Two people watched from the edge of the spotlight that shone on Karen Polle on Saturday, March 11, 2017. They didn’t miss a thing as the young rider warmed up with coach Rodrigo Pessoa, steered to the first fence, and came out of the arena all smiles.
For the second time this week, Polle stood at attention as the Japanese National Anthem played in her honor, and her parents Greg and Hiroko Polle were there every step of the way.
Polle marked her first, career five star win in the $380,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix CSI5* aboard With Wings, the quirky14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Larino x L.Ronald) she has been partnered with for the past 7 years.
It was a night of firsts for Polle, who made history as the first Japanese rider to win a CSI5* class at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
“This is my first time jumping clear and first time in a jumpoff of a Saturday night grand prix at WEF,” said Polle. “My horse jumped unbelievably all week and he really helped me out; the week couldn’t have gone any better.”
When Polle began riding With Wings, she was still a junior rider, and she has a strong bond with the horse that has now taken her from the junior jumpers to the five star international level.
“I’m really glad we were able to win because I’ve always felt that I was one who was holding him back,” Polle added. “I’m really glad that we’ve been able to have this success.”
Polle won the $130,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup on Thursday, March 9, which set her up as a favorite for Saturday night’s main event.
Three of the top five riders in the world were in attendance for the third CSI5* grand prix of the winter circuit, but the giants of the sport failed to clear the course set by USA’s Alan Wade. The 14 obstacle, 1.60 track with three water obstacles, including an open water, made for a spooky track under the lights that just four pairs of the original 39 were able to clear successfully. Only Polle, Margie Engle, and Sergio Alvarez Moya moved on to the jumpoff.
It’s not over till it’s over was the theme of the night for riders who narrowly missed out on making an appearance in the final round. Mclain Ward, Eric Lamaze, and Lillie Keenan made it down the home stretch without fault, only to take down the final fence. Katie Dinan and Kent Farrington walked out the arena on foot after taking spills at the final oxer and the water jump, respectively.
The level of difficulty on course was demonstrated throughout the night, with the crowd celebrating every time a rider made it clear beyond the triple combination. USA’s Quentin Judge was the first clear aboard the 12-year-old Holsteiner stallion HH Conrad (Con Air x Locato), followed by Polle and With Wings, the only two combinations to make it to the jump off prior to the midway course drag.
Engle and Royce, the 13-year-old Oldenburg stallion (Cafe Au Lait x Grandilot) were third to go clear, followed by the last and final clear round produced by Spain’s Alvarez-Moya aboard the 10-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding Charmeur (Numero Uno x Gelha’s VDL Emilion.)
“I thought it was a tough course when we walked it, which is appropriate for a five star event,” said Engle. “There were a lot of questions, it was very technical, and I thought it was a good course. I was really happy with how Royce was riding. He felt great all circuit here, but Karen was the one to beat, she’s on fire.”
Polle, who has worked with several leading riders over the years, was under the tutelage of Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa on Saturday evening.
“I have been really lucky to work with quite a few top professionals,” 24-year-old Polle said. “All of them have really helped me and Wings get to where we are now. I used little things that I have learned from all of them tonight to do the course, and to do the jump-off.”
Engle would take an eventual 2nd place behind Polle, finishing with 4 faults and a time of 43.36 seconds in the final round.
Alvarez-Moya, would take the 3rd place spot behind Engle with 4 faults and a time of 43.81. Polle’s double clear in 42.42 seconds stood as the only flawless record of the evening.
“It’s our first big Grand Prix and I’m very happy with the way he jumped today,” said Moya of his horse. “He’s very sensitive and last night I was actually doubting whether I should ride him in the grand prix or not. He’s now ten, so we’ve been together for three and a half years. I definitely think that he’s going to be the one to replace Carlo, which is not an easy job.”
Moya is no stranger to the podium on Saturday nights; he’s picked up a record of three, third place finishes in the three CSI5* classes at WEF thus far. He jokingly touched on this string of yellow ribbons the press conference.
“Once you’re in the jumpoff and you’ve been 2nd and 3rd and close to a win but it couldn’t happen, I’m starting to get a little pissed right now!” he said with a smile.
Of the jumpoff, Polle commented that, “when there’s only four, you just have to go for it either way, so I just picked up a good gallop and my plan was to go as fast as I could”
As for the future, Polle hopes that there will be many more blue ribbons in sight.
“This feeling is unbelievable,” she said. “This is why we do this, why we work so hard at home. I hope I can continue to have many more of these moments and many more Saturday night wins. I’m just going to be as consistent and solid as I can at this level.”
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