Long trips have paid off for young eventer Madison Langerak. Two years ago, on a family vacation in Hungary, she fit in a horse shopping trip and found the Hungarian Sport Horse Normandy’s Kivalo. He was a very green 5-year-old, but Langerak saw potential that’s proven true. After another long trip, this time from her Boise, Idaho home to Woodside, California, Langerak and Kivalo topped a strong field of 27 contenders in the Preliminary Challenge’s rider division after dressage.
Langerak has targeted the Spring Event’s Preliminary Challenge for some time. Previous horses had not had quite the right stuff for this stepping stone to international competition. “I’ve always looked at it as a milestone and to start this well is special because I’ve produced him through the levels myself.” She attributes their steady ascent together to Kivalo being “smart, willing, and loving his job.”
Saturday’s Bert Wood-designed Preliminary cross-country track walks as the perfect combination of technical and big, Langerak explains. They’ve done well with big and technical separately this year, and now she hopes to put the two together effectively. If they remain in a top spot for Saturday night’s show jumping showdown, under the lights and with a big crowd cheering, Langerak hopes the jazzed-up environment won’t jangle her nerves. She’s confident of how Kivalo will respond. “I think that will spice him up. He’s a little on the lazy side, but he loves to perform.”
Langerak and Kivalo’s 29.40 dressage score led the pack in the competition that has catapulted many careers. Maya Clarkson and Sweep’s Crystal Cruise are second with a 31.60 and Meg Pellegrini and RF Eloquence enter Saturday morning’s cross-country sitting third on a 33.
Familiar professionals dominated dressage in the Preliminary Challenge Horse division. Tamie Smith and Elliot-V are in the lead on a 27.10, Bec Braitling and Penhill Celtic are close behind on a 27.90 and Lauren Billys and Can Be Sweet are third on a 30.90 score.
Now marking its 11th year, the Preliminary Challenge celebrates and incentivizes horses and riders preparing for the international divisions. Cash and prizes total $15,000 in each division and the show jumping finale features an electric atmosphere in which the top 10 pairs jump in reverse order of their standings. It’s a great test for horses and riders and has become the social event of the season for spectators.
Intro through Advanced competition got the Memorial Day weekend off to a busy start as 450 horse/rider pairs filled six dressage rings at The Horse Park at Woodside. The Preliminary Challenge wraps up on “Super Saturday” with cross-country in the morning and stadium jumping at night, while all other divisions continue through Sunday, May 26.
Two amateurs topped the standings after dressage in the Advanced division. Familiar Frankie Thieriot-Stutes and Chatwin lead the way on a 27.30 score from judges Valerie Crail and David Schmutz. Hilary Burkemper and her gorgeous gray Undercover are second on a 32.50, with Sara Selmer and PDQ Leigh in third on a 33.80.
An attorney who lives in Santa Barbara, Burkemper is thrilled with “Ace’s” dressage test. It’s the latest in many milestones over the last year since Burkemper started working with hunter/jumper coach Kristin Harden and eventing trainer Erin Kellerhouse. She describes both as “the greatest,” and credits them with restoring her own and Ace’s confidence in the sport. Ace lives with Erin in Temecula and Burkemper keeps her riding sharp with a 5-year-old at home in Santa Barbara. She misses her Ace, so named “because he aces everything”-- but their 6-year partnership before that and Erin’s horsemanship make it work. It’s an unusual arrangement for an Advanced pair, Burkemper confirms, but it works. “Ace is happy and well taken care of and it’s thrilling to see your horse that way.”
As for Saturday’s cross-country, “Woodside is always challenging,” Burkemper says. “But it’s a fun challenge. It’s not dangerous or intimidating but you have to take notice. There’s a lot of downhill terrain. I think it’s the most challenging course in California.”
Along with continued top flight competition and the Preliminary Challenge dinner gala, “Super Saturday,” May 25, encourages new fans to come out and enjoy the sport. A VIP tent on cross-country offers up-close action of the Lake Shanahan water complex and U.S. Eventing Association CEO Rob Burk will be giving a 4:00 p.m. talk geared toward newcomers. The United States Pony Club has a booth all weekend with members happy to answer questions about the sport.
"No matter how old you are, be open to all disciplines, learn how to ride a dressage horse, a gaited horse, a show jumper. Go fox hunting and point-to-pointing and horse showing. You’ll learn from all of them and when you do decide which discipline you want to do, you’ll be better at it anyway.”
The University of Findlay’s Three-Day Eventing Team was established in 2013, the same year USEA voted and approved the USEA intercollegiate program. The UF team has over 30 members encompassing a variety of majors at the university. The team has access to two indoor arenas, a large outdoor arena, and 70 acres of on-site cross-country fences.
Bellamy, an Oldenburg/Thoroughbred gelding of unknown breeding, came to Tamra Smith’s farm in Southern California with his mane half-way down his neck and filled with burrs. Bellamy had been sitting in a field for a little over a year after unseating several riders in a row and Smith, known for being good with tricky horses, agreed to take him on.