As New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley entered the George H. Morris Arena on July 2nd aboard Sky Group’s Casper, the loudspeakers rang out, “He’s had a heck of a year on this horse, folks, with wins all over the place!”
The introduction not only predicted the pair’s win in that evening’s $130,000 Adequan Grand Prix CSI3* in Tryon, North Carolina, it also perfectly summed up Wordley’s ongoing success in this 2016 show season.
A record 12,000 spectators were in attendance for the Saturday Night Lights event, creating a buzz throughout the entire arena.
“The venue and the experience they’ve created [in Tryon] certainly rivals Wellington, and it was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever ridden in” Wordley said.
The boisterous crowd witnessed 30 entries attempt to advance to the second round of course designer Oscar Soberon’s 14 obstacle track, but it was the clock, with 87 seconds time allowed, that stopped multiple, rail-free rounds from moving forward.
“The first rider to go [Mark Bluman riding Uitteraard] got the inside turn from jump one to two and was only just in front of the time so I knew that I had to hustle along,” said Wordley. “The time allowed made the class exciting, I think. If it had been any longer, there would have been too many clears.”
As second to go in the order, Wordley chose to go around fence two and to apply Casper’s building speed for later elements in the course. The duo led early on with a first round time of 86.17 and later dashed around the jump-off course fault free and in 41.694 seconds to secure the only double clear effort of the evening.
Saturday’s victory marked the pair’s fourth top-five finish in FEI sanctioned competition in the past four months. To Wordley, it’s more than just adding to the resume, it’s confirmation of a well-conceived program for a promising, young horse that’s come to fruition.
Their most recent victory adds to Wordley’s continued dominance at the venue since early spring. He also took top honors in the $35,000 Horseware Ireland CSI3* opener of Tryon Spring 7 with Famous D Ive Z (For Pleasure X Chin Chin) and won the $35,000 1.45m Horseware Ireland CSI5* Opener with Sky Group’s Barnetta (Baloubet du Rouet x Polydor). The same week, he won the $130,000 1.5m Suncast Welcome CSI5* aboard Casper.
The 10-year-old Oldenburg (Contender x Baloubet du Rouet) gelding’s growth and budding ability to perform in high pressure situations is credit to the gradual process and careful strategy to slowly build and maintain his confidence while moving up to the higher levels.
Another key is “managing his quirkiness,” Wordley said. “He’s often hard to warm up because he is scared of other horses in the ring. Horses I had early on in my career were similar, with odd quirks, and if I hadn’t had them, I don’t think I’d have been able to ride Casper.”
How Casper came into his program was, according to Wordley, all in the timing.
“Good friends of mine, Richard and Andrew Bourns, found him in Belgium and rode him for about two or three years. He had already done a grand prix in Angelstone [Ontario] when he was 8 and was clear, and Andrew rode him in some smaller grand prix classes in Wellington.
“Andrew did a lot of the hard work. It was a little bit of perfect timing purchasing him as a 9-year-old at the end of circuit last year. My sponsor, Sky Group, and I were actually in the process of purchasing another horse, but he failed to vet. If that hadn’t happened I probably never would have had Casper. I guess everything happens for a reason.”
“The World Championships quickly became the plan once I realized how special he was.”
The experience that Casper—with a 2nd-place finish in his first 5* class in the $380,000 Douglas Elliman CSI5* Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in March—has gained along with the strides the two have made together over the last few months also reinforces Wordley’s long-term goals for Casper: targeting the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in Bromont, Quebec, Canada.
“He’s only just 10 so he had a lot of growing up to do, but in two years’ time, I think he will really peak,” said Wordley. “The World Championships quickly became the plan once I realized how special he was.”
To make the goal a reality, short-term targets include September’s $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Saugerties, another 5* Grand Prix in Tryon, the 2017 winter circuit in Wellington, and some smaller classes in between.
Wordley’s personal objective is to continue to rise in the world rankings, which complements his efforts with developing Casper, and to ultimately make it to Bromont. Currently at 58th in the FEI World Rankings, he is on the edge of cracking the top 50.
This week, Sharn and Casper compete again at the Tryon Summer II CSI3* with plans to build upon the strong foundation already laid. The work that still remains is not lost on Wordley, but the excitement of what could follow with this bright new partnership continues to drive him forward.