“I never in my wildest dreams imagined we’d be doing this with Emma,” Kris Kurtz said as we stood around the in-gate chatting after her daughter, Emma, had picked up her second Pennsylvania National junior hunter championship.
“We are so incredibly appreciative,” Kris continued. Kris and Emma actually teared up a little as they discussed the opportunities Emma’s been given in the horse show world. You see, the Kurtzes aren’t the type of family who keeps a string of hunters and equitation horses for Emma, 14, to ride and show. Emma just catch-rides, but she’s turned into quite a force in the junior ranks even without a horse of her own.
In fact, Emma rode not only to two junior hunter championships at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, but also to the blue in the Junior Hunter Winner’s Stake.
Emma’s small junior hunter, 15 and under, title and the win in the winner’s stake came aboard Kahlua, an 8-year-old mare who was showing in the jumper ring in March and had never shown indoors before. “She’s come along so fast. She’s a quick study. Her canter is amazing. The rhythm is so smooth,” Emma said.
Emma got Kahlua going—and winning—in the hunter ring over the summer, and in August the bay mare sold to Isabelle Aldridge, who showed her once in the children’s division in September. Aldridge asked Emma to take the reins back for indoors.
Emma’s large junior hunter, 15 and under, champion, Fredrick, is also a temporary catch ride. Becky Gochman bought him for her daughters to show, but at 16.3 hands, he’s still a bit big for the Gochman girls, who are still on ponies. “He’s really big! So I’m just riding him until they’re ready for him,” Emma said. “He’s amazing. He has the biggest stride, and he’s so smooth. Sometimes he can be a little impressed, but he was great here. He’s one of my favorites.”
Emma has ridden horses and ponies for Ken Berkley and Scott Stewart, Betsee Parker, and the Gochman family; she’ll show in the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals in a few days on a horse Stewart lent her. “Everyone’s support is the only reason I am where I am today,” Emma said.
Emma trains with Amanda Lyerly and Michael Rheinheimer at their Madison Hills Farm in Gates Mills, Ohio. Lyerly was on crutches at the Pennsylvania National after a fall in August that broke her hip and resulted in her losing some intestines, so Rheinheimer was doing the heavy lifting of training Emma. “He’s always behind the scenes, and he never gets the credit, but he does so much and is our secret weapon,” Lyerly said.
Want to know more about Emma Kurtz, how she’s worked her way into getting such good rides, and what makes her stand out? Make sure to read the Oct. 26 print issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for a more in-depth conversation with Emma, Kris and Lyerly.
It’s striking the similarities between Emma, who’s just starting on a prolific catch-riding career, and Tori Colvin, who was in a similar position a few years ago. Now, Colvin is on her swansong tour of indoors after amassing a tricolor-laden resume of catch rides. It seems like just a few years ago that Colvin had that same awestruck quality to her interviews.
But now Colvin’s experienced and professional when answering questions, and while she acknowledged that her two championships in the junior hunter, 16-17, divisions with Ovation and Small Affair were somewhat bittersweet, she seemed eager to tackle what’s to come when she’s no longer a junior. “I know I’ll be moving toward more grand prix level in the jumpers, and I have some nice jumpers now. In the hunters, I have a new pre-green horse to ride. I’m looking forward to it!” Colvin said.
Betsee Parker leases Small Affair from his California owners Iwasaki and Reilly, and now he’ll go back west. “He’s such a strong, strong competitor,” Parker said. “Even if he has some quirks, he’s so lovely and has such poise and presence that the judges really favor him. We’ve had a wonderful time with this horse, and I’m so thrilled that Augusta Iwasaki is going to have him next. He’s a great one for her to learn from.”
And Ovation has now been small junior hunter champion at the Pennsylvania National five consecutive times, and this will be his last, as he’ll retire in November. Colvin has been riding the 15-year-old for seven years. “It was very special and nostalgic for me to go in there one last time with him,” Parker said.
There’s been a lot of conversation about the positive GABA test of Colvin’s ride Inclusive and her mother’s subsequent U.S. Equestrian Federation suspension (though she’s attending shows thanks to a stay from a New York court after she filed a civil suit against the USEF). When asked how the backlash about that situation affected her, Colvin was indifferent. I asked if it’s been difficult to keep her focus among the controversy. She replied: “Not really. It’s basically the same for me. I just do the same thing I always do, so it really hasn’t changed much.”
Betsee Parker, who owns or leases all of Colvin’s junior hunter rides, similarly dismissed the conversation about how Inclusive’s positive test has affected their program. “I think that we have worked through it very well,” Parker replied to a query about how they’ve dealt with the controversy.
And in response to a question asking if all the backlash has bothered her, Parker responded: “I think things have been about as wonderful as they could ever have been.”
Steven Rivetts, who had been part of Parker’s team, is suspended from the USEF due to Inclusive’s test result, so New Jersey trainer Nancy Hall was listed as the trainer of record for Parker’s junior hunters at the Pennsylvania National. “Right now, we have Nancy Hall and Tori’s mom, Brigid,” Parker said. “Andre [Dignelli] is of course out of commission, but providing us with a lot of direction, as is Patricia Griffith. We have lots of help.”
See full results from Friday at the Pennsylvania National. And make sure to read the Oct. 26 print issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, which will have in-depth coverage of all the action.