Correction: Due to an error in the National Horse Show’s results, Clara Propp and Ashton were listed as reserve champions in the small junior hunter, 15 and under, division. The reserve champion is actually Madeline Brooks and Captain Jack.
Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 3
Winning at the National Horse Show has special meaning to Raina Swani. She competed at the show for the first time in 2020 in the 3’3″ junior hunters and took home a championship—her first at a major indoor—so it’s always been a meaningful show for her.
So when she was announced as the champion of the large junior hunter, 16-17, division over Avery Glynn and Dauphin, and the grand junior hunter champion with Spoken it was an emotional moment.
“This was the first big final that I won in the 3’3″s, so to come back and close out my 3’6” career on this note is super special and super important for me,” she said.
Though the 17-year-old still has another junior year, she’ll be headed to college next fall, so she plans to take a step back from serious showing and isn’t planning to try to qualify for indoors next year.
“I think I will keep doing [the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)] this year in terms of riding and school,” she said. “but it’ll be pretty chill; not as intense as it has been in the past few years.”
Swani just paired up with Shadowfax Equestrian’s 8-year-old Brandenburg gelding (A’lee Spring Power—Oriane) earlier this year. “Stewie” was previously shown in the 3’9″ green hunters with Michael Britt-Leon before Swani’s family purchased him. She did her first show with him in May.
“He’s just the absolute best horse,” she said. “He always give his 110%. He has a huge, lopey stride around the ring, so I really can just go around the ring and gallop around on him, and he always gives a fantastic jump—he jumps super high—so it’s just an amazing experience with him overall.”
She described the gelding as having the sweetest personality and one who is always ready for a snack.
“He’s very cuddly; he loves food; he loves treats; he’s always eating,” she said. “He usually doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s eating—unless, of course, you’re coming to give him more food, like cookies or carrots. He has a great personality. He definitely knows that he’s cute, and he knows that he’s the winner. Sometimes when we’re getting ready, he just likes just be alone for a minute and focus in on the course and on the show, but overall he’s just a very, very sweet horse.”
Closing A Chapter
Clara Propp was getting a little teary-eyed as she headed into the ring with Arabesque for the large junior hunter, 15 and under, stake class. Earlier this year she decided it was time to start a new chapter with “Annie,” so this was her last time competing on the mare in a junior hunter class.
“Today, she just knew what she needed to do, and she pulled it out,” she said. “I’m happy my nerves didn’t get to me, because I definitely felt a lot of pressure, but in the end it just couldn’t have gone better.”
When their class winning score was announced, the 16-year-old reached down and gave Aquitaine Equine’s 10-year-old Oldenburg mare (Furstenball—Solar Eclipse) a hug.
“This is actually my last show in the juniors with her, and it’s been three years, so I was crying as I was walking in, crying coming out,” she added. “She’s just so special; she honestly helps with my nerves because I know I just need to do my part.”
The pair earned the large junior hunter, 15 and under, championship over Paige Walkenbach and San Pedro 15.
Moving forward, Propp will focus on the international hunter derbies with Annie.
“I’ve just been feeling a lot of pressure lately, because coming off of three great indoor seasons, it just didn’t make sense to make her do this all again,” she said. “I think she wants something new, and so do I. It’s bittersweet because it’s like the end of a chapter, but we’re also going to start a new one, and we’re going to start doing international derbies. So I’m very excited. She’s never done them, and I’ve never done them, so to take on a new thing together—which is how we started the 3’6” juniors—is just really special to me.”
Propp trains with Brianne Goutal-Marteau, who is the only rider to have won all four major equitation finals, so Goutal-Marteau has been able to help her through pressure-filled moments.
“She never puts pressure on me; she knows I put enough pressure on myself,” she said.
She always says how I remind her of how she was when she was younger, so she’s like, ‘I know you put enough pressure on yourself, I don’t need to add to that. Do the best you can, have fun.’ ” And just having her being very laid back has helped me immensely.”
Walkenbach Overcomes Her Jet Lag
Paige Walkenbach’s first day at the National Horse Show started with very little sleep. The 16-year-old spent the day in school on Wednesday before hopping on a plane from her hometown of Paradise Valley, Arizona, to make it to Kentucky by midnight. Then the teenager was first in the ring with Ever So Often at 7 a.m. for the small junior hunter, 15 and under, over fences class.
Though the pair missed out on a ribbon in that class, they earned a win in the under saddle and the stake to earn the division championship over Madeline Brooks and Captain Jack
“I’ve been riding her in the 3’6” starting this year,” said Walkenbach. “She’s newer for me, and it’s taken a little bit to get used to, but she’s so perfect and so patient. Her stride is just really big, and I’m not used to that, and she’s a little sensitive, but she’s like so perfect and I’m so grateful for her.”
The 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Arko III—Loeka Van De Distelhoeve) owned by Walkenbach Equestrian LLC goes by “Snooze” in the barn.
“It fits her perfect because she loves to just go home and takes naps in her stall and gets her head buried in the shavings,” she said.
Walkenbach rides with Jim Hagman and the team at Elvenstar out of Moorpark, California, and she meets her horses at shows. She’s had a stellar year including a championship at Devon (Pennsylvania), and this was her first championship at an indoor.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I’ve always wanted one of those long ribbons; they’re so beautiful. And just to have it with her is even more special.”
A Winning Debut
Eleanor Rudnicki is used to riding all types of horses. The 18-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, doesn’t own her own horse and catch rides in the hunters and equitation throughout the year. But that also means she’s never gotten a chance to show in the hunters before this year.
She made her first trip to the National a winning one by taking the grand small junior championship and the small junior hunter, 16-17, championship with Partridge Hill Equestrian LLC’s Knowingly. Kate Parker and Simply Irresistible were reserve.
“It’s such a special horse show with such an amazing history, so it feels great,” Rudnicki said. “It means a lot.”
Rudnicki started riding “Jerome” this winter for Kelley Farmer and Larry Glefke. When Vivian Yowan purchased the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Casiro—Zamira), she had Rudnicki keep showing him.
“He’s a great horse; he’s got tons of ability; he’s really sweet, and he’s just such a good jumper, and he tries hard,” she said.
While Rudnicki got help from Geoffrey Hesslink and Brendan Williams with Jerome, she trains with Berry Porter at home and in the equitation.
“Berry’s big on the fundamentals and just keeping it simple, but doing a lot of practice courses at home and a lot of tricky stuff,” she said. “With him I mostly do the equitation, so a lot of equitation horses, which I think helps prepare me for the junior hunters and a lot of other things as well.
“I love the challenge of getting to know new horses,” she said. “Every horse is a little bit different, so trying to figure them out in just a couple of jumps makes it exciting.”
Taking It Slow
When Caroline Alexander went looking for a junior hunter, she initially thought she’d get a seasoned partner, but that’s not what she ended up with when she purchased Specialist.
“[My] trainers [Kris Cheyne and Ashley Duda] went down to Florida, and they saw him at the barn, and they were like, ‘We’re bringing this one home.’ I never rode him; we just kind of partnered, and he was perfect for me.”
But from the first ride, the 17-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, knew the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood (I’m Special De Muze—Niancara) was a good fit.
“He was my dream horse,” she said. “He’s really sweet, but he’s very opinionated. If he doesn’t like something, he’s going to tell you.”
Getting a greener partner meant that they didn’t jump right into the junior hunters. Instead they started in the 2’6″ before moving into the children’s hunters and eventually the 3’3″ junior hunters. This was the pair’s first time competing at the National, and they took the grand 3’3″ junior hunter title after being champion in the 16-17 division. Sadie Furr and Calou were reserve champions.
“He’s a little younger, so I didn’t know what to expect of him coming here, but he jumped around great in all of his rounds, and I was really happy,” she said. “It’s really special, especially since I won in one of the first classes I ever did here, and he’s my favorite horse in the world. He tries his heart out.”
A Family Horse
Since 2020, Addison Slye had watched her mom Jill Slye compete with Conrido, but starting last year, it was Addison’s turn to swing a leg over the 14-year-old Holsteiner.
“It’s very fun,” she said of taking over the ride. “I like it being passed down through the generation. Hopefully he’ll go to another kid one day. [My mom]was [helping me] at the beginning, but now she just kind of watches.”
It’s proven to be a solid partnership, and the pair earned the 3’3″ junior hunter, 15 and under, championship. Olivia Sweetnam and Earnest were reserve.
“It was very exciting,” said the 13-year-old from Andover, Massachusetts. “I was top placings at Pennsylvania National Horse Show, so it was very exciting to come here and get champion.”
Addison said “Connor” needs a forward ride, but that he’s a perfect partner.
“He is a very sweet horse,” she said. “He’s very playful on the ground. He always tries his best, and he never fails to put a smile on my face.”
The Chronicle will be on site, bringing you gorgeous photos, interviews and more, so check back during the week. Make sure to follow along at www.coth.com and on Facebook, and Instagram @Chronofhorse. For full analysis and coverage from the horse show be sure to check out the Nov. 27 issue of the magazine.