Karl Cook (USA) was looking to make history at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). Fate almost stepped in the way of him etching his name as the very first on the Coachella Cup, a new Waterford trophy presented to the winner of the inaugural $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix, presented by Brown Advisory. But his strength and determination carried him through the week and onto the top of the podium in the United States’ richest FEI Grand Prix.

Cook and his long-time partner Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet, owned by Signe Otsby, were one of 35 entries to tackle the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix. With a course set by Alan Wade (IRL) the challenge was steep, the course was long, and the crowd was large. Cook, who suffered a hand injury Tuesday evening, went around the midway point, cranking out a clear round and guaranteeing a jump-off for the crowd.

Six other pairs joined him for the short course: Mark Bluman (COL) with Ubiluc, Mario Deslauriers (CAN) with Bardolina 2, Callie Schott (USA) with Garant, Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) with Faquitol-S, Roberto Teran (COL) with BP Wakita, and Kent Farrington (USA) with Landon. Cook’s double-clear effort and time of 44.99 seconds was enough to get the job done. Farrington had a rail down with a faster time, putting him in third, while Deslauriers was the only other double-clear, landing in second in his first trip to the desert. (Ed. note: Of the six Canadians in the competition, the only other pair making the top 10 was Erynn Ballard with Gakhir, who placed 8th and raked in a cool $25,000-plus)


Karl Cook and Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet jumping a fence.

Karl Cook (USA) and Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet. (High Desert Sport Photo)


Cook felt that this night was different from any other big event he’s attended. “There have been million-dollar grand prixs at this facility before but never like this,” he remarked of the Coachella Cup. “Because this is five-star, this is a million, with so many riders coming in. This means so much more. The event is so much more prestigious under the lights, with great footing, and great atmosphere. It’s about the whole event, and the management team here really did a great job.”

Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet has helped Cook achieve two consecutive CSI5* Grand Prix titles at Desert International Horse Park, having won the last running of the Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) finale. She’s been a crucial member of Cook’s impressive string, and hadn’t stepped out for competition since representing the United States at FEI Nations Cup Finals in Barcelona.

“I don’t know what’s in her but she’s just amazing,” Cook reflected. “She just brings passion and when you ride her you can feel that passion. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming when she’s leaping in the air. But she just has such drive and such desire to do the job well, and she loves doing the job. It then inspires you as a rider and as anyone who’s around her. She inspires them and lifts everyone up.”

Cook’s week was uncertain on Wednesday morning, but he took the reins anyway and it’s been smooth sailing, despite a little bit of pain.

“It’s just a few stitches to the hand, a flesh wound,” he remarked. “I was always going to ride. It was just how bad it was going to hurt. Everyone has issues they’ve got to overcome and I had some issues with my hand this week. I just had to put it in the back of my mind, because at the end of the day I still have to jump clear. I have to go in, I have to do my job with my horse, and I have to give it the best ride.”

Deslauriers almost didn’t come to DIHP this week. On Thanksgiving day, he changed his mind.

“It was a good call,” Deslauriers said. “During Thanksgiving, we were cooking and I told my wife, I said, ‘I think I should call Matt [Morrissey] and Keean [White] and see if I can get in there.’ We worked it out, and I called the owners and they were all on board. The horsemen always say jump your horse while it’s going good, so I figured I’d come and give it a shot. This facility looks great, the jumping was great, the whole week was very nice, and people are so nice. I will definitely come back.”

Farrington is bringing up a star in 9-year-old Landon, who just accompanied Cook and other United States riders to the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, where they took the gold medal.

“He’s stepping up to that level,” Farrington said of Landon. “He’s still very inexperienced. The major focus was to qualify the U.S. for the Pan Am Games, which we did in Chile. This is his next show from there so this is how I wanted to wrap up the season for him. Karl’s horse is very fast, and my horse is not the fastest against the clock, so I had to take all the risks. I’m still happy with third.”

Cook took the very first sip out of the custom perpetual Waterford trophy for the Coachella Cup, and it’s surely a prize he’ll continue fighting for year after year. He also won the American Gold Cup in 2023, taking a swig out of that as well. “They all make them drink shaped so you can drink out of them! So you just have to do that,” he joked. For his win, he also received a custom pet pendant from Irene Neuwirth, as well as a cooler from Hermes.

“I feel great,” Cook said about his big night. “It’s been a long season – a great season – with a lot of highs. There have been some lows that have been important to overcome. But Major League this year, for me, has been great. The horses have been great. It’s all due to [my team] and their work that gets me to the ring and allows me to do what I do in the ring. It’s that culmination of everyone’s job that allows this to happen.”

Steve Hankin, President and CEO of DIHP, would echo Cook’s sentiments about needing a team to make nights like these happen.

“It’s been a great week,” said Hankin, whose team purchased DIHP in 2019. “If you had told me four years ago we’d be in the position we are in today, I would have never believed it. But riders have been thrilled with the place and the competition has been great. This is what the West Coast needs and this is why we did it. We’re really proud of where we are.”

With the Coachella Cup in the rearview mirror, the team at DIHP and MLSJ now look ahead to Desert Holiday 2, presented by Visit Greater Palm Springs, which will feature the MLSJ Team Final with $1 million in prize money yet again.

See full results from the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix here.