“Coming into the jump off seeing McLain [Ward] go before me, I knew I had my work cut out for me,” said Kristen Vanderveen.

Forty combinations contested the $72,900 Horse Flight CSI5* 1.50m Welcome, presented by Great American Insurance Group, at Desert International Horse Park on Friday, the penultimate leg of the 2021 Major League Show Jumping tour.

Ten would advance to the jump off in the Michel Vaillancourt and Peter Grant designed course. But it was Ward who laid down the gauntlet, shaving a second and half off Nayel Nassar (EGY) and Igor van de Wittemoere’s leading time (40.11) to stop the clock at 38.39.

His lead was short lived.

Next in the ring, Vanderveen used Bull Run’s Risen’s big stride to her advantage.

“I actually told myself to try and calm down and forget McLain’s round because to me it did look very, very fast. And sometimes when I push too hard I end up making a mistake and rushing my horse. So I tried just to remind myself what my plan was and stick with that and not try and chase after him. I seem to make mistakes when I’m chasing after.”

Her plan: long gallop to the fence one off the right lead. Open canter to the long distance at two. Slice three on an angle. And gallop into the double combination. Then seven strides to the liverpool, roll back on the vertical and leave out two strides on the line home.

“I happened to find the combination off this right turn really forward and I thought my horse was really fantastic to pat the ground and really jump that careful,” she shared. “I ended up having to slow down a lot for the liverpool line even though the seven was the leave out.”

Vanderveen and the 15-year-old KWPN gelding crossed the timers in 37.46, nearly a second faster than Ward on the brand new grass field at the Horse Park.

“I’m not naturally always a fan of grass so I was a little skeptical at first,” said Vanderveen. “But the horses have jumped unbelievable and we ran really fast today so it was really fun and encouraging. Fun for me as kind of a confidence booster on grass. My horse didn’t slip once. He jumped unbelievable.”

The victory is Vanderveen’s third of the MLSJ season, having previously picked up wins in Traverse City and Caledon. She’ll next contest the Marshall & Sterling CSI5* Speed today at 1pm with Bull Run’s Prince of Peace. Watch it live on MajorLeagueShowJumping.com.

Feature image: ©MLSJ / Atalya Boytner