As I watched Uma O'Neill and Clockwise of Greenhill Z attack Alan Wade's track at the $145,000 CSI4*-W Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Vancouver this weekend, all I could think was, "This pair has grit."
Uma, only 23, and her own 11-year-old Zangersheide stallion who she calls "CW", fought for every single fence on course to lay down the only clear round out of a 30-horse field. Not every distance was perfect, but it didn't matter; they were fighting to win.
"I am ecstatic," Uma said after her win. "I just went out and gave it everything I could today and asked a little bit extra of myself and my horse, and it really paid off!"
Uma and CW seemed to be communicating seamlessly - the type of simpatico that comes from a longstanding partnership. The win at Thunderbird Horse Park was especially meaningful since she was at the same showgrounds when she imported CW as a 7-year-old. Uma and CW have come up through the Young Rider ranks together, competing for Zone 10 first in 2015 to place fourth, then again in 2016 to take home the team bronze medal.
“That was a pretty big goal for us! It was really nice to walk away with the bronze medal as a team," the American rider told Noëlle Floyd last year.
Despite the fact that O’Neill is connected with the well-known surf wear brand of the same name and was born on the tropical island of Maui, horse sports have captivated her far more than water sports.
“I just fell in love with the horses. I appreciate who they are and their different personalities,” she explained. “I just love getting to know them.”
She grew up riding with local trainer Jillian Vickers in Hawaii, and moved to California at 13. She spent years observing and studying West Coast grand prix favorites like Richard Spooner, Susan Hutchinson, and Rich Fellers, and quietly chipped away in her own riding, competing frequently in California. In the fall of 2016, she jumped her first 1.60m class at the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Qualifier CSI4*-W in Del Mar, CA.
Uma and the talented CW have proven that they can hold their own even in a large field of veterans. Last year, they placed sixth in the AIG $1 Million behind the likes of winner Mandy Porter and Irish team fixture Cian O'Connor after the decision was made to lower the height in the class from 1.60m to 1.50m.
“It was such a huge accomplishment for me just mentally!” O’Neill said after the Million finish. “I feel like it really was my first big result that got recognized and I am really excited about it.”
Uma's result this weekend at Thunderbird further proves that she and CW are a force to be reckoned with, and that the familiarity of a long partnership - plus a sprinkle of grit - can be a winning recipe.
Photos FEI/Cara Grimshaw