Conor Swail logs a lot miles in the victory gallop. You don’t get to be no. 6 in the world without making frequent trips to the winner’s circle.
But, as any top athlete will tell you, the work is never done. Whether you’re developing a new horse or your own skillset, every moment with a horse is a learning—and teaching—opportunity.
“You’re always working on something new and you always get feedback from every round, whether you’re winning or losing. It’s all about working with that [feedback] and trying to make improvements,” said Swail.
On Wednesday, the 2022 World Cup Finalist rode to a one-two finish in the $10,000 Whittier Trust 1.35m Welcome Speed at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in Thermal, CA. Competing on the Grass Field, he secured the top spot with 10-year-old mare Ikonic PB and second place with newly acquired 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding Casturano. But more important than the ribbons and the results is the feedback he’s taken away from both.
Ikonic PB is a work in progress. Owned by Swail’s student, Vanessa Mannix, the mare has been shown by both Swail and James Chawke (IRL) over the past three months of the Desert Circuit in an effort to develop her confidence in the ring. She’s been a regular in the top ten with each, too.
“You can see the progression there where there’s a lot more consistency,” said Swail. “Each round is getting relatively more similar, which is what we’re looking for. Consistency is the key really to success. So it’s being going well.”
But, he qualified, there’s still room for improvement.
“She was a little mouthy today actually, so that’s something I can be smoother with,” he detailed. “She was flipping her head a bit and I prefer that to be a little better. As much as winning is great, I’d still like it to be better, which is an important message to learn.
“We’re going to try to change a few things, put her in [a different bit]. I might even try her in my favorite hackamore and see how she likes that.”
With Casturano, the takeaways built on their last performance and on a new experience. The pair last showed Week VII of Desert Circuit in the three-star Grand Prix where they picked up two rails.
“I just felt he got very green [in that Grand Prix]. We jumped a good round but he got very high [over the jumps] and I would say it wasn’t the best round we had, even though we only had had eight faults and there were a couple of small mistakes,” continued Swail.
Wednesday’s class at Desert Circuit Week IX was their first time back in the ring and first time jumping on grass.
“I think it was a nice round where you could gallop along. The jumps were relatively small compared to what he did last. So I was really pleased,” he said. “He jumped very, very well and, and he seems good in the grass actually. He jumped super on the grass. So I was nearly happier with him, to be honest.”
The 2023 Desert Circuit comes to a close this week with the feature event: the $226,000 Marshall & Sterling CSI4* Grand Prix on Sunday. Win or lose, Swail will ride away with a lesson.