A top Canadian female rider led another victory gallop at Thunderbird on Sunday afternoon to close out the MLSJ Canadian Premier Week for 2023.
Former leading female rider in the world, Erynn Ballard piloted Game Over with precision and tact to a double-clear, shaving 0.09 of a second off Conor Swail’s time to cross the finish in 38.70 seconds — a time that would hold up for the remainder of the class.
A new partnership coming into Ilan Ferder’s sales stable, Ballard has competed Game Over less than a half-dozen times. She’s the first to admit sometimes horses just come into your life and there is an instant connection.
“Some of these horses appear in my life and it was like an instant match,” says Ballard. “I feel like this horse can make me fly. I believe so much in him. And he goes the way that I like — he’s forward. He’s a little spicy. He has a big opinion. And honestly, I just adore him.
“I liked the course [today] when I walked it. I thought it was quite suitable for him. The tight time allowed also suits him. His feet always need to be moving. So you ride every round like it’s a speed class. And he also doesn’t have so much experience going fast. So the more he learns it, the better he gets. But he’s naturally fast. He doesn’t even have to go as fast as the others or do as few strides and he’s already faster. He’s just light in the air. He’s light off the ground. He’s really agile. And I think that we will see big things from this horse. I’m very excited about him.”
Ballard anticipates Game On becoming her true “second horse” to back up top horse Gakhir, a luxury that not all Canadian upper level riders manage to maintain.
“We rely on Gakhir so much. And he always steps up to the plate and he always gives us a result. But how nice would it be for him to have to have another horse so that he doesn’t have to be the one that we rely on all the time? It just shows how hard it is to get that horsepower and keep that horsepower. But when you have a horse that makes you feel like you can fly, you already are ahead of the game. So I have a team now and that’s really cool and really special.”
It was truly an international field of competitors in the immaculate grass Fort Grand Prix Arena, with the top ten alone including riders from Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Korea and the United States.
Ireland’s Conor Swail, the number 10 rider in the world, finished just behind Ballard in second place with a clean jump off round and a time of 38.79, with Patricio Pasquel of Mexico in third and Alicia Santa Rosa fractions of a second behind in 38.79.
This being Thunderbird Show Park’s 50th Anniversary, much discussion has centred around the idea of “legacy” over the past week. When asked what her legacy might be, Ballard very thoughtfully remarked, “In this sport I feel like there’s so much more to it than just riding. I hope people will remember me for being a great rider, but also a big influence in the sport and an influence to young girls that see me and they say ‘one day I want to be just like her.’ I think that Tiffany [Foster] probably feels the same way. So to have that for Canada — to have such a strong female presence and influence, I hope I’m remembered for things like that as well as for being the rider that I am.”
Game On, Erynn, Game On.
CSI2* $38,500 Grand Prix 1.45m
Place / Horse / Rider / Owner / Country / JO Faults:Time
1. Game Over / Erynn Ballard / Ilan Ferder / CAN / 0:38.7
2. Casturano / Conor Swail / Rider / IRE / 0:38.79
3. Alicia Santa Rosa / Patricio Pasquel / MEX / 0:38.98
4. Kadans Van De Mispelaere / Jaehee Jeon / KOR / 0:41.3
5. Chicago CM / Eric Krawitt / Rider / CAN / 0:41.86
6. Cerolino / Kyle King / Ilan Ferder / USA / 4:38.78
7. Chic D Emma Z / Samantha Buirs-Darvill / Rider / CAN / 4:39.52
8. NKH Cento Blue / Shawn Casady / October Hill Sales / USA / 4:40.27
9. Howard Du Seigneur / James Chawke / IRE / 4:42.36
10. Chili Pepper H M Z / Lillie Keenan / Rider / USA / 4:43.72