Apr 20, 2024

Klugman's Returning to Kentucky on a Special Mare

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photos

Ema Klugman completed a fairy tale story in 2021 at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event when she made her five-star debut with the Thoroughbred/Saddlebred cross Bendigo, who she came up the levels with from Pony Club to Advanced.

As "Ben" was heading into the later years of his career with Klugman, she purchased Bronte Beach, a Zangersheide mare (Verdi TN x Dalphine), in 2017 as a 5-year-old to follow in his footsteps.

“Bronte,” now 12, has since completed four CCI4*-Ls with Klugman, and she’s fulfilled the hope Klugman had for her from the start. She's set to make her five-star debut next week at Kentucky.

“[Bronte] couldn't be more different from [Ben,] for sure,” said Klugman, 26. “She's a big, big moving, big scope, exuberant horse with a lot to manage, and he was kind of a short-striding fairly nervous, inwardly-looking, kind of stressed out horse in a lot of ways. She just she thinks she's the queen of the universe whenever she walks onto a property! But I was able to bring her along well because I had so much experience from him. She's just gone from strength to strength.”

From the minute Klugman first sat on her in show jumper Penny Cornish’s yard in England seven years ago, she knew Bronte was talented.

She was looking at another horse, and when that one wasn’t suitable, she tried the “raw, leggy, and a bit wild” Bronte. The mare had a lot of power, exuberance, and self-confidence.

Klugman’s late coach Packy McGaughan and her mentor Marilyn Little were on board immediately after seeing a video.

Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach in their final Kentucky prep run at Stable View.

“She’s a big horse, so it's been a lot of slow producing her and getting her strong and understanding the job and just getting her organized,” said Klugman. “She's a big horse, and she's quite exuberant. Keeping her together and all the legs going in one direction, at least when she was a young horse, was a bit of a challenge, but she's been wonderful horse for me. I won my first FEI event on her a couple of years ago at a three-star. And she’s just really fun. I think one of the cool things about the mare is that she has so much raw talent and potential. I think we're really just still scratching the surface with that, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly how to get exactly the right pieces in place to, to get as much out of her as I can. She has a ton of ability, which is just a really nice thing to know when you're going into a five-star. I would jump a house on that horse. I just know, she has the ability to do it.”

Klugman made sure to expose Bronte to every venue she could as she moved up the international levels and counts the Morven Park CCI4*-L (Leesburg, Virginia) in 2022, where they finished seventh, as a moment where she knew she had a potential five-star horse on her hands.

“She's just always been super honest,” she said. “Even if she's gotten a little tired or whatever, she always keeps jumping. I just trust her. And you develop that when you've had them since they're young—not that we haven't had a couple of bubbles here and there. I fell off the horse at her first event! I'm hoping that we can draw on that experience together and help each other out, because I may not be perfect in one way or another, and she might not be perfect either. If we just pick up our own end of the deal, we should be able to make it work.”

Klugman is filled with confidence as she heads to Kentucky, in part because of what Bendigo taught her. He was retired from the upper levels later in 2021 (they started the Maryland 5 Star that year, but Klugman retired on cross-country) and went on to become a schoolmaster for other riders before his unexpected passing in January of this year due to complications from colic surgery.

“The main thing he taught me when I did it was I could do it, because I didn't know if I was a five-star rider,” she said. “I didn't know if I was capable of being that accurate and being that brave and being able to ride really well on the day, which is what you have to do. He was also amazing at Kentucky on cross-country day. I rode well, and I had a good plan, and I stuck to it. And he rewarded me by doing it really well. I think he gave me a lot of self-belief, which is something you need. You have to approach everything with caution and skepticism. But you also need to have the ability to think you can do it because if you're doubting your own ability, then the horse is going to think, why are you doubting yourself?”

She’s hopeful she can gain much more experience at Kentucky and keep a cool head under the pressure of a five-star event, which Bendigo needed from her, in front of crowds and atmosphere that’s much bigger than Bronte’s ever felt before.

Ema Klugman and Bronte Beach jumped around the Advanced at the Carolina International in March.

Klugman, Clarksburg, Maryland, will be one of two riders competing for Australia at Kentucky (the other is California-based Bec Braitling). Her longtime coach McGaughan died unexpectedly in 2020, but she’s continued to look to Little for remote coaching, advice, and mentorship, and she’ll be on hand in Kentucky. Her partner, Meg Goodale, who’s a small animal vet, will come as her groom.

She’s also got a huge group of syndicate owners behind her, many of whom will make the trip to the event. “One thing that really was life changing and allowed me to keep the ride on the horse was that we syndicated her, and we started that process three years ago,” she said. “She’s now owned by 42 women who are really amazing group of people.

In addition to keeping Bronte going, Klugman has two other Advanced horses, Team Fern’s RF Redfern, an 11-year-old U.S.-bred Westphalian mare (Any Given Sundy x Zsa Zsa), and Nicholas Cardamone’s Slieve Callan Alpha, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Porsch x GI Miz Minx), as well as some younger horses to keep her busy.

She’s also in her final year of law school at George Washington University in Washington D.C., where she commutes a few times a week in addition to online classes. She’ll graduate in May, with final exams happening the week after Kentucky.

“Unfortunately, I have exams the week after Kentucky including on Monday, which is kind of not going to be super fun,” she said. “But at least I don't have them the actual week in Kentucky because that would really be hard! Like anything you kind of make it work even though it seems a bit impossible. I'll be happy when that's all wrapped up, and I have that degree all done. For the most part we've made it work, sometimes to the detriment of getting enough sleep, but that's okay!”

In September, she’ll start a clerkship job for a judge in D.C., which will change her life considerably, but she’s looking ahead to starting her career, even if it means getting up before dawn or riding in the dark at night to keep her horses going.

But next week, she’ll have all her focus on Bronte and ticking off her second five-star completion.

“She's been quite a reliable horse, particularly in the cross country,” she said. “I tend to think that's my best phase too. It’s a big test at Kentucky, so I'm hoping that we can cross that one off the list and then go to a bunch of five-stars and see what she can do.”

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