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Cook on Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet & Measuring the Risk

©Atalya Boytner / MLSJ

When U.S. rider Karl Cook and 13-year-old mare Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet entered the ring for the 1.55m Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) CND5* Grand Prix of Traverse City, there was pressure from all sides.

As part of a five horse jump-off, Cook watched Irishmen Darragh Kenny and Andrew Bourns put together respectable four-fault rounds with competitive times over the tricky Marina Azevedo course. In the chute was one of the fastest combinations in the world, U.S. rider Kent Farrington and 10-year-old stallion Landon.

Cook, however, kept his composure, looking only between the ears of Kalinka and to the pitfalls that saw his competitors carry rails to the ground to decide where to ride conservative and where to put some extra gas.

“At the time I was more focused on what had happened before me because I’d seen Andrew [Bourns] go, I’d seen Darragh [Kenny] go, and I saw where the risks were,” explained Cook.

“So I tried to temper those risks as best as I could. Now, of course, I knew Kent was coming up after me. But I thought it was much better to go clear and maybe be a little bit off than to go whole hog and have eight faults and end up fifth. So I was actually looking more at Andrew and Darragh.”

Cook posted the only double clear round out of an original 38 horse field. He also finished the track in a brisk 43.47 seconds, considerably faster than his four fault competitors.

Bourns and 12-year-old gelding Sea Topblue followed with 45.30 seconds, while Kenny and nine-year-old Hamrah Van Het Exelhof Z logged 48.10 seconds, good enough for third place. Farrington and Landon ultimately landed off the podium with an aggressive time of 42.58 seconds and eight faults.

Kalinka has sported Cook’s saddle since 2019. The pair boasts an impressive 67% top 10 finish average over nine rounds at 1.55m, according to Jumpr App. At the 1.60m height, where they’ve jumped 15 rounds, that average jumps to a phenomenal 83% top ten finish average.

“When you’ve had horse for a while, when you get on them to start warming up, they just give you a feeling. And I had a really great feeling from her. The first round was very tough, but she fought so hard in that first round. I tried my best in the first round to put her at the best places. I wasn’t 100% accurate there, but she was with me the whole time,” said Cook.

“So knowing her I knew that wasn’t going to change for the second round. So I felt I had a good shot. If I didn’t make any gross errors, she was going to be right there with me.”

With a deep pool of show jumping talent decorating the start list, the podium finishers attested that the course was elevated for the task of challenging its most seasoned combinations, requiring precision, skill and a bit of risk to execute.

“Marina did an unbelievable job. It has been a while since I’ve jumped a course that presented so many challenges and the time allowed wasn’t really that big of a factor. But there are so many challenges where there wasn’t an easy answer, and there were rails but there weren’t any crazy disasters,” said Cook.

I’ll also add to that there was no one bogey line. The line to the double vertical was difficult, but realistically, I’m sure if you look at the stats, the rails are coming down all over the course,” said Bourns.

“All over,” echoed Cook.

“For me, that’s a sign of a really solid 5* top sport course,” said Bourns, who was far from disappointed with is second place finish.

©Andrew Ryback Photography

The Bourns family has owned Sea Topblue since he was a foal, and Bourns noted that Saturday evening’s result was one of his best yet. Feeling in top form, Bourns blamed rider error for ultimately keeping Sea Topblue from leading the victory lap.

“For Sea Topblue, it’s probably one of his better results in his career…I think I misjudged the double in the jump off. I’m not sure if I would have beat Karl because he was coming after me, and he would have known the course. But I certainly would have given him a better run for his money if I had just made a slightly better judgement on the double,” said Bourns.

“It certainly wasn’t Sea Topblue’s fault today. Anyway, he was out for the win,” Bourns laughed.

Related reading: The Bourns Identity

©Andrew Ryback Photography

Kenny too was content to his third place fate, riding the greenest horse of the group. Hamrah Van Het Exelhof Z has only jumped two rounds at 1.60m.

“I’m very happy, to be honest. I knew going into the jump off, I didn’t really have a chance to beat Karl. My horse is nine-years-old, and is super, super green. He only stepped up to the 5* level in Spruce Meadows. He’s jumped clear in every 5* Grand Prix he’s jumped in so far. I think he’s a really special one, but it would have been no match for Karl’s horse today,” said Kenny.

“I’m really excited for this horse. I think next year he can be an incredible horse. He’s so talented and he just keeps getting better every round.”

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