What is a five-star event horse made of? Undoubtedly they are fit, athletic, keen, and possess quite a bit of grit. Most five-star horses don’t share a lot of qualities in common with a lower-level, amateur-friendly mount, but 16-year-old Thoroughbred Jak My Style breaks the mold and happily takes his owner Kathleen Cuca around Beginner Novice when he isn’t helping his rider Buck Davidson tackle some of the biggest cross country courses in the world. Just a few months after competing at the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, “Jak” returned to competition at the Essex Horse Trials with owner Cuca in the irons to finish ninth in the Open Beginner Novice division.
“Last summer I told Buck that I wanted to gallop Jak, but he put the brakes on that,” Cuca jokingly reflected. “But he did let me take him on his trot sets and began teaching me on him. Then he thought it would be fun for Jak to do Beginner Novice with me because, eventually, when he is done at the upper levels he will be coming back to me hopefully to be my Training horse. Thankfully Buck is not mad at me because I ruined Jak’s record and got two rails in show jumping at Beginner Novice.”
Having grown up as a horse-crazy kid in the suburbs of Chicago, Cuca finally got the opportunity to pursue her passion as an adult after moving to Pennsylvania. One lesson a week turned to two, half-leasing a horse turned into buying her own horse, and then one day in 2015, she bought Jak.
“It was not my intent to become an upper-level owner, it just sort of happened,” Cuca shared. “One of the most meaningful congratulations I received when Jak finished at Kentucky this year was a text from a friend which read, ‘Congratulations. Not too many people know what it is like to have a five-star horse.’ It has been such an incredible journey with him, he is such an incredible horse.”
The Thoroughbred gelding has made appearances at many notable events including the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, Burghley, Fair Hill International, and Tryon International. He has several top-five finishes on his record in the past year including a fifth-place finish in the CCI4*-S at Stable View Spring in March of 2021, a fourth-place finish in the Advanced at Morven Park Fall International in October of 2020, and a blue ribbon performance in the Advanced at Chattahoochee Hills just before Kentucky this past April.
When she isn’t competing her 23-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Chequer at the Novice level, Cuca enjoys riding Jak and being involved in his training, even at some of the most highly competitive events in the country. “Buck is an amazing person and is so supportive. He loves having his owners involved with their horses. One of Errol Gobey’s owners, Lisa Darden, and I have started a little tradition where we hack our horses before cross-country day. So at Tryon, we hacked before cross-country and then I hacked Jak with one of Buck’s grooms at Kentucky which is just crazy if you think about it! He is five-star fit, but that horse is so smart. I do ride Jak when the Davidson’s are home for the summer and I have been pressing Buck to let me do more.”
With both Cuca and Jak’s future in mind, Davidson encouraged Cuca to enter the five-star horse in the Beginner Novice at the Essex Horse Trials in July of 2021. “What is most fascinating about Jak is how incredibly versatile he is,” shared Cuca, “how he can go from Kentucky to Beginner Novice and be fine. I know at Essex, Buck was just as nervous for me when I was going out on cross-country as I was for him going out at Kentucky, but the best compliment my husband gave me was that he wasn’t nervous at all. He knew that Buck would not have done anything to put me in danger and he trusted the horse and that just meant the world to me.”
Further showing off his versatility a month after competing with Cuca, Jak would go on to place third in the Advanced at Millbrook H.T. with Davidson. When Davidson's other mount, Errol Gobey, finished second, Cuca was called upon to ride Jak in the victory gallop. "It was seriously a once in a lifetime experience!"
While Jak My Style’s sights are currently set on the $60,000 Adequan® USEA Advanced Final at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds, Cuca and Davidson are trying to find a time between the AEC and the upcoming Maryland 5 Star where Cuca can take over the reins on Jak yet again for another Beginner Novice outing.
“Buck jokes that I am the one training him up and that I am the secret to why he is going so well, that I am sort of the behind-the-scenes trainer,” the proud owner reflected. “It has been a joy owning him and it has been even more incredible riding him.”
“The highest priority must be given by instructors to developing in their riders a correct, balanced, supple, effective, and independent seat for dressage and for jumping.” - “Teaching Principles” in the new ECP Eventing Handbook by the Levels
If you are on the fence about attending the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention this December 7-11 in Savannah, GA, the schedule of thought-provoking and insightful educational sessions planned for the event is sure to convince you to register today! To learn more about the various sessions and their hosts, click here.
This summer, five USEA Emerging Athlete 21 (EA21) Clinics took place across the country giving young riders the opportunity to hone in on their horsemanship skills, improve their consistency in the saddle and show ring, and create a pipeline for potential team riders by identifying and developing young talent. We caught up with many of the riders from the two West Coast sessions to hear their takes on the USEA’s newest program.
It’s about that time of year again when eventers across the country are packing their trunks and making arrangements to new locations for the winter months. While some owners might feel more comfortable transporting their own horses, time and resources make it more expedient for others to load their horses onto someone else’s rig for the potentially long journey to their winter quarters. For the safety and peace of mind of everyone involved – especially the equine passengers – two trusted shippers based on the east coast shared their tips for best practices when preparing horses for long trailer rides.