Welcome to EN's brand new series, West Coast Wonders! We'll be spotlighting horses and riders who are making a splash on the West Coast, and we're starting things off with a bang. Hot off a win in the Preliminary Challenge at Woodside this weekend, Delaney Vaden and RedRox Jazzman are aiming their sights high. Do you have a horse and/or rider that you'd like to see on West Coast Wonders? Tip me at [email protected].
The words “Clydesdale” and “eventing” don’t necessarily seem to go in the same sentence. Then you look at the likes of Colleen Rutledge’s Covert Rights and Ben Hobday’s Mulrys Error and think twice. It’s time to add another name to that list: RedRox Jazzman.
“Jazz” is 50% Thoroughbred, 25% Quarter Horse and 25% Clydesdale, and he wasn’t exactly a horse that had stardom written all over him. For 14-year-old Delaney Vaden, Jazz became a one in a million horse who has brought her up the levels and most recently winning her the Preliminary Challenge Rider prize at Woodside.
Delaney began eventing at the age of 10, starting on an arena sour Morgan pony (who hasn’t started on a naughty pony?) who highly disliked cross country and taught Delaney the meaning of sticky britches. “She definitely taught me how to lose,” Delaney said with a laugh. “She had no interest in going higher than Intro or maybe Beginner Novice, and I think we finished maybe two cross country courses in our years together.”
Delaney began casually seeking her next partner in crime, and RedRox Jazzman was the guy tapped for the job. “I honestly wasn’t really looking at the time, and he wasn’t super fancy or expensive. It was just a good match for me,” she recalled.
Jazz was rather green at the time Delaney began riding him, having completed just a few events. “He’s taken me from Novice to Prelim in the last three and a half years, and it’s been a bit of the blind leading the blind but he’s got such a mind, he’s so smart and is truly a one in a million type of horse.”
Delaney and Jazz made their eventing debut together in 2013 at Fresno, where they finished fifth in their Novice division. From there, it was no turning back as the pair moved through the levels, eventually stepping up to Prelim in 2015, also at Fresno. It was at this event that Delaney first truly felt that she had a serious potential talent on her hands.
“I went out on cross country thinking, ‘Well, maybe we’ll jump around and have fun but we’ll see how it goes,'” Delaney said. “I was so nervous, but he really took me to every jump and almost made the time. In that moment, I had that feeling of ‘Yes, we can do this!’ and I didn’t feel a limit.”
And now, the pair finds themselves proud winners of the Preliminary Challenge Rider after a guns blazing weekend which took Delaney by surprise. “If someone would have told me last year that we’d win the Prelim Challenge, I would have laughed,” she said. “Our flatwork has really been coming along, but honestly our school the day before our test was one of the best we’ve had. He went into the ring a bit more tense than usual because of the atmosphere and so I was a bit surprised that we scored so well. I was happy that we were able to work the tension into forward work and not tense, quick steps.”
Cross country was a formidable challenge for Delaney, but coaches Bea and Derek Di Grazia (she also works with Danielle Casalatt and Brian Sabo) helped her make sense of the questions asked. “I felt the course asked you to really ride forward, which worked well for us,” she said. “And I think that style of cross country helped us in the show jumping because it was a good reminder to keep riding forward.”
Despite a large amount of atmosphere — more than most of the Prelim Challenge horses had ever seen — Delaney felt Jazz perk up in the show jumping ring and actually start to show off for the crowd. “I think the atmosphere helped!” she said. “He definitely noticed the crowd, and he is a bit spooky which makes him careful, but he felt like he was showing off.”
With one rail down in a division that yielded no double clear show jumping rounds, Delaney and Jazz’s final score of 35.3 was enough to keep them in first place and win them the first spot in the victory gallop.
“I was so in awe of the Prelim Challenge when I went to watch for the first time,” Delaney said. “It’s been a goal to compete here, and to win is just icing on the cake.
Competing at the upper levels has been a goal of Delaney’s for a long time, and with the age limit of competing at Intermediate being 16, she is excited at the potential of getting as many Preliminary miles as she can this year. “It never hurt anyone to gain more experience,” she said. “For us, getting out on as many courses as we can and seeing everything will do nothing but good for us.”
Delaney’s ultimate goal for the immediate future is to make the Area VI Young Riders squad as well as the Eventing 18 list, and she’s currently waiting with bated breath to see the named short list. She’s completed all of her qualifications and her plans for the remainder of the 2016 season will depend on what happens with the Young Rider team.
“It’s been a big goal of mine to compete at Young Riders, so now it’s just about waiting for the list to come out,” she said.
We wish Delaney the best of luck with the rest of her season and eventing career, and stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming FEI National Junior and Young Rider Championships at Colorado Horse Park!