Carnlea (Carn Liath) is a townland in Northern Ireland. It’s small. A mere 1.72 square miles.

Carnlea Premier Balou is the new partner of Robert Blanchette and the Irish rider’s ambitions for the eight-year gelding are anything but small. He’s aiming for world domination.

“Anything less and we’ll have to change our plans,” said Blanchette.

“He’s got everything: very scopey, very brave, very careful. For an eight-year-old starting to go fast, [he’s] very rideable. [With a] little more rideability and experience, I think he can do anything. There’s nothing that I can see that would hold this horse back.”

So far, so great for the burgeoning partnership. The pair scored a victory in the $8,800 CSI2* Speed 1.40m at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, BC on Wednesday. Against top international competition, including pairs with years of experience together, they posted the fastest time of the day, and the win, in the single-round class. 

The gelding’s toughness, mimicking that of his rider, was derived from Northern Ireland where the horse was imported just this past February. 

The EHV-1 outbreak on the West Coast of the United States, where Blanchette calls home, led to a slight delay in the horse’s show schedule. But it proved no setback for Carnlea Premier Balou (Balou du Rouet x Cavalier Royale). He won his first-ever FEI class in May and boasts a 50% top 10 rate in 10 FEI appearances.

Prior to arriving on US soil, the horse only had 7-Year-Old classes under his belt and had never competed in a jump-off. Once in Blanchette’s training program, he allowed the horse the freedom his European riders had yet to let him explore. 

“When horses come in from Europe they can be very collected,” Blanchette explained. “I give him a bit of freedom, but he’s not completely free. We’re still at that stage where I don’t have to control everything, but he still has to listen. He was developed nicely [In Ireland]. Now it’s time for him to go in a more natural way.”

In the Fort Grand Prix Arena at tbird, Blanchette didn’t pull out all the stops, but gave the horse enough freedom to allow his natural ability to secure the win. Kyle King (USA) claimed second and third places with Sig Chiari and Ittolo, as the only other two entries to break below the 70-second mark over Peter Holmes’ speed track.

“My plan was to just go at a comfortable pace and get smooth lines, and that was enough,” Blanchette elaborated. “He’s a very careful, fast, brave, scopey horse. He’s got it all.”

Though a firecracker in the ring, Blanchette admits Carnlea Premier Balou is a teddy bear in the barn. “He’s very sweet and professional,” he said. “My daughters can give him a bath. But he’s also got a tough streak inside, which I think you need to be competitive.”

The toughness played in their favor Wednesday, but there is still more FEI competition ahead. Blanchette aims to enter Carnlea Premier Balou in the $50,000 CSI2* Grand Prix Sunday afternoon at tbird, where he hopes to take home two FEI wins in one week.

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