Thermal, California – January 22, 2021 – When O’Neill Show Jumping hits the road for the 2021 Desert Circuit in Thermal, CA, USA, both Uma O’Neill (NZL) and Mariano Maggi (SWE) can agree, it will be with the most exciting group of horses they’ve ever had.
The veterans, of course, are well known: Clockwise of Greenhill Z and O’Neill added the Welcome Stake at the Sacramento International to their brimming resume this fall, while Quintago VA and Maggi enter the season off podium finishes in Grand Prix competition at both Thermal and Del Mar.
But there are two others to watch: London’s de Muze and Messi 10 earned a Championship apiece in the 6-year-old division at Thermal last year, and the talented young horses enter the year ready to make their show debuts as 7-year-olds.
The stallions are palpable sources of pride, deservingly so, for the O’Neill Show Jumping team: Over the course of the last two years, Maggi and O’Neill have developed them from the ground, up.
“They were just saddle broke, and they had a couple of jumping schools when we got them,” O’Neill recalled. “They were the greenest horses I’d ever sat on.”
When O’Neill and Maggi decided to invest in and develop some young talent for their string in late 2016, the pair traveled to Schockemöhle-Lewitz Horses in Niedersachsen, Germany, a source of success—and subsequent trust—for Maggi. After sitting on several talented and well-bred prospects, Maggi identified two of interest, both of which would shortly thereafter begin their transcontinental journeys to Santa Cruz, California, USA.
“I’ve always bought young horses from them. I’ve been doing that for 20 years,” Maggi explained. “Normally, when I look at a young horse, I look first at their physical conformation. I like a horse that’s a sporty type—light and well balanced overall—and I look at the way they move naturally with a rider on its back.
“I always follow the first impression I have of the horse,” he added. “Even if the horse doesn’t know much, I only need two or three jumps to [form my opinion]. I look for the feeling—if a horse is light off the ground and elastic. I can tell if a horse has scope by how easy they jump off the ground, and I can feel their technique by the way they place their front and hind legs and how their back goes up.”
Neither of the bay stallions had names, so O’Neill and Maggi split the task. Maggi named the Messenger colt Messi 10 after his favorite soccer player Lionel Messi, who wears the number 10 on his jersey. O’Neill named the Carembar de Muze colt London’s de Muze, a nod to his trademark good looks and his sire’s secondary name, Glock’s London.
“To start with, London had a really impressive look,” Maggi recalled. “When I rode him, he made everything so simple; he was well balanced for his age and the amount of time he had been under saddle. He was very light off the ground, and he gave me a powerful feeling, but he was a very simple horse. I thought, even if he didn’t turn out to be a Grand Prix horse, he would be a simple horse for [a junior or amateur rider in the] American market to use for 1.40m and 1.45m classes.
“Messi was pretty small, but when I jumped him, his jump was so powerful and so light off the ground, I didn’t care so much how small he was,” he continued. “I thought that, whatever level he reached, he was going to be good at it. He had a lot of scope and quality.”
A Successful Swap
Initially, the riders primarily worked with the horses which they named, and much of London and Messi’s 5-year-old year was spent working on the basics—from the groundwork of using the mounting block and cross ties, trailering, and hand walking to the in-the-saddle training, with a focus on establishing good flatwork and getting familiarized with the different types of questions that would be posed in a course. As 5-year-olds, the pair had just one horse show experience, shipping in for a day to Woodside, where Messi and Maggi took home a blue in the 1.10m.
Ahead of the horses’ 6-year-old year, Maggi and O’Neill made a switch that has proved most successful, as O’Neill was paired with Messi, and Maggi took over the reins on London. “With Messi’s size, I was an appropriate fit, and Mariano had put some of the early education into him, and he was more suited for me,” O’Neill said.
And in 2020, the new partnerships would have ample time to get to know each other. With competitions on hold due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, London and Messi got a later start to their 6-year-old seasons, but they gained a tremendous amount in their training.
“We were able to spend the quarantine filling in a lot of the time that we had missed with them while we were on the road traveling with the FEI horses,” O’Neill detailed. “They were able to get so much education in the riding during the quarantine where they really developed quickly. Then, they went directly into the 6-year-old [division].”
And it didn’t take long for the young horses to find their best stride. Maggi and London took home two blues en route to championship honors in the 6-year-olds during Week 1 of the National Sunshine Series. Shortly thereafter, O’Neill and Messi earned their own win and subsequent tricolor at the Desert Holiday series.
“Each time they went to a show and came home, you could see how much more mature they were in jumping our courses at home. They learned so much every time they had an outing,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill Show Jumping heads back to Thermal for the Desert Circuit next week, with the venue’s five international weeks at the top of their schedule. But the national division will be one to watch also. Messi and London will make their highly anticipated debuts in the 7-year-old division.
“I think they are really ready for their 7-year-old year,” Maggi said.
“I expect that, by the end of the year, they’ll be solid at the 1.40m height and can do some 1.45m classes. Then we can start to think about having some new Grand Prix horses. Based on their development so far, they will definitely jump big classes.”
Their continued development is a well thought out and carefully planned process, one that has so far brought great reward and promise for the future, both with their own careers and for the future of O’Neill Show Jumping’s young horse development program.
“I like to choose young horses and see how they grow,” said Maggi, who also develops his own homebreds in Sweden. “I feel very proud when they reach the level, and I know everything about the horse. It’s special.”
“It’s really fun,” O’Neill said. “London and Messi have just grown so much. To see them develop into such nice, competitive horses has been very rewarding.”
About O’Neill Show Jumping
A family-run operation based out of Santa Cruz, CA, O’Neill Show Jumping has achieved success on the global stage. Home to Swedish stalwart Mariano Maggi and New Zealand’s Uma O’Neill, winner of the 2018 $145,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Vancouver CSI 4*-W, O’Neill Show Jumping has committed itself to developing equine athletes for the top levels of the sport—from the ground, up. With a select group of talented sales horses, from high quality prospects to proven performers, contact O’Neill Show Jumping for your next show ring star.
Source: Press release by Catie Staszak Media for O’Neill Showjumping
Photos: © O’Neill Showjumping / Sara Shier Photography