Sep 08, 2022

Catching Up with Kelly Mahloch and Sundance Farm H.T.

By Shanyn Fiske - USEA Staff
Milton Findley photo.

Kelly Mahloch is intensely aware of the responsibility Sundance Farm has to the eventing community in the Midwest. As one of the few recognized horse trials in a large, geographically- dispersed area, Sundance is tasked with a myriad of important roles that might be shared among several venues in more densely-populated locations. In addition to cross-country schoolings and their recognized event in the fall, Sundance also hosts the annual rally for the Regional Pony Club as well as competitions for the Area IV Young Riders. In 2020, the Area IV Championships were held at the farm and they will be again in 2024.

“People drive five, seven, nine hours to get to us,” Mahloch shared. “We appreciate the hard work it takes to come here, so we try to make it worth their effort.”

Among the bounty of treats that the road-weary traveler can find upon arriving at the farm for the fall horse trials is a literal feast: a full, midwestern meal that is included in the entry for all competitors and volunteers and includes hot turkey, potato salad, and authentic Wisconsin cheese from Sargento, which sponsors the eye-catching “Sargento Cheese Wedge” jump on the cross-country course. “Everyone is stuck here for three days,” laughs Mahloch, referring to the remoteness of the farm’s location but also to the unique opportunity that the event offers for camaraderie and connection. “We are a really friendly, tightly-knit community.”

The warm, midwestern hospitality that Sundance offers is counterpoised against the seriousness of the competition. Starting in 2014 when Mahloch and her daughters Whitney and Ali recognized the need for a rigorous and well-run horse trials in their area, Sundance is anything but soft. Reflecting upon her experience at the inaugural event, Rachael Walker was “impressed with the size and scope of the Training course” and noted that many more than the mandated half of the cross-country questions were maximum height.

Xpress Foto

In 2019, the farm added a Preliminary division to its offerings. “This is not a move-up event,” Mahloch emphasizes. Instead, the courses are designed to confirm riders and horses at their level and, in many cases, prepare them for the USEA American Eventing Championships. Mahloch recalls with fondness the wine and cheese gathering that was held on the top of the bank complex the first year of competition.

“People climbed up the hill for the picnic and got their first look down at the drop, and they lost a little color.”

She chuckled. “But it actually rides quite nicely.”

As owner, founder, event organizer, and course designer, Mahloch rightfully takes pride in an event that she and her family have built from the ground up. Purchased in 1990 by Mahloch and her husband Steve, Sundance – located in eastern Wisconsin, 17 miles from Lake Michigan - has grown from a 60-acre dairy farm to one of the premier training and competition facilities in Area IV. When the event first started, stabling, dressage, and show jumping were held at the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds. Competitors trailered the four miles down the road to the farm for cross-country day. Now, the entirety of the event is hosted on the farm property with show jumping in an enclosed, three-acre alfalfa field; dressage in another field shaded with trees along the edges, and stabling within cheering distance of the water complex.

The farm has grown into a 100-acre boarding, training, and competition facility that includes three barns, indoor and outdoor arenas, and numerous trails. These are in addition to what many agree is the most beautiful cross-country course in Area IV. The course leads through undulating terrain of open alfalfa fields and wooded lanes and includes the aforementioned bank, a ditch complex, and a meticulously-maintained water hazard all built by Eric Bull in 2012. Now Steve and his son-in-law Lucas Kuhn, both engineers, take responsibility for building the jumps, most of which are portable so that the course can be changed regularly. Daughter Whitney – also a professional rider and trainer – comes home from Ocala every year to help prepare for the event.

Xpress Foto

With entries filling within the first week of the event’s opening and around 150-180 horses competing every fall, Sundance doesn’t necessarily aspire toward growth in numbers. Rather, the motivating question for Mahloch remains the same as it has been from the beginning: how can Sundance best position itself to help the sport of eventing as a whole and Area IV in particular? “Someday I’d like to run a [USEA Classic Series] format Beginner Novice and Novice,” Mahloch says, looking into the future. She speaks with the clarity of lessons learned from building Sundance throughout the last three decades and with the confidence of knowing her legacy in the sport.

“We’ve helped develop eventing in Wisconsin,” she reflects. “We’re part of the history of eventing here in the Midwest.”

Sundance Farm Recognized Horse Trials runs this year from September 30 – October 2.

Entries are open until September 13. Access the USEA Omnibus here.

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