Wellington, Florida, USA – March 23, 2022 – The second-to-last week of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), sponsored by Palm Beach County Sports Commission, began on Wednesday, March 23. Isabella Russekoff (USA) and Suave Pony LLC’s Balou’s Fly High were victorious on the opening day of WEF 11 in the $10,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45m CSI 4*, which served as the qualifier for the “Saturday Night Lights” feature, the $150,000 CaptiveOne Advisors 1.50m Series Final Classic CSI4*.
The International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) showcases CSI4* and CSI2* international jumper classes this week, including the $50,000 Beerbaum Stables 1.45m Grand Prix CSI2* during daytime competition on Saturday, March 26, and the $216,000 Palm Beach County Sports Commission Grand Prix CSI4* on Sunday, March 27. Hunters also have a big week with the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby taking place on the Derby Field in Equestrian Village on Saturday as well as two more hunter derbies on the field on Friday, March 25. WEF’s 13-week series continues through April 3.
Olaf Petersen, Jr (GER) set the power-and-speed track for 78 starting competitors, representing 19 nations. Going clear proved to be quite possible today, with 39 riders finding their way fault free. Doing so quickly, however, proved to be a challenge answered best by Isabella Russekoff and Balou’s Fly High, who soared through the short course in 31.66 seconds.
“In the ring, he likes to take me to all the jumps, so I was confident that given this course, we would be able to leave out strides where maybe others could not,” explained Russekoff of the 15-year-old Oldenburg stallion by Balou du Rouet x Grandeur. “For example, the last line was a normal five-stride line, but I know with him and how much he loves to go for it at the end of the course, I could choose to do four.”
Though his talent and professionalism in the ring are obvious, Balou’s Fly High has an interesting character in the barn, and being a stallion, he can be challenging to handle. Because he’s such a superstar, Russekoff and her team have learned to work around his quirks.
“He has a huge personality. He gets really emotional, so we have to keep him really separated from everyone else,” laughed Russekoff. “When he’s having a good day, it’s a little easier, but when he’s having a bad day, we just kind of let him be and try to be really nice to him.”
She continued, “We base our schedule with every other horse at the barn around him, because he has such a big personality. Since he can get so worked up, we don’t try too hard to mess with him at home, because he’s usually always amazing in the ring.”
Balou’s Fly High has been a winning partner for Russekoff for seven years and has helped her move up from the 1.20m Low Junior Jumper division all the way through the CSI2* grand prix level. During this year’s WEF 8, they finished third in the $25,000 Hermès Under 25 Series Semi-Final. Because of their long relationship, Russekoff finds their wins together to be even sweeter.
“Every win with him is really special. It’s especially nice to win with him, because he tries so hard for me every single time he goes in,” said Russekoff. “It’s awesome when I can also reward him by doing my part to go fast and put in a good round.”
Conor Swail (IRL) and Team Philippaerts’s Theo 160 raced to a second-place finish in 32.26 seconds.
Just three one-hundredths of a second behind them was Richard Vogel (GER) and Dakota de L’Ardrais, owned by Coleridge Equestrian BV.
Thursday is another full day of international jumper competition, leading off with the $37,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45m CSI4* speed class, followed by the $37,000 Beerbaum Stables 1.45m Grand Prix Qualifier CSI2*. The FarmVet Ring 7 hosts junior equitation medal classes, with the USHJA Jumper Seat Medal first to go.
Final Results – €10,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate CSI 4* 1.45m
1) Isabella Russekof (USA) & Balou’s Fly High – 0 / 0 – 31.66
2) Conor Swail (IRL) & Theo 160 – 0 / 0 – 32.26
3) Richard Vogel (GER) & Dakota de L’Ardrais – 0 / 0 – 32.29
Source: Press Release by Amanda Picciotto Feitosa / Jennifer Wood Media, Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions / WEF – Winter Equestrian Festival
Photos: © Sportfot