Traverse City, Mich. – June 11, 2023 – Jonathan McCrea (USA) had a dual reason to celebrate Sunday in Traverse City. Along with celebrating his 18th wedding anniversary with wife and business partner Christine McCrea (USA), he clinched victory with Gazelle ES in the $77,300 Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel CSI2* Grand Prix, marking the season’s first international grand prix at Flintfields Horse Park.
The course was built up from the previous days of FEI action, set by Manuel Esparza (MEX) and welcomed 26 top entries to start out the season strong. Of those, nine jumped clear rounds, and McCrea was the first of them, putting him in a challenging spot come jump-off time.
“First is a hard place to go,” McCrea, of Windsor Show Stables, remarked. “There was a lot of talk in the practice ring among the riders whether to do seven or eight [strides] up the first line. I tried seven, and three-quarters of the way up the line I thought, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ But it actually worked out for the eight strides to turn back for the next jump really sharp. My mare loves to gallop. She’s very careful. The jump-off kind of suited her to be honest.”
McCrea’s strategy of quick across the ground held for the next eight competitors, as he nervously watched to see how the class would play out. Though a few caught the time, none were able to keep all the rails up. Ultimately, McCrea was one of only two double-clear rounds. The other, finishing less than half a second off the time, was Margie Engle (USA) with her winning mount on Thursday, Jackofhearts, owned by Gladewinds Partners, LLC. Third went to Francesca Bolfo and Jadalco with a blazing fast four-fault jump-off.
“This is my third year with her,” McCrea said of the Windsor Show Stables-owned 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Dorado x Ukato). “She’s been second I don’t know how many times. It’s long overdue. She’s a good mare; I like her.”
The temperature dropped significantly for Sunday, which was a change welcomed by Gazelle ES and no one else. “The weather today really helped her; she loves cold weather,” McCrea shared. “She’s a funny mare. I don’t ride her before the class. She doesn’t longe. It took a long time to get to know her. She was very standoffish in the barn when she came to me and now she’s a cuddly bear.”
Simplicity has always been the game plan with Gazelle, and with many horses in McCrea’s program, and it is paying off as he is seeing top results. “I’m a huge believer that less is more. She only showed one class this week. I didn’t jump her in the welcome. She’s starting to become a seasoned horse so that really helps. She wants to leave the jumps up.”
Among the items McCrea applauded at the Flintfields Horse Park were, “The facility, the management, the jumps, always nie course builders, and now the addition of the permanent stables in FEI. We have a bunch of eight and nine-year-old horses so there are lots of different options for them.”
McCrea has his top two horses competing in the FEI division, both of which will certainly be forces to reckon with all season as they grow even more comfortable back in their summer base, but he’s also bringing up young horses and young riders.
“We have an additional rider now, Delaney Flynn,” he remarked of the newest addition to the Windsor Show Stables team. Flynn currently sits in the top five on the CaptiveOne Advisors Open Jumper Rider leaderboard after a stellar opening week. “We wanted to support an up-and-coming American rider. We have some new horse that we have really high hopes for. We’re very lucky.”
He may have set the bar high in terms of anniversary gifts, but McCrea is also hoping it’s not his last grand prix win for the season. With another top mount still sitting on the sidelines, he has plenty of horsepower to produce more wins.
International show jumping resumes during week two of the Traverse City Spring Series with CSI3* action.
Final Results: $77,300 Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel CSI2* Grand Prix
- Jonathan McCrea (USA) & Gazelle ES: 2011 KWPN mare (Dorado x Ukato) / Owner: Windsor Show Stables
- Margie Engle (USA) & Jackofhearts: 2012 DWB gelding (Heartbeat x Baloubet Du Rouet) / Owner: Gladewinds Partners, LLC
- Francesca Bolfo (USA) & Jadalco: 2009 BWP gelding (Nabab De Reve x For Pleasure) / Owner: Francesca Bolfo
- Michael Morrissey (USA) & Chacco’s Cherry PS: 2011 OS mare (Chacco-Blue x Charity) / Owner: Elmrock BV
- Hilary McNerney (USA) & Zita Blue: 2011 DSP mare (VDL Zirocco Blue x Balou Du Rouet) / Owner: Hilary McNerney
Click here for full results.
Moonwalk Struts to Win in USHJA National Hunter Derby
Sundays in Traverse City have become synonymous with thrilling hunter derbies, and the season’s opener did not fall short of expectations. Among top contenders, it was Moonwalk, owned by Copper Fox LLC and ridden by Hillary Johnson, who took the win in Sunday’s $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby.
Moonwalk, known as “Gnocchi” in the barn, has been a superstar in the show ring and a beloved pet at home for over eight years with Kendall Meijer and her team at Copper Fox LLC. With years of experience in the amateur ring with Meijer and professional divisions with Johnson in the irons, he’s well seasoned for wins like this.
“He’s 16 but he’s not acting a day over 10,” Meijer said of the Dutch Warmblood gelding. “His personality is what makes him special. He has a lot of it and more to spare. He’s a total showman. He doesn’t want to mess with boring classes; he wants to come for the exciting special classes, and the derbies are where he really shines. We don’t make him do full divisions anymore. He’s just the most special.”
Gnocchi seemed to know it was a special day, and according to Meijer, he brought his A-game. “He’s had some time off so he was extra excited to show today,” she remarked. “He was getting braided this morning and he had his ears up the whole time; he knew what the braids meant and he knew he was coming to win. And that’s exactly what he did.”
He was clearly here to play, with scores of 89 and 90 for a two-round total of 179 and a confident kick-off to the season in Traverse City. Johnson also claimed third with Stephanie Battershall’s Blue Monday, and in between her two podium entries in second was Paige Walkenbach with Cavaljo, owned by Spyglass Hill.
Courses for the day featured classic elements of a hunter derby course with a few more twists and turns to make it an exciting event. “The courses were lovely,” Meijer shared. “I thought the first course was a bit more challenging than some derby courses. It had some tighter turns and asked a little more from the riders and the horses, but it rode beautifully. The handy was exciting as always.”
At 16, he’s not slowing down, but the team behind Moonwalk is letting him call the shots. “He’s going to keep doing some derbies,” Meijer said of their plan with the horse. “He owes us nothing. He’s been champion everywhere and he’s going to retire with us. For me it’s about if he wants to keep showing and he’s happy enough and sound enough to do so, then we’ll have at it.”
Meijer is a Michigan native, so the Traverse City Horse Shows are very special to her and her team at Copper Fox. “We love coming back here. The showgrounds look beautiful this year. It’s always a treat to come back. We look forward to it every summer. I can’t wait for the summer ahead,” she shared.
Last season, the hunter rings migrated down below the VIP pavilion to the newly-designated hunterland. The change has been well received and, for the second season now, hunters feel they have a special home in the Main Hunter Ring.
“The hunter rings ride so lovely,” Meijer continued. “They’re spacious, they’re in a beautiful setting, the jumps are always perfect, and everything is conditioned so nicely. With beautiful footing, beautiful courses, beautiful horses, great competition – all of those things combined make for an excellent show.”