The highly-anticipated National Horse Show returned Saturday to its home in the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park for its 2018 installment, the culmination of the east coast summer equestrian season. This year, the National Horse Show offers new equitation championships throughout its opening weekend, with the Boggs Hill NHS KHJA Equitation Championship, presented by the Goguen Family, serving as the first to crown a winner and the feature event of day one’s competition.
The inaugural champion, Emily Kowalchik, masterfully directed Kelsey Taylor’s Fernleigh to top marks across two phases to earn the top slot on the leaderboard, while nine different junior and adult combinations each rode to victory in their respective age-group classes.
In its debut year, the Boggs Hill NHS KHJA Equitation Championship saw its first crop of qualified contenders take their turns around course designer Bobby Murphy’s track for a shot at the blue ribbon. Entries into the inaugural class were determined by the year-end standings of the KHJA based upon showings throughout the year, so only the top performers were eligible to compete in the grand finale, consisting of a preliminary over fences round and a flat phase. Over the course of the class, Kowalchik and her mount consistently displayed their equitation talent to pull away from the group and distinguish themselves as the class leaders, ultimately claiming the championship title.
The 27-year-old Kowalchik reigns from Loveland, Ohio, and has been training with David Beisel for 13 years. Though she has a long relationship with her trainer, the tenure with her horse is newer, having only just picked up the ride this past July.
“He has been really fun,” Fernleigh shared. “I leased him just to do Indoors this year, and sadly this is my last show with him. It was nice to get the win with him. He came through our barn as a sale horse about the time I learned I had qualified for a few end of year classes. He had done the equitation before and it seemed to be a good fit. I didn’t go looking for him, he found me. It was really perfect timing and I have had fun getting to know him the past couple of months. He is a real ham in the barn and has a big personality, so he has been a real joy.”
Fernleigh has experience in the equitation and showed up at Beisel’s stables as a sale horse at the time that Kowalchik learned she had qualified for year-end classes, and the fit seemed perfect. Kowalchik will return to the show ring Sunday hoping for another championship title, this time in the Taylor Harris Insurance Services National Horse Show Adult Equitation Championship.
Larissa Hufnagel of Lexington, Kentucky earned the reserve championship just behind Kowalchik, a positive start to her first appearance at the National Horse Show. Hufnagel piloted her own Devout, the horse she has been paired with for the last three years, and used her knowledge of the horse’s normal way of going to ensure they set themselves up for success. Owner-rider Adeline Pavlin of Cincinnati, Ohio rounded out the top three podium spots with her horse, Ragazzo Carino.
Earlier in the day, age group equitation classes for juniors and adults offered exhibitors opportunities to display their precision and correct form in the show ring, both over fences and under saddle. In the Under 14 Equitation, Emma Borders aboard her own Chapot Z claimed the top honors under saddle, while the duo of Madison Nadolenco and her own Quieri finished in first place over fences. Owner-rider Hensley Humphries and Ixion Van Het Netehof similarly proved their prowess in the ring to earn the highest distinction in the 14 – 15 Equitation Section A on the flat, and Sheridan Johnson maneuvered Palmyra Partners’ Brad Pitt to the blue ribbon over fences. In Section B, Maggie Hill and Charmeur, owned by North Run, earned first prize under saddle, while Dominic Gibbs amd Limitless, owned by Erin R Gibbs, scored the highest in the over fences class.
In the slightly older age bracket, Marcus Cmola Au and Barn Rat LLC’s Nobel Laureate were double winners, laying down the best showing of the division to earn the top position in the 16 – 17 Equitation under saddle and over fences. Elizabeth Chenelle, in the irons aboard Armand Chenelle’s Li Bond, claimed first place in the Adult Equitation on the flat, and Hannah Brown and Dimacho, owned by A. Brooke Farr, rounded out the series of winners in the Adult Equitation over fences.