Nicky Galligan Nabs the Win in the $31,020 CSI2* Welcome With Nikita van de Leeuwerk

International competition during the HITS-on-the-Hudson Jumper Special at HITS Hudson Valley in Saugerties, New York, heated up with the $31,020 CSI2* Welcome, presented by Great American Insurance Group, on June 20, 2024. The highlight class of the day featured 56 horse-and-rider combinations battling for the top prize, but it was Irishman Nicky Galligan and VDL Nikita van de Leeuwerk who were the lucky winners. 

The first-round track, designed by renowned FEI Level 4 Course Designer Bernardo Costa Cabral (POR), was composed of 12 obstacles with 15 efforts. Eleven pairs managed to jump fault-free but two riders elected to save their horses for more jumping later in the week, leaving nine to return for the short course. In a race for the fastest time, only four combinations produced a second clear performance, but it was Galligan’s blazing time of 36.48 seconds that reigned supreme for the victory.

“It’s very nice to have such a special course designer here, and he built a wonderful track,” said Galligan of the challenge set by Costa Cabral. “Bernardo’s clever with the subtlety. The purpose is not to scare the horse or rider, but to present technical questions, so that’s where I really commend him.

Nicky Galligan stands for presentation. Photo by ESI Photography

“The jump-off was set smart and encouraged you to take a little risk,” continued Galligan. “That can make it very hard to keep your horse’s bascule in the air. That’s where I’m so thankful my mare is so careful and really loves her job.”

Galligan has been partnered with VDL Nikita Van De Leeuwerk for about two years. Previously, the 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Zavall VDL x Argentinus) owned by Santa Rosa Group was campaigned by U.S. rider Alex Matz, but now with Galligan in the irons, the pair have competed through the four-star level with top results.

“It was a very last-minute decision to bring her this week,” shared Galligan, who is based at his Guardian Stables in Pawling, New York. “She’s actually a really cool horse. She often doesn’t need to jump at home and we had a bit of a gap before her next show, so I thought rather than leave her at the barn this week, let’s bring her with us and have some fun. Once she’s fit and showing I just maintain that happiness and health and keep her body and muscles in a good place.” 

Galligan is a frequent competitor at HITS Hudson Valley and plans to return later this summer for the CSI3* competition in hopes of furthering his success.

Daniel Bluman and Hummer Z. Photo by ESI Photography

“I’ve been loving the new facilities and the way the rings have been updated,” he expressed. “I love the effort that is going into our sport and this area of New York. It’s nice to have such a competitive class today.”

Following in second was Daniel Bluman (ISR) with Hummer Z, the  10-year-old KWPN gelding (Harley x Hemmingway) owned by Abigail Wexner that was previously shown by two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden. The pair was three seconds off the pace of Galligan, but their clear effort in 38.08 seconds was good enough for the runner-up spot. 

Finishing in third was Marilyn Little (USA) with her own nine-year-old Mecklenburg mare (License x Cornet’s Prinz), La Contessa. They finished the short course with a time of 38.43 seconds. 

Marilyn Little and La Contessa. Photo by ESI Photography

Competition continues during the  HITS-on-the-Hudson Jumper Special with CSI1* and CSI2* classes throughout the week, culminating in the $62,480 CSI2* Grand Prix, presented by Great American Insurance Group.