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September 3, 2009

Tokaruk Takes Control On The Gulf Coast Circuit

Michael Tokaruk is really making a name for himself on the grand prix circuit these days, particularly with his 13-year-old Holsteiner Lord Byron. They proved their speed and precision couldn’t be matched on Feb. 25 after topping the $25,000 EMO Grand Prix of the Gulf Coast National in Gulfport, Miss.

When “Lordy” stepped into the spacious grass arena at the Harrison County Equestrian Center, Tokaruk could tell he liked the extra breathing room. The initial class was 20 entries deep, and Tokaruk went 19th. “I got a great draw in the starting order,” said Tokaruk, who became the seventh and final returnee to the jump-off.

He watched rails fall during the initial trips in the jump-off, but, inevitably, clean trips began to stack and up with progressively faster times. Wilhelm Genn rode clear aboard Happy Z and defined 40.97 seconds as the time to beat.

But Tokaruk had already vowed to “go for it” and had a good feeling about that class. “My horse really likes the big open spaces and being able to have a gallop between the jumps,” said Tokaruk. “I knew that I could be tighter on the turns and just keep on the gallop between the jumps.”

Tokaruk confirmed his intuition when he and Lordy outran Genn and Happy Z and cashed in their clear round in 39.99 seconds for the blue ribbon.

“[Genn] is a first-class rider and gentleman with first-class horses. I never get tired of watching him ride, but it does get old watching him win grand prix [classes] all the time,” Tokaruk joked. “And it really means a lot more to me knowing there were good quality horses and riders in the field.”

Few other horses in the class featured a background as varied as Lord Byron’s. The dark bay gelding found U.S. soil after junior rider Ann Magnus and her father, Karl Magnus, imported the horse from Germany as a 5-year-old. Ann and Lordy trained with Dave Pellegrini at Spring Mill Farm in Eads, Tenn.—where Tokaruk would eventually ride and train professionally—and started showing in the children’s hunter division. Lordy eventually moved up to the equitation ranks and contested the junior hunters from the Pennsylvania National to Devon (Pa.).

Meanwhile, Tokaruk developed his junior career in New Jersey as a working student for Ken Berkley, Gary Zook and Scott Stewart. His next move was to the Netherlands where he was paid peanuts for a year working in horse sales. After returning to the States, Tokaruk spent two years at Drew University (N.J.) and moved on to graduate from George Washington University (D.C.) in 2003 with a political science degree. He became a full-time rider and trainer at Spring Mill that year and took Lord Byron under his wing with some initial direction from Pellegrini.

“We kind of decided the horse had too much jump for [Magnus]. She was smaller and he’s a big horse, and she was getting jumped out of the saddle a lot,” Tokaruk explained. “So we decided to make him a jumper. It just so happened that I was able to buy him.”

When Tokaruk took the reins, he pointed Lordy at bigger jumps to see what he could do. After some work, they developed a chemistry and the ribbons poured in. Of 30 grand prix classes they’ve started, Tokaruk estimated Lord Byron has claimed ribbons in at least 25, three of which are blue.

“It took a little while for him to develop, and I think the smaller hunter and equitation classes just helped him gain more confidence and become more rideable,” said Tokaruk. “I was able to just take that foundation and roll onward and upward with it.”

Tokaruk has high hopes for the careful gelding and looks forward to contesting World Cup qualifiers when Lordy feels ready. But first, his attention is on opening his own Tokaruk Show Stables, along with brother Luke Tokaruk, in Aiken, S.C., this April.

“I’m really excited about it, but it’ll be a little sad to leave behind all of the great people and horses at Spring Mill. And I can’t say enough good things about Dave Pellegrini and all the great things he’s done for me in this early part of my career,” Tokaruk said.

A Colorful Couple Of Weeks
Alaina, a 13-year-old, Holsteiner mare, enjoyed a colorful week in Gulfport during the Gulf Coast National II, Feb. 21-25. Professional rider and trainer Russell Frey first took her reins and found the tricolor in the regular working hunter division. Shortly after, Alaina’s owner, Bailey Anderson, topped the large junior hunter, 16-17, division and the NHJL Junior Hunter Classic where they posted an impressive 94-point second round.

It wasn’t apparent, however, that those regular hunter classes marked Alaina’s first experience over 4-foot fences. She showed no sign of hesitation or shaky nerves, Frey said. “She seemed to just march right into the ring and handle all the heights quite easily. She’s a beautiful mover to begin with, and she really likes to jump up and around each jump,” he added.

For Frey, Argyle, Texas, Alaina’s careful and clean style in the air, a large stride and plenty of scope make her a standout and pleasure to ride. And even though “the first day she was a little suspicious of something outside the ring,” Frey admitted, “part of her spook is what makes her jump so well.”

Frey first took Alaina’s reins in March 2006 when Bailey and her sister Ashley Anderson began training with him. The Anderson sisters, Dallas, Texas, collected many junior hunter championships throughout the year, including multiple victories during last year’s Gulf Coast series (Fla.) and the first week of this year’s circuit.

“Since indoors, [Alaina] has been champion at the last seven shows she’s done, so I think the communication is there and we both understand the horse fairly well. The biggest transition in ride between Bailey and me is probably the weight. She weighs a whole lot less than I do,” Frey said laughing.
The Andersons’ previous trainers, Jim and Joan Hensen, originally found and started Alaina three years ago as well as Ashley’s champion mount, Nantucket in 2005.

To keep pace with her sister during the second week of Gulf Coast, Ashley earned the tricolor in the large junior, 15 and under, division with Nantucket, while Frey and the gelding took reserve honors in the second year green division. Like Alaina, Frey said Nantucket rarely needs much schooling, even at 7 years old.

“Nantucket could care less about getting in the ring and seeing the jumps [before a class],” said Frey. “Since he was an orphan as a foal, I think that gave him a bit of ‘moxy,’ and he thinks he’s pretty invincible.”

The Hanoverian-Thoroughbred was Ashley’s first partner over 3'6" fences “and she has a lot of faith and trust in him,” Frey added.

Fences at 3'6" are fairly new to 23-year-old Christina Gaither and Tenacious as well. They just ascended from the adult amateur division to the amateur-owner, 18-35, division this year. The team merited the division’s tricolor in Gulfport for the second consecutive week after earning blue ribbons in every over fences class and placing second in the under saddle.

The pair also added a red ribbon from the second week’s NHJL Amateur-Owner Hunter Classic to their blue ribbon from the same classic and tricolors in the first year green division under rider Keith Hastings in Gulf Coast Premier I, Feb. 14-18.

Gaither, Durham, N.C., bought Tenacious last March through Debbie Connor Lopez. “I was really excited when I saw him because he was such a good jumper. That really sealed the deal for me,” she recalled. “He’s very smooth and quick and good with his legs. I knew that he would be able to do the amateurs for me, and that’s what I was looking for.”

Though Tenacious is Gaither’s only amateur hunter at the moment, her mother Shirley Gaither has bred other champion horses for her before. Kestrel and Notoriety—who have continued successful careers in junior hunter and equitation rings—are two who Christina successfully showed through juniors.

Gaither plans to continue building a rapport with Tenacious in the amateur ring while Hastings will show him in the professional divisions.

“He’s still a little bit green, but he’s quickly figuring it out and getting easier and easier every time we go. I’m looking forward to keeping and showing him for many years,” Gaither said. “I think we make a pretty good team, and I feel very fortunate that I’ve got such a nice horse to ride.”

Dedication Runs In The Family
Chasen Boggio normally maintains a full plate wherever he shows. The Gulf Coast Premier and National were no exceptions as he showed entries in the medium and large pony divisions, children’s jumpers and the equitation classes. But after all the hard work, one pony named A Hoof And A Prayer stood out. Together they won five titles in two weeks, including double championships in the large pony hunters and NHJL Large Pony Classic.

The key factor for Boggio is the pony’s confidence and presence. “He really trusts me, and we have a really great partnership,” Boggio said. “He’s got a great rhythm and a great jump and is really just an all around wonderful pony. My personal favorite thing about him would have to be the presence he carries. He knows he’s great and knows he can win.”

Boggio, 14, had trained with Christina Schlusemeyer and Heather Tinney for nearly three years. Schlusemeyer initially worked with A Hoof And A Prayer before suggesting Boggio take the 8-year-old, Virginia-bred Welsh pony’s potential and run.

Boggio said that attending Veritas Classical School in Alpharetta, Ga., offered a real advantage “because they’ve been great and very supportive with all of my riding and are really flexible about it. They never give me grief about missing classes,” he added lightheartedly.

So Boggio started riding A Hoof And A Prayer last September, just after the USEF Pony Finals (Ky.). “What stood out most to me were his big slow stride, wonderful jump and beautiful conformation. The previous ponies I’ve had all have their special something, but he’s just all around great,” he said.

Alexa Boggio, Chasen’s younger and equally dedicated sister who co-owns A Hoof And A Prayer, added to the family ribbon count with the NHJL Medium Pony Classic blue and medium pony hunter reserve championship during the circuit’s second week aboard her own 12-year-old gray, Blueprint.

While Chasen plans to continue riding A Hoof And A Prayer through this year’s Pony Finals, he predicts Alexa will next benefit from the hand-me-down and also enjoy a rewarding career in the large pony hunters.

Back On Track
“We’re finally clicking again,” Margaret Camp said of her cherished 17.2-hand bay, The Chairman, after winning the NHJL Amateur Hunter Classic. Their 81⁄2-year partnership has seen some rocky roads, but Camp foresees this year, her last year in the amateur owner, 18-35, division, being their “year to rock the show world.”

Camp, 35, found The Chairman (by Alla Czar) while training with Otis Brown in Nashville, Tenn. A client of Brown's showed the Dutch Warmblood-Thoroughbred in a regional 3-year-old futurity class. Camp bought him shortly after and continued showing him in 4-year-old futurity classes before moving to Birmingham, Ala., to ride with her childhood trainer, Dennis Murphy.

“He’s got a lot of personality, and he knows he’s beautiful. He can be very arrogant that way,” Camp said with a laugh.

“Last week he felt as good as he’s ever felt,” she added. “He walked right in the ring, and I didn’t even have to work him very hard. All of his gears were working. If I asked him to wait, he waited. If I asked him to move up, he moved up.”

Their first round in the classic scored 81. The Chairman improved in the following round, earning an 86 as the second to go, and Camp had the rest of the class to wait. “As I watched everyone else, they made little mistakes here and there and we inched our way up to win. I was actually very surprised because there were a lot of good amateurs there,” Camp said.

But past show seasons haven’t always been so perfect. “We haven’t really had a full show year the last few years,” Camp said. “He had colic surgery two years ago and had to have hoof surgery last year. He’s kind of accident prone, but all in all he’s been such a nice horse to ride.”

During the week, Camp organizes charity events, including a polo match to benefit child abuse prevention through the Children’s Hospital, and a golf tournament in memory of a friend who passed away from cancer.

But even with such a full plate, she has a big goal for the future with The Chairman. “Maybe this summer he can jump the four-foot fences. I’ve always wanted to do that,” said Camp. “He’s a wonderful horse, and he’s my best friend. And he’s the only one I have, so we have to stick together.”


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