DARIEN — Needing to shave his time to top 33.5 seconds, Nick Dello Joio steered Ragna-T into a sharp turn, leaving the horse less room to build momentum before jumping a row of three narrowly spaced fences.
Dello Joio’s decision paid off, with the horse clearing all three to carry Dello Joio to 31.8 seconds and take the top prize in the 81st annual Ox Ridge Charity Horse Show’s Grand Prix at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club.
“I thought it was a great contest,” said Dello Joio, a 22-year-old South Florida resident. “We had to take that turn inside but it worked well.”
The show attracted about 600 horses per day Wednesday through Sunday, Ox Ridge Hunt Club co-owner Flavia Callari said, drawing about 8,000 spectators, trainers, riders and other personnel to the Middlesex Road horse farm.
“It’s been a big success and the show has become a real event,” Callari said.
A total of 31 horses and 28 riders took part in the Grand Prix Sunday, a two-part stakes jumping event testing their control over their horses navigating an obstacle course, as well as athleticism and speed of the animals.
The total purse for the competition was $30,000, divided among the top eight competitors.
In the first round of a Grand Prix event, judges assess the skills of riders controlling their horses with the object being to complete the series of jumps without error.
Victory in the second round is based on the speed at which riders complete the challenge.
Peter Holmes, a course designer from Vancouver, British Columbia, who arranged the fences on the course, said he sought to test the skills of the riders who are a mix of aspiring Grand Prix circuit riders as well as more seasoned and proven competitors in show jumping.
“You want to have a variety of challenges or have the same task repeated,” Holmes said. “You want to test all the skills of the riders.”
Depending on their construction and appearance, different fences pose less or more difficulty to riders and horses, with some fences likely to test a horse’s courage at the last moment.
“It’s a high-pressure type of sporting event,” Holmes, 50, said. “With the horse galloping 12 miles an hour in a split second they can change their mind and leave you in the mud.”
Riders at the event praised the overall show and the challenges of the course.
Georgina Bloomberg, 28, who rode two horses in the first round, said recent rains might have impacted the grassy surface, and that the course was difficult.
“There was a lot going on around the course so it is easy for a horse to get spooked,” Bloomberg said.
Mattias Tromp, 16, who rode Renoir de Buisson in the first round, said the event was only his second Grand Prix jumping contest, and admitted he is still gaining experience at competitive sport jumping.
Tromp, who began riding horses at age 5, trains for Grand Prix competitions nearly full-time, taking high school classes on-line and aspires to compete in the Olympics.
“I think it was a good course for what they advertised,” Tromp said. “There were some technical spots in the course and on the last spot of the triple jumps you had to really know where you were going on the course.”
Callari said efforts to overhaul and improve the indoor and outdoor facilities have made the show more attractive to owners of high-caliber jumping horses.
In recent years, the club hired Equestrian Services International to rebuild its grass show ring and its two sand rings, providing a better quality riding surface for horses to practice and compete, Callari said. The effort included rebuilding many of the club’s indoor stables, she said.
The club now has 32 full-time members and about 40 horses living on the property full-time, 14 of which own shares in the club, Callari said.
“We have a facility that has attracted the top equestrian show barns in the tri-state area,” Callari said. “The grass ring is beautiful. With the new rings and riding surfaces the competitors feel like they are over in Europe.”
Chris Cawley, a trainer for Burr Associates, a competitive equestrian training firm, said the course and facilities met the standards of a high caliber event but was safe enough for more novice riders relatively new to the circuit.
“You have a mix of competitors and it is a chance for the younger students who are aspiring to enter Grand Prix competition,” Cawley said.
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 203-964-2264.