Every new partnership is entitled to some bumps in the road, even when one of them is the reigning Olympic Champion.

But when Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly returned for the jump-off in front of a packed house in the CHF 216,000 CSI4* NetJets Grand Prix during “Saturday Night Lights” at Wellington International, it appeared they’d worked through their differences. 

“She’s taken some time to get used to me and my system,” said Maher, who took over the ride from Nicolas Delmotte (FRA) four months ago. “She’s jumped some great rounds and was clear in the grand prix in Geneva. But every time we come to the jump-off, we’ve had problems with the steering.

“She’s very sensitive, but the jump-off really suited me tonight,” continued Maher, whose time of 38.35 seconds squeaked just ahead of Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam and Namaste van het Eyckeveld by a tenth of a second. Kent Farrington (USA) and Toulayna were third on 38.77 seconds. 

“I could take strides out everywhere and tried to keep it smooth and trust her. I’ve learned I have to ask her to do things, not tell her.” 

Last year, Dallas Vegas Batilly, a 10-year-old Selle Français mare owned by Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright, won a 1.50 CSI3* class at Hubside Jumping in Grimaud, France with Delmotte; the pair also placed fourth in the CSIO5* RWE Prize of North Rhine Westphalia at CHIO Aachen in July. This win in the CSI4* NetJets Grand Prix marks Dallas Vegas Batilly’s first time at the top of the podium with Maher.

Of course, there’s no magic bullet for building a partnership, and developing trust with a new horse takes time. But a quarter of the way through the 2023 Wellington Equestrian Festival, Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly seem to be hitting their stride at just the right moment.

“It’s been a little bit of a trial-and-error process,” Maher said after their win, “but she’s an incredible horse. 

“Finally, we managed to figure out the jump-off this evening when the time counts.”