Devon, Pa.—June 1
Becky Gochman is no stranger to winning at the Devon Horse Show, and while a new championship is no less exciting than those that came before it, she likes to share the love a little bit. After each rosette was placed on Catch Me’s bridle, Gochman would walk over to the spectators lining the Dixon Oval and hand over her latest prize to an eager fan.
“The Devon Horse Show is so fun because you have so many different kinds of spectators, from young to retired people. And I feel like they love the Devon Horse Show—horse people, non-horse people [alike]—and to be able to bring a smile to any of those people’s faces and give them a connection to the horses here, it’s pure joy to me. I’d much rather give it to them than have it in my trophy room.”
So she kept nothing she won with the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Casiro—Wonne I) Catch Me. Not her amateur-owner hunter, 36 and over, tricolor, not the grand amateur-owner hunter ribbon, nor her leading amateur-owner rider ribbon. Even the silver plates were passed over the rail. There was just one thing she kept, the Sambalino Award, a trophy she donated in the memory of her former amateur-owner hunter Sambalino, who died in 2014. The trophy is given to the horse the judges feel best exemplifies the ideal amateur-owner hunter.
“I think I gave away all my ribbons and trophies from this event, but the one I kept was the one that said Sambalino on it because I still believe Sambalino was my soulmate,” said Gochman. “He was very special to me in every way. I never thought I would get another horse of that caliber. Catch Me is that horse, and part of me always thanks Sambalino for that. I think he’s there in my heart, and he’s helping me every bit of the way.”
Doing It For Jamie
Stephanie Danhakl had someone very special in mind as she went in the Dixon Oval to pick up her 3’3″ amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, and grand 3’3″ amateur-owner hunter championships with Enough Said. Three years ago, Jamie Ciesluk, who is the son of Nancy Ciesluk, one of Danhakl’s trainers, lost his battle with cancer. Today happens to be Jamie’s birthday, so Danhakl dedicated her win to him.
“It’s very special for me to win here today for Nancy and for Jamie, who was a great horseman and horse lover, and I’m just really happy that we can honor his memory and that Nancy’s here with me this week,” said Danhakl, 32.
With a pair of blue and red ribbons, “Contest,” a 13-year-old warmblood of unrecorded breeding, earned his fifth consecutive Devon tricolor.
“He always rises to the occasion,” said Danhakl. “He’s such a consistent horse. He loves his job. He always gives 100 percent and is with me all the way, every stride, so I’m extremely lucky to have him. It’s really nice that even as he’s getting older, it still feels like he feels really healthy and energetic and excited to be here. I really couldn’t be happier with him.”
Contest lives with Danhakl’s other trainers, Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley, at Rivers Edge in Flemington, New Jersey. They help keep him going while Danhakl, who lives in Boston, works on her dissertation for her Ph.D. in art history and takes lessons with Nancy during the week.
“As often as I can I make it down to New Jersey to ride my horses with Scott,” she said. “Usually before big competitions I’ll go down maybe a week or two early and try to ride consistently and just get back in the groove with my horses, so I was able to do that this year. It’s nice because I’m working on my dissertation now, which is a big research and writing project, so I can work from anywhere, so my schedule is a little more flexible.”
Luczak-Smith Never Imagined A Devon Championship
Just last night Missy Luczak-Smith was telling Martha Ingram that it might be her last trip to Devon with Askaro. The 16-year-old warmblood by Rokari is getting a bit older, and she’d promised him that he’d have a lighter workload starting this season, so it was unlikely that she’d have enough points to come back to the historic horse show.
But Ingram knew there was one way to ensure Askaro would make a return appearance: the division championship.
“I never thought we’d be able to be champion and get to come back next year,” said Luczak-Smith. “It never even occurred to me. And Martha said, ‘I know; I thought that last night when you said that—I thought you might be able to be champion and get to come back, but I didn’t say it because I didn’t want to jinx you.’ So it’s crazy. I’m standing here, and I can’t believe it.”
But a first, second and third over fences were enough to boost the pair to the 3’3″ amateur-owner hunter division championship over Margot Peroni and Orlon.
“This a moment of a lifetime,” said Luczak-Smith, 52. “I’ve been lucky enough to be reserve twice but never champion. It’s such an amazing horse show with so much history and tradition, and it’s just a real honor and a thrill to be here. He’s definitely a horse of a lifetime. He gives me 100 percent, and I feel so blessed. I stayed out of his way, and it went so well! To be champion here, it’s such an honor. It’s an amazing moment.”
Luczak-Smith has owned Askaro since the end of 2014, and she keeps him at home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and trains with Karen Kelley.
“It’s a lot of work, but I feel like I know him inside and out all because I spend just about every day with him,” she said. “I do everything at home for him, and I feel like when we go in the ring, because of that, I know him inside and out, and he knows me. If I’m a little tentative, he knows when to step it up. If he’s a little tentative or seems a little spooky, I know when to hold his hand.
“Part of that is because we spend every day together whether we want to or not, doing everything from the privilege of being champion here to giving him a bath at home, cleaning out his stall here at the horse show, the good, the bad, the fun, the ugly, the rewards, everything. We kind of do it together. I just feel really lucky,” she said.
Busy, Busy, Busy
Lindsay Maxwell barely had a moment to breathe this morning at Devon. With the amateur-owner hunters, 18-35, running concurrently with the 3’3″ amateur-owner hunters, 18-35, in the other ring, as soon as she got off one horse, it was straight back into the ring on her next horse.
Despite the hectic schedule, Maxwell pulled off a pair of tricolors. She rode High Society to the championship in the 3’6″ division, and Belgravia took reserve at 3’3″.
“[I’m] little exhausted,” the Beverly Hills, California, native admitted. “I wish I had another minute to enjoy that over there, but very excited, really thrilled with my horse and happy with how all of my horses have gone this weekend. It’s been a great weekend.”
She’s owned High Society, a 10-year-old Oldenburg (Diarado—Chance For Ever) known as “Blue” in the barn, for just over a year, and this was the gelding’s first trip to Devon.
“He really stepped up,” said Maxwell, 30. “The Dixon Oval is such an incredible atmosphere, and it really gets the horses—they can feel that it’s an important show when we’re out there‚ so he knew from the first class that we walked in that it was time to buckle down and do his job well. He’s a horse I can always rely on. He’s the same every time he comes out, so I was really excited to get to show him this year.”
Maxwell began delving into the jumper ring this March with Laura Kraut guiding her. While she rides with Don Stewart and Geoffrey Hesslink in the hunters, she feels Kraut’s jumper training has really paid off.
“It’s funny actually; Laura Kraut was watching me, and I saw her this morning, and I said, ‘For this handy I’ve got to practice all the things that I’ve been practicing for jump-offs,’ so I definitely think that helped,” she said. “I think it makes me less intimidated about the jumps coming up quickly and being a little tidy and handy and leaving out strides—that kind of thing, so I definitely think that’s helped.”
The Chronicle will be on site all week bringing you beautiful photos, daily reports and more. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the June 17 issue for more in-depth stories from the winners.