Friday, May. 24, 2024

Making Time Pays Off For Eikan Tango At Holly Hill

Perseverance brings blue for this amateur rider and her homebred upper-level horse.

Sometimes, Danielle Williams felt as if she was “trying to get blood out of a turnip” while training Eikan Tango, she said.

“She’s really been a tough ride. She’d been hard to get over the water and ditches,” said Williams. “But this year she has just decided it isn’t all that scary.  She has a very subtle personality, but now—after going advanced—she is very proud of herself.”
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Perseverance brings blue for this amateur rider and her homebred upper-level horse.

Sometimes, Danielle Williams felt as if she was “trying to get blood out of a turnip” while training Eikan Tango, she said.

“She’s really been a tough ride. She’d been hard to get over the water and ditches,” said Williams. “But this year she has just decided it isn’t all that scary.  She has a very subtle personality, but now—after going advanced—she is very proud of herself.”

Eikan Tango showed her newfound confidence at the Holly Hill Horse Trials in Benton, La., on Oct. 27-28, as she and Williams topped the open intermediate division.  In addition, “Tango” and Williams finished cross-country under the optimum time—the first time they’d done so at intermediate.

A homebred whose dam Williams still breeds at her 12-acre property in Aubrey, Texas, Tango has been a work in progress since she was foaled 12 years ago.   Tango is by the Trakhener stallion Eikon, and out of Williams’ mare Tipsey Dancer.  Williams trains with Jim Graham whenever she can—in clinics and at events.

Williams and the 16.1-hand, gray, Trakehner mare completed their first advanced horse trials this summer, finishing eighth at the Maui Jim Horse Trials (Ill.). In her second advanced outing, at the fall Poplar Place Horse Trials (Ga.), Williams considered their single refusal on cross-country a simple misunderstanding of the question and she felt Tango’s confidence growing even stronger.

Juggling her move up the levels with her career as a quality engineer for Bell Helicopter in Roanoke, Texas, and running her breeding program with a total of nine horses on her farm, Williams, 35, has had to work hard and travel long distances to achieve her goals. 

Having time to get fitness work in is definitely a challenge. “I do gallops when I can,” she said. “But if I can’t, I take her up to work on the Aquatred at Whitesboro Equine Therapy.  Tango hates that water—she walks in fine, but she acts like she is in agony the entire time!”

The win at Holly Hill capped Williams’ season with Tango. “The changes [on the course] were really good,” Williams said. “They added a water which was basically a gallop in with an in-and-out in the middle. The second water was the traditional big log in with a bank out then a turn on a five-stride bending line to a corner.”

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Course designer John Williams also added several other technical elements and changes of track and direction.

“Tango was great. I still have to ride her, like at the ditch and brush which had the sun behind it, so it looked like a big hole in the shadow.  I popped her five strides out with my stick and then popped her again and she just sailed over,” said Williams. “I need one more good advanced outing to qualify and then it would be nice to get a three-star under our belts.”

Joni Kuhn heaped praise on her 17-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred Ransom, after their first win at the preliminary level.

“We’ve many times been in striking distance and may have had one win at the training level, but this is our first authentic win.  I just feel that right now he is at the top of his game,” Kuhn said.  She’s been riding the elegant bay gelding for seven years.

Kuhn returned from summer holidays spent in the Bahamas with her family, to a well-tuned mount, thanks to the efforts of Heather Morris and Mike Huber at Gold Chip Stables in Flower Mound, Texas.

“Heather worked him in dressage all summer, and it really made a difference. Usually I’m last after dressage because he is a bit high-strung,” Kuhn said. 

She and Ransom were in ninth after dressage at Holly Hill, but with just 5 points separating the 10 top riders after dressage, a clear show jumping round brought them into fifth place before cross-country.

“Mike really has gotten me to ride my show jumping courses more slowly. My whole idea had been to race around over the fences, but we’ve worked on slowing things down and it’s made for cleaner rides,” Kuhn said.

After leading the dressage with a mark of 34.2 and adding no penalties in the show jumping, C.C. Castillo and Oberto collected 8.8 time penalties on the newly revamped cross-country course, swapping what could have been a blue ribbon for Kuhn’s fifth place.  Kuhn and Sally Buffington aboard Absolut were the only riders of the 14 starters to come in under the time on cross-country, earning their first- and second-placed finishes respectively.

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The preliminary course incorporated two water complexes and several more technical elements, including a skinny to a corner.  “I liked the new course a lot,” said Kuhn. “Even with our dressage improvement, I really didn’t think we had a chance since the girls who were leading are always the ones to make time, but the changes to the course were exciting. With Ransom’s age, I won’t run him unless the footing is good; the footing was pretty good and it looked like fun, so we just got after it.”

Time hasn’t generally been difficult for the pair to make. Originally, Ransom’s quickness was one of the aspects that drew Kuhn to him.  “I had won my junior 4-H championship on a 14.3-hand Quarter Horse mare named Stormy who didn’t know how to walk. All she knew was go, and Ransom was just a bigger version of her when I first tried him,” Kuhn said.

“I’d found him on the internet—he had been sent over from New Zealand where he had won a two-star and was at Phyllis Dawson’s.  I hadn’t ridden for 10 years, but I called her and flew up and rode him around her indoor in the dead of winter.  I couldn’t stop the horse though, so I told Phyllis, ‘If you can teach me to stop him, I’ll buy him.’

“He was 10 then, and I basically bought him to last me for the next four years, but here we are seven years later.  Now we’re winding things down for him, but he’s been remarkably sound.  He stays well fit without any gallops, and we take great care of his feet and teeth.  I just want him to last as long as possible. Every ride I get on him, I really relish.”

Though giving much of the credit to her horse, the petite 49-year-old from Plano, Texas, is by no means lacking in courage herself. Her return to eventing seven years ago came after a 10-year hiatus from competitive riding that was filled with skiing, fishing and flying as she and husband Morris raised their sons Mitchell and Chet.

Kuhn’s childhood was spent riding in western stock shows and participating in 4-H.  A junior champion in 4-H in barrel racing and pole-bending competitions, Kuhn continued competing on her high school rodeo team, then took up flying with an eye toward becoming a commercial pilot.  After achieving her instructor’s license, she met her husband while teaching him to fly.

Taking on the role of wife and mother, she deviated from her plan of a career as a pilot, but still takes to the skies with her family, having more than 3,000 flight miles, maintaining her private pilot license with a commercial instrument rating on multi-engine planes and helicopters.

She and her husband are now looking to buy property for their retirement, and Kuhn hopes to find the perfect home where Ransom can reside when he is done competing.

Stacey Quarles

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