Waredaca in Laytonsville, Maryland hosted this year’s only USEA Classic Series Three-Day Event on October 22-25, 2020, offering Training Three-Day and Novice Three-Day divisions. The event drew a total of 45 entries – 18 in the Training Three-Day and 27 in the Novice Three-Day. Both divisions were led wire-to-wire by the ultimate winners – Ema Klugman and RF Redfern in the Training Three-Day and Jamie Leuenberger and Flight of Fancy in the Novice Three-Day.
Klugman and Jeni Klugman’s 7-year-old Westphalian mare RF Redfern (Any Given Sunday x Zsa Zsa) scored a 26.6 in the dressage phase to take the early lead in the Training Three-Day and were fault-free on endurance day and in the final show jumping phase to take home the win. “‘Fern’ is a young horse that I have been partnered with for about six months,” said Klugman. “Marilyn Little, whom I worked for as a rider last winter, saw her at a jumper show in Florida where we were competing at the time. Marilyn has an amazing eye for a horse; to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Fern at first and thought she looked and felt rather ordinary. But Marilyn has a way of seeing what’s underneath the raw material of a horse and imagining what it can be. I am so glad she encouraged me to purchase Fern . . . I think she has won the last five events she’s done, almost every time leading from the dressage phase. She hasn’t had a rail down all year and is a real trier. In the barn, she’s very sweet and enjoys a cuddle. But once you get on and get to the show, she’s a real professional and all business.”
2020 has been a strange year for everyone, and it was no different for Klugman. She didn’t want to rush the young mare to an FEI event at the end of the year with less than six months of competitive experience, so she selected the Training Three-Day instead. “Waredaca’s Training Three-Day is just down the road from me, yet I’ve never done it,” she admitted. “For once I had a horse at that level and it fit into her schedule. The other incentive was the ‘Road to the Three-Day Challenge’ that Chris Donovan organized. If you competed in four events in the lead-up to the three-day, plus the three-day itself, you could accumulate points to win free entries for those four events in 2021 (which is a fabulous prize!) And, to be honest, I thought it would be really good to have the three-day to work towards, so I got Fern nice and fit. She’s a Westphalian and I’ve mostly competed more Thoroughbred type horses at the upper levels, so I thought it was important to put a good base of fitness on her this year.”
One of the appeals of the Training Three-Day was how it felt like a “mini FEI event,” Klugman shared. “Fern had to learn how to trot up, how to show on consecutive days, and how to show jump on the final day after quite a big test of roads and tracks and cross-country. This was hugely beneficial for her education. When she goes to FEI events next year, it should feel familiar to her.”
Klugman describes Fern as quite a careful horse, who took a moment to understand cross-country, but who has become stronger as she has developed a relationship of trust with her rider. At times, Klugman said, Fern’s careful nature make her jump a little too high in the cross-country phase. “However, I felt that after doing about 40 minutes of trotting and over two minutes of galloping steeplechase jumps, she was really in front of my leg and taking me easily to the fences once I started phase D. She finished up more confident than she has ever been. I feel that she’s now ready to move up to the Preliminary level next spring.”
The camaraderie that the competitors shared with one other was one of the highlights of the weekend for Klugman. “[I was out] on phase A trotting through the beautiful forest with the autumn colors. My horse was happy and relaxed, and we could just enjoy our time together. Every few minutes another rider passed me coming back the other way on phase C. We would say hello and cheer each other on. This camaraderie was evident throughout the competition and made the whole experience really fun.”
“Put it on your calendar next year!” was Klugman’s first piece of advice for anyone considering a USEA Classic Series Three-Day. “What an absolutely cool experience it was. I’d encourage young riders, amateurs, and professionals to enter. It’s beneficial for both riders and horses. Set it as a goal, and then work backward about three or four months to figure out a good fitness plan for your horse. Waredaca has excellent resources available on their website.”
“The other thing to remember is that it’s a competition, but it’s also designed to be an educational week,” she continued. “At least half the competitors last week, including me, had never done a long format event before. All the organizers and clinicians know that, and they are there to help you have a good time. Their goal is to get everyone across the finish line. I felt like I had very little idea what I was doing when I arrived on Wednesday, despite having competed in several four-stars. The long format is just different from any other event, particularly on Saturday (endurance day). By Friday afternoon, I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. They did a really good job of educating the riders.”
Leuenberger and Flight of Fancy (Mystic Replica x Olivia), Chrissa Kowalski’s 10-year-old KWPN mare, carried their winning dressage score of 27.7 forward through the jumping phases to clinch the win in the Novice Three-Day. In fact, this is not Leuenberger’s first win in the Waredaca Novice Three-Day, as she won the same division in 2017. Leuenberger grew up riding in the hunters but made the switch to eventing eight years ago. “I truly fell in love with the sport and decided to try and make a career of it,” she shared. “I now have a Thoroughbred who I have brought up to Preliminary and who I hope will take me further in addition to a couple of horses belonging to clients.”
One of those client horses is Flight of Fancy, aka “Fiona,” owned by Leuenberger’s friend Chrissa Kowalski. “I first met Fiona when she was 4 years old and had the opportunity to ride her a little bit back then,” Leuenberger shared. “A change in Chrissa's circumstances resulted in them moving to another barn for a few years until this spring when Fiona came back to me for training.”
Leuenberger describes Fiona as a very smart mare that’s a bit of a perfectionist. “Fiona is a joy to ride because she always gives everything she has, but she can be a bit tricky because she is a bit of a perfectionist and can be very emotional,” Leuenberger explained. “If she makes a mistake, she gets very upset about it. While she came to me with a solid dressage foundation, she had very little jumping experience. This was Fiona's first season of eventing. She has only been jumping consistently since February and back then it was a real struggle to get her over even the tiniest of cross-rails. Chrissa and I knew that once she understood the game of jumping she would love it, but anytime we had an awkward jump Fiona would act as though it was the end of the world. Once she did figure it out, she really did love to jump but there was a catch – she only wanted to do it her way, which was at high speed and leaping the fences from a long way off!”
“She really peaked at just the right time for the three-day,” she continued. “It has been so rewarding to bring her along this year because she is such a special horse and we really understand each other. Chrissa has really stood by this mare through everything and has always believed in her. It was so special to be able to win this with Fiona. I always knew she was special and now she's finally getting a chance to show the world just how special she is!”
Leuenberger explained that when she sat down to plan out Fiona’s season, the Novice Three-Day wasn’t even on the radar. “Because of how inexperienced she was, we were just taking things show by show and trying not to get hung up on big goals,” she said. “At her first recognized event, we did Beginner Novice and finished second. After that, I chose to step up to Novice because she had gone so well at Beginner Novice. I was planning on taking another horse to the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) so I figured if she could complete two more horse trials successfully, she could come along and do the Beginner Novice at AEC. When the AEC was canceled, I started to think about another fun event we could do instead. I had previously competed in the USEA Classic Series Three-Day at Waredaca in 2013, 2017, and 2018 and I have always had such an amazing experience there no matter what the scoreboard said. At that point, Chrissa and I discussed it and decided to plan on going to Waredaca if they decided to run it. I also felt that it would be a perfect event for Fiona. Her confidence can be a bit fragile and nothing gets the horses focused and thinking forward like the three-day. I hoped it would give her a better understanding of the sport and build her confidence.”
Her hopes paid off, as she said that “Fiona came out of the event a better horse than she was when she started. The steeplechase really got her thinking forward and jumping out of stride and it took the edge off before starting phase D. That was probably the most focused and rideable she has been on the cross-country. I was also really proud of how she handled the course because it was definitely the most challenging she had ever seen. Maybe the best part of all is that she came out ready to go for show jumping on the last day and jumped very carefully in what is usually one of her weaker phases. I think she took a huge step forward in understanding what her job is in the jumping phases so I am excited to see how she comes out next year.”
For Leuenberger, her favorite part of riding in a Classic Series three-day event is steeplechase. “It's such an amazing feeling to let the horses gallop on a bit more and catch such nice forgiving brush fences out of stride and it sets them up to be incredibly bold for phase D,” she observed. “Plus, I feel that the three-day really showcases the sense of community in eventing. Every time I do a three-day I meet new wonderful people and remember just how amazing and supportive the eventing community can be. As long as I have a horse going at an appropriate level to participate in the three-day it will be on my schedule – it is definitely one of the highlights of the year every time I'm there!”
“For people considering a long format, I would say don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and give it a try,” Leuenberger advised. “There are tons of good resources out there on proper preparation and what to expect. Plus, don't be afraid to ask around and find another rider who has done it before to help you!”
Both Klugman and Leuenberger expressed their gratitude to Waredaca organizer Gretchen Butts and her team of staff and volunteers for their excellent work putting on the event. “I would just like to thank all of the volunteers and organizers at Waredaca for putting on such a wonderful event even in the era of COVID-19,” Leuenberger said. “These are not easy events to organize and run smoothly even in the best of times and I really appreciate all of the effort that goes into making this event a wonderful experience year after year.”
Klugman agreed, “I’d just like to extend a big thank you to Gretchen Butts and the whole team at Waredaca. They really forged ahead in a difficult year—they didn’t even know if this could run until September! Gretchen is an extremely busy person, from running her farm to organizing the horse trials to being an FEI judge. She deserves a lot of praise for all she does for our sport.”
Full results from the Waredaca Classic Series Three-Day can be found here.
The USEA Classic Series keeps the spirit of the classic long format three-day events alive for Beginner Novice through the Preliminary levels. Competitors can experience the rush of endurance day, including roads and tracks, steeplechase, the vet box, and cross-country, as well as participate in formal veterinary inspections and educational activities with experts on the ins and outs of competing in a long format three-day event. Riders who compete in a USEA Classic Series event during the year will have the chance to win a variety of prizes at the events from USEA sponsors. Click here to learn more about the USEA Classic Series.
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