Theo 160 isn’t the top horse in Conor Swail’s string.
He’s not even in the Irish rider’s top three. But you wouldn’t know it from the results the Holsteiner gelding has been putting up this winter season.
“He’s supposed to be my, like, fifth best horse and he’s number one at the minute,” said Swail.
The 11-year-old Warmblood is a speed specialist and one of Swail’s most consistent money earners. Competing primarily at the 1.45m and 1.50m heights, the pair has garnered 38 podium finishes since 2021, including 19 victories, and over 400k euro in prize money.
More impressive still though is their recent run at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in Thermal, CA. Swail and the quick-footed chestnut have earned over 150k euro in prize money in the first three months of 2023 alone, and are averaging 100% top ten finish rates in ten rounds at 1.45m and 1.50m, according to Jumpr App.
Their latest victory: The Pomponio Ranch CSI4* Classic 1.45m on the Grass Field at DIHP on Saturday.
The pair topped a 20-horse field by slicing the turns and paving an efficient path around the Peter Grant designed jump-off track to stop the clock at 43.38 seconds. They were three seconds faster than runners ups Ali Ramsay (CAN) and Conrado 12’s time of 46.81.
“I thought that the first round he jumped actually one of his best rounds of the whole season, which is a big statement,” said Swail. “He was fantastic in the first round and then he continued in the second round. He loves this field. Every time he’s in here, he jumps fantastic.”
Winning isn’t new for this pair. Fast, after all, is Theo’s preferred pace. He’s so sensitive to the gas pedal that he’s ridden in a BellyBand, an elastic band that goes around the barrel to prevent spur rubs—despite the fact that Swail never wears spurs on the gelding.
“I’m trying to sort of numb down my leg on him,” explained the world no. 6 ranked rider. “He is so sensitive. Even when you touch him, he’s always running and he runs far too much. So you have the BellyBand on to try and make it even less sensitive. It works well.”
Swail’s current training focus outside the show ring is to slow the gelding down, which is no easy feat when the horse’s job in the ring is to run.
“Basically I am simply trying to slow him down because going forwards is obviously no problem at all. I want him to go forward on balance. You can see when he’s a bit aggressive, the head is straight up in the air and he’s always kind of running through the bridle. So I’m still working in that, which is very difficult when you’re running in speed [classes] nearly every week as hard as you can go,” said Swail, noting that he uses canter poles and repetition to work on the horse’s adjustability and balance.
“Honestly, I feel he is getting better. Like [on Saturday], the first round I felt he rode forward and balanced very good and that made the jump a bit slower and higher and I thought that was very nice round.”
Nice round and lucrative winter circuit. Swail and Theo are already having their best season on record, having won more prize money in 2023 than both 2021 and 2022.
“Personally, for me, it’s been great,” said Swail. “I’m definitely coming back next year.”