Postcard: Duel in the Desert and CP Grand Prix

Entertainment gets equal billing with sporting competition in Las Vegas. Show jumpers had the chance to ride cowponies and cowboys tackled the jumps during the innovative Duel in the Desert at the World Cup finals.

Only World Cup producer extraordinaire Shawn Davis could come up with this one: putting cowboys over jumps and having show jumping riders chase cattle.

He called the match-up “Duel in the Desert,” and it was the highlight of last night’s performances in the Thomas & Mack Center.

It’s always good to have more than one skill. Olympic individual show jumping gold medalist Steve Guerdat showed that he could have a Plan B by demonstrating an instant affinity for handling a cowpony.

Steve Guerdat gets into the whole cowboy thing | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Wearing a mixed metaphor outfit–his green riding jacket and a white cowboy hat, the Swiss rider was one of three show jumpers who put a new skill on display after one rehearsal working with National Reined Cow Horse Association riders. Their usual competitions involve reining, cutting and rail work.

He was joined by World Equestrian Games team bronze medalist Lucy Davis and another Californian, grand prix veteran Tanya Levorchick. She replaced Beezie Madden, who decided playing a new game wasn’t worth the risk.

The cowboys worked their way over low jumps, not necessarily in the best form; understandable, since it was quite new to them. I wish they had been wearing helmets, but they stuck to their traditional headgear.

The show jumpers, sitting in stock saddles, galloped into the arena, did a sliding stop (sort of) and spun their mounts in both directions before getting down to rail work chasing a steer.

Utah rancher Brandon Buttars and Swiss Olympic individual gold medalist Steve Guerdat prepare to fist bump after winning the $10,000 Duel in the Desert | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Steve, who is tied for the lead with Rich Fellers going into today’s final two World Cup rounds, was a showboat on his paint horse, saluting the crowd by raising his cowboy hat over his head and smiling broadly. He was teamed with Utah rancher Brandon Buttars for the win.

“The horse was really great and knew exactly what he had to do. I liked it, these horses are amazing, it’s very different,” Steve said, adding, however, he had no plans to change careers at the moment.

Shawn Davis, whose son, Zane, participated in the duel, said that after watching Steve practice, he would have thought he spent his whole life on a ranch. A talented rider apparently can go in any direction.

World Equestrian Games show jumping team bronze medalist Lucy Davis chases her cow | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Brandon practiced jumping when he learned he was going to be part of the Duel.

His asssessment of Steve was simple: “He rode really good.” Brandon said he’d be happy to offer Steve a job if the Olympian decides to switch directions.

The other feature of the evening was the $75,000 Canadian Pacific Grand Prix of Las Vegas, a consolation class for horses that aren’t going on to today’s final two Cup rounds. A group of West Coast riders also participated. The class was run for the John Quirk trophy, named after the man who had the idea of bringing the World Cup to Vegas, and then got it done.

I knew John quite well. He and his wife, photographer and horse breeder Tish Quirk, used to own Horses magazine. We met on a flight to the World Show Jumping championships in Ireland 33 years ago, and he was always a font of knowledge about the equestrian scene. He got involved with horses through his wife and was dedicated to the sport, owning grand prix horses and always thinking of ways things would be improved.

The field of 22 for the CP class was narrowed to three for the jump-off; Alec Lawler on Agamemnon, and Katie Laurie of New Zealand on Kiwi Iron Mark and Todd Minikus with Babalou, both of whom had dropped out from the Cup in the second round.

New Zealand’s Katie Laurie won the $75,000 Canadian Grand Prix of Las Vegas | Photo copyright 2015 by Nancy Jaffer

Alec had a time of 39.36 in the tiebreaker, while Katie was able to improve on that significantly in 37.39. Todd had a rail to finish third.

The victory was welcome for several reasons. Katie made a tremendous effort to be here. Her horses shipped over here two months ago, a 36-hour journey with stops in Hong Kong and Singapore, and she came over two weeks ago.

The Kiwis don’t jump indoors, so Thomas & Mack has been quite a test.

The victory was a triumph not only for Katie, but also for Melanie Purcell, a friend who owned Kiwi Iron Mark. When Melanie was diagnosed with cancer, she asked Katie to start riding the horse, but she died four years ago before realizing her ambition to ride him herself in a top-level competition.

In achieving her victory, Katie said, “I think I had a little bit of help from Melanie.”

“She always had big faith in the horse and said he was good enough to take overseas. It’s exciting it finally happened.”

Melanie’s mother and her sister were on hand to watch.

From here, Katie goes on to Spruce Meadows. It’s winter in New Zealand, she said, and there are no shows there during that season.

Katie, like most of the riders here, win or lose, is having a blast at a unique competition in a unique city.

“It’s amazing here, it’s an incredible show they’ve put on,” she marveled.

The Cup wraps up this afternoon. I’m sure everyone involved will find Anthony D’Ambrosio’s courses a challenge, perhaps the biggest of their careers, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. But then, I don’t have to jump them.

I’ll be sending my last postcard tonight, so be sure to look for it.

Until then,

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