Thermal, California, USA – December 08, 2022 – With Helios on 64 points and Eye Candy just behind on 61 coming into Thursday’s $200,000 Brown Advisory MLSJ Team Competition CSI 5*, the race was neck and neck, and it came down to the jump-off for the gold medal to decide the final result. Whichever team won the gold won the entire season.
Helios was the only team to jump completely fault free in the first round, so that was a good start. As the final team to return for round two, they did what they needed to do.
Bliss Heers (USA) and Antidote de Mars put in a solid clear effort for Helios in the first jump-off, but put slight pressure on Ashlee Bond (ISR) and Donatello 141 to pick up the speed, which is exactly what they did.
Amy Millar (CAN) and Christiano, along with Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Squirt Gun, were dangerously fast, so Eye Candy ended up in pole position for the gold medal jump-off.
Karl Cook (USA) and Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet put the pedal to the metal and brought home a blazing fast time in the jump-off for gold, and Jacqueline Steffens (CAN) couldn’t quite catch it. She and Freaky pulled down a rail at the second-to-last obstacle and added three seconds to their time, awarding the win, and the season title, to Helios.
“It feels a bit surreal,” Bond said of the team’s victory. “The start of the season was three wins in a row. I think we all thought we were good but that was really impressive. Then as it went on we thought we had it and we had a bit of bad luck. The pressure was put on tonight. We all wanted it really badly. Fortunately my teammates brought it and handled the pressure. It feels really good that we brought it home as a team. We all own this team together and that’s really special.”
Helios simply thrived under the immense pressure, and Bond explained how it’s very simple that they lived up to expectation Thursday evening. “We just want to win,” said the winner of this season’s MVP award. “We knew what we had to do. The three of us with our three horses are five-star winning [pairs]. We knew we were capable of it, we just had to go out and perform and not mess it up.”
“From the beginning, the Major League setup has brought camaraderie,” commented Heers. “On this team in particular, everyone is cheering for each other, whether it’s the team event or in life. That alone is really special. So when you have that plus the competition aspect, we enjoy it together.”
Cook had the honor of being the rider selected to jump for the gold medal. “The pressure it’s interesting,” he commented on how he felt with the team’s fate coming down to him. “It’s like when you feel motion sick before you scuba dive. The second you hit the water it’s all gone. Once I’m on the horse I’m happy. I knew what I had to do. I knew all I had to do was go as fast as I could, so I focused on that and hoped it was enough.”
Additional Helios teammates Eugenio Garza (MEX) and Simon McCarthy (IRL) did not jump tonight, but cheered on their team from the sidelines. When asked which was harder between riding and watching, Garza responded, “Without a doubt watching. When you’re watching your team, especially this team because it’s a team of friends and family, you want them to do well, for you and for them. When you’re on the horse you’re in control, but when you’re on the ground all you can do is jump, kick, curse – pretty much what me and Simon did all night long.”
McCarthy is in a completely different place as a rider than he was prior to this season of show jumping. “What Major League has done, giving us these 10 amazing shows, has really brought along the sport. It’s given a rider like myself the opportunity to jump alongside Olympians and five-star grand prix winners. For me, personally, I’ve learned a lot inside and outside the ring with my teammates here. It’s been an unbelievable year. We’ve really grown close as a team and as friends.”
Another thrilling season and unforgettable finish at Desert International Horse Park has the MLSJ and the DIHP teams both beaming and ready for what the league will bring next. “That finish couldn’t have been better: Eye Candy against Helios,” said MLSJ co-founder Keean White. “It was amazing sport. To the horse park, what a job they did the last two weeks hosting us. They’ve really brought this park to an incredible level and to host the final here we owe huge gratitude to the whole team. They’ve done an incredible job. This season was exciting, fun, a great way to build, and we’ve got big plans going forward.”
Source: Press Release by Tori Bilas for Desert International Horse Park
Photos: © ESI Photography
Categories: CSI 5*, English, Jumper News Israel, Jumper News USA