Rowan Willis is running double duty this week.
The Australian rider has one string at HITS Chicago in Illinois and one horse at MLSJ Traverse City in Michigan—and he’s making the five hour drive between states to compete at both.
“I’m not sure if it’s ambitious, or desperate,” laughed Willis, “but I’ve got a couple of horses to jump in Chicago on Friday and then I’m back [to Traverse City] for the Grand Prix on Saturday and then back to Chicago Sunday.”
Questionable planning? Without a doubt. But the manic effort is already paying off.
Willis and his hot-blooded partner Blue Movie topped an 12-horse jump off featuring the likes of speed specialists Shane Sweetnam, Sydney Shulman Desiderio, and Kristen Vanderveen in the CSI5* Premier Equestrian 1.50m at MLSJ Traverse City on Thursday.
His winning strategy: don’t think fast.
“Carrots, as she’s known, she’s very, very quick,” he explained.
“I try not to tell her to go fast because she’s naturally really fast. I just have to keep it smooth with her, and she’s nearly always fast enough.”
Fast enough was fastest on the day. Willis and Blue Movie were the only pair to cross the timers under 38 seconds, stopping the clock at 37.7. Runners up Alex Matz (USA) and Cashew Cr took second in 38.43. Sydney Shulman Desiderio and Narcotique v/h, third in 38.55.
While Willis aims for smooth in the ring, his journey with the British-bred mare has been anything but. Blue Movie was purchased for the Australian team rider at age five but didn’t jump her first 1.40m class until she was nine. They’ve made up for lost time since.
“It took many years to kind of understand her and figure her out,” explained Willis. “Once that happened, which was not until she was 11 or 12, then she’s really rewarded me.”
Since 2015, the pair has made 208 international appearances together, earning over 1.25 million Euro in prize money. Blue Movie took Willis to a top 12 finish at his first championship at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and to a second place finish in the $3 Million CP International at Spruce Meadows in 2019.
“She’s actually won quite a bit nationally too,” he added. “She’s kept me on the road for a few years now.”
The fiery mare shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, either. While most sport horses start to show signs of wear by 16 years of age, Willis says Blue Movie is hitting her prime.
“I actually think she’s as good as ever, if not better. I’m looking forward to the next few years with her. I’d like to think she’s still going to be up there for Paris 2024, and she’s got a few big, big Grand Prix to come before then,” said Willis.
“Yeah, I enjoy every day I have with her.”
Feature image: ©MLSJ/Atalya Boytner