rae Sibert, Sybil Rose, and Caroline Ingalls seem to make a perfect team. The trio teamed up on Friday of Desert Circuit 6 for the first time in the second running of the $25,000 CWD Nations Cup Hunter Team Challenge, held in the Grand Prix Arena. Over courses set by Kevin Hollowack, the pairs rode to very impressive scores, ultimately taking the top prize out of 15 teams.

“I’ve never done this class,” Rose, an amateur who was aboard Cardentos, said. “The last time I was in this ring was like 2007 for the Talent Search, so it was a really great way to commemorate that.”

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Caroline Ingalls, Natalie Rae Sibert, and Sybil Rose in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Ingalls, also an amateur and top hunter derby competitor with her partner of eight years Concerto, echoed the sentiment. “I’ve never done this class either,” she said. “I haven’t really done a team class probably since I was a junior but it was so fun to do this format. I really want to do it again.”

Sibert has jumped team classes in the jumpers, but this was her first hunter team experience, and she piloted Montego Bay, a horse that was meant to be a sales horse but one she kept in order to do international derbies. Her professional status led the team in a way, but they all pitched in and offered advice and thoughts throughout the two-round class.

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Caroline Ingalls and Concerto. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“[We walked] the course together,” Ingalls remarked of how they worked together as a team to prepare. “We shared our ideas and plan and bounced concepts off each other like how are we going to approach the first jump, are you going to do this turn, and I think our plan worked out really well.”

The three of them grew up riding together with various barns and trainers, so they’ve known one another for quite some time, making the win even more special. All three are seasoned hunter riders and appreciate the sport and the ability to step onto a big stage.

“I think it’s so great that we get the opportunity to come out here,” Rose continued. “This was a great warmup for my division tomorrow so I”m really happy to be under the lights and let the hunters shine. I just love the art of [hunters], riding that perfect ride. You’re always trying to achieve that and when you finally nail it it’s so sweet. I love it.”

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Natalie Rae Sibert and Montego Bay. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Sibert echoed the sentiment of coming out to the Grand Prix Arena for the occasion. “It felt really special,” she shared. “We had the grass last week and now out here. We’rea a little spoiled now. We have two amazing rings.”

“It really is special for the hunters to be out here,” Ingalls shared as well. “The atmosphere is so much bigger than any of the other rings, which are also beautiful. It’s just so fun to be showcased and get up a good gallop and just hunt.”

Rose felt that her horse Cardentos lit up a bit in the new environment, which allowed her to improve upon her score in the first round. “I’ve only had him for about a year now and this was our first time in an arena like this so I had a challenge in the first round,” she shared. “I had to learn how to ride him differently in here, and I was able to bring that back for the second round and lay down a really nice round. I’m very happy and it was fun to have a different challenge.” Her second-round score of 84 was a round she was very proud of.

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Sybil Rose and Cardentos. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Ingalls and Concerto know one another very well, and their scores of 84 and 90 reflected that. “I’ve had my horse since 2016, eight years now, so we have a very deep partnership,” she said. “He’s an extension of myself. He’s the best horse I could ever dream of. I’ll never have a horse like this again. So I’m just trying to have fun and do classes like this and take advantage of how special he is.”

With the win behind them, both Ingalls and Rose head into the Amateur-Owner division Saturday and Sunday, while Sibert returns to professional duties. All three riders look forward to competing again in the class in years to come.

Full results

Vani Khosla and Cream Couleur Z Capture $5,000 YETI CSI3* 1.45m Speed

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Vani Khosla (USA) and Cream Couleur Z. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Vani Khosla (USA) has had several truly special horses in her career so far, and one of them scored a win Friday in the $5,000 YETI CSI3* 1.45m Speed. Cream Couleur Z, a horse that reminds her of her last superstar, Billy Mexico, is Khosla’s horse for the future.

“They’re both just fighters in the ring; they want to win, and they love to do it,” the California native said of the similarities between Billy Mexico and Cream Couleur Z. “They’re both quick in front and have such good natural foot speed.”

Billy Mexico took Khosla up the ranks into the CSI5* division, and they had a fruitful 5-year career in international show jumping. Cream Couleur Z has only been in Khosla’s string for a year, but she’s already convinced he’s the next big thing for her.

“I can’t explain it; I got on him during the first trial and I was like, ‘this is my horse.’ I bought him from Vincent Dings of Hans Dings Stable. We watched him a lot over there and we got really fortunate that it worked out for us to get him.”

The now 13-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Cream On Top x Vanoverbeek) had a steady first 12 years with the same rider, but he’s making the transition quite seamlessly with Khosla aboard, training under Mathijs Van Asten (NED). Desert Circuit marks his first trip across the Atlantic, after which they’ll return to the Netherlands where Khosla now trains full time, but they’ll be going home winners come end of March.

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Vani Khosla (USA) and Cream Couleur Z in their winning presentation. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“He was a little bit older horse but he just felt right away like he’d be a good thing,” Khosla said of the feeling she got with Cream Couleur Z. “He’d been with Vincent Dings his whole career. He was showing him in three-star grand prixs, he did a Nations Cup team for Holland, he was his Young Riders horse – he’s done everything on him.”

While Khosla has brought up several younger mounts recently, she appreciates that her current top ride has a bit of experience taking her into bigger classes.

“It’s a little in between,” she said of choosing between younger horses and more established mounts. “I don’t like them too young; I just don’t have a ton of experience with that yet but I’m learning. I bought three 7-year-olds that are now 9 and that’s been really fun; I’ve learned to bring them along and I’m starting to see the progress with them. To go out in these classes is still new for me so to have something that’s a little experienced really helps.”

Khosla is returning to a venue she practically didn’t recognize, but she’s elated to be back and be so close to home, which is Portola Valley, CA.

“I grew up here,” she reflected about the Thermal show grounds. Three years ago, she packed her bags and moved east, eventually landing in Holland. “I was feeling homesick so I brought the team with me. I asked my trainer, Mathijs Van Asten, if he’d be open to it and we decided to come try. We’re having a great time. We are happy to be here. They’ve made amazing improvements. You really see it when you’ve been away a bit.”

Last time Khosla was in the desert, there was certainly no grass. Now, it’s some of the best grass she’s jumped on.

“I love it, it’s beautiful,” she said of the grass surface the FEI horses are jumping on this week. “The horses are jumping great out there, so it’s really great. Every grass field is different; they all have their own character. This one rides beautifully, the horses cover a lot of ground, and it feels really good. I think they’ve done an amazing job with the footing. I know they’ve worked hard on it. When I left here in 2021 they were just starting to think about it so it’s cool to see what it looks like now.”

Show jumping returns Saturday with two major classes: the $40,000 Antares Sellier National Grand Prix and the $117,000 IDA Development CSI3* Grand Prix on the grass.

Press release Desert International Horse Show (c)

Photo Michael Dennehy and Hulla-Balou. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

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