Disclaimer: The title of this article is a quip from none other than Ema herself. I loved it so much that I told her right then and there that I’d have to make it the title of this story.
Five-star eventer Ema Klugman is a master juggler. The balls she has to keep in the air include competing her top string of horses, continuing to grow her young horse program, studying law at George Washington University, and working at a law firm. We caught up with her to get an update on her up-and-coming string of horses; talk about her newest sponsor, Equestly; and chat about how syndication is more attainable for riders than you might think.
Juggling law school and horses means that the start to Ema’s spring season looks a little different than most. “The semester finished at the beginning of May. And so I went to Aiken for a couple of weeks in February, but then generally I’m up in Maryland the rest of the time because I go to school in D.C., so it can be a little bit tricky to get going in the season. It normally works out okay. We start around the end of February or early March.”
This spring heralded a big move-up the levels for RF Redfern, owned by Team Fern. “Fern” was originally purchased during COVID as a blank slate. The little bay mare measures 15.3 on a tall day, but is quickly living up to her potential. “When I purchased her she had been started, but she was very, very inexperienced. She hadn’t been to a show or anything like that and she had had a foal when she was a 4 year-old, so she was pretty raw and a blank slate,” Ema said. “When I purchased her she was coming seven years-old. Now she’s stepped up to the four-star level which is really exciting.”
Despite her small size, Fern handled the fences at the CCI4*-S at Tryon with ease. She finished just shy of the top ten, in 12th place, with a total score of 52.1. “She’s quite a performer for sure,” Ema said. “So, she’s little and sometimes you think these are big jumps for a little horse, but she has such scope and a big big stride and a lot of confidence in herself. She makes it really easy.”
Ema has also recently started riding Slieve Callan Alpha, aka Blizzard, owned by Nicholas Cardamone. It’s unusual to see Ema on something that isn’t small and bay, and Blizzard is well outside of that category. The 17.1 hand gelding has “feet the size of your head.”
“At home, he’s a worker who improves every day, but he really shines in the show ring,” Ema said. “When he goes to the show he really performs and seems to have real potential in all three phases. So I’m excited about him.”
While Ema has several horses owned by syndicates, it’s rare that she rides for an owner who found her first. “It’s an honor to have somebody call you and say, ‘Hey, can you ride my horse for me?’ It really is. I think Blizzard has the potential to be a really good advanced horse.”
On top of it all, Ema is also managing a circus of up-and-coming young horses that she hopes to move up the ranks. Her growing young horse program is based on the idea of finding a blank slate horse with a lot of potential. Ema says it’s important to think of the bigger picture when working with young horses.
“I think, ‘Okay, he’s three, so he won’t start doing anything real until at least five or six.’ So that means that if you want to go to a big event in five years, you’ve got to have a five year old now that you’re training to do that,” Ema said. “So it’s quite a process, but it’s fun. You just have to kind of have a long term view of these horses.”
One of those promising young horses is Woody, an off-the-track thoroughbred sourced by Carleigh Fedorka. “He’s three this year. So he’s a baby really, but he’s beautiful, really beautiful looking,” Ema said. “He’s a dark gray 17-hand gelding and very correct in the way that he’s built.”
While she hopes Woody will stay in her pipeline to be a future five-star horse, Ema stays flexible. “Who knows, maybe he doesn’t want to be an upper level eventer, but I think he’s guaranteed to have the blood for it because he’s a full thoroughbred. So we’ll begin teaching him the ropes and see if he likes it.”
As well as a new up-and-coming horse, Ema has also brought on an exciting new sponsor to her team: Equestly. Unlike some of her other sponsors, where she’s limited geographically to talking with them only via phone and email, she’s gotten to know Carlos Hernandez and Sam Potter of Equestly in person. “It’s cool that they’re local and that they’re in my area. They live maybe about an hour away from me,” Ema said. “So it’s been nice to actually meet them.”
The Equestly Horses initiative has particularly piqued Ema’s interest. Equestly Horses aims to bring together a community of eventing fans to follow the journey of up-and-coming eventing stars. The subscription model gives fans access to exclusive VIP content, including behind-the-scenes videos on the making of a five-star horse and dedicated discount codes for Equestly products. 100 percent of every dollar goes to support Equestly riders and all future needs of Equestly Horses.
“I like the idea of having more support for horses that are coming up the levels. I was joking with Carlos that we should try to have a whole Olympic team of Equestly Horses one day,” Ema said. “Equestly is not just a clothing company. They really have an expansive vision. So I’m excited to see where it goes. I’m really happy to be associated with them because I think they’re looking to have a positive impact on the sport as a whole.”
Thanks to law school and personal experience, Ema has a unique perspective on horse ownership. “I think it’s cool to think about ownership in creative ways, like with Diego Farje and EQ Scorpio, who is an Equestly Horse,” Ema said. “One thing I’ve learned about the syndication model, and I’ve also learned this because I go to law school, is that you can write into a contract or agree with people on any terms that you want. You can come up with an idea and try to create something out of it. And if people are into it, then you can make it work. There really is no limit to all the creative ways you can think about horse ownership, just like the Equestly Horses model.”
“From the outside, having a syndicate or riding for owners seems unattainable, and I’m not here to say it’s easy, because it’s not, but it is attainable,” Ema adds. “I think people assume that owners will just show up on your doorstep. But even Olympians put a lot of work into convincing people to buy a horse and convincing people that this is a dream that’s worth investing in.”
“One of the great things about syndicates is that owners can purchase very small shares in the horses,” Ema said. “I have owners who own less than one percent of some of my horses, all the way up to those who own 20 percent. This flexibility is really a great feature of the syndicate model.”
Ema knows firsthand how welcoming owners and syndicates into your community can spread the love of the sport. “Buying a horse is not a good business decision, but it is a way of being part of the joy of horse ownership. When I was at Arena Eventing at Devon, I got a really cute video from Nicholas Cardamone of him watching the livestream in his kitchen and jumping up and down when I finished the course and cheering. Thanks to livestreams, even if you only own 5 percent of a horse you can really feel like ‘wow, that’s my horse on the television.’ That’s really a cool feeling.”
Equestly Horses spreads the joy of horse ownership by creating a community of fans that gets the inside peek at what it takes to move a horse up the levels. Die-hard Equestly Horses fans can follow along with, for example, EQ Scorpio’s journey and really feel a part of the process, from his first horse show to his first five-star event. They, too, can jump up and down in their kitchens while watching the livestream and cheer, as they’ve supported that horse’s journey firsthand through the levels of the sport.
“Equestly Horses gets more people to be excited about watching the live stream or cheering on the horses and riders,” Ema said. “It’s super fun and grows the community in a way that most people wouldn’t think of.”
Ema is a big believer in supporting her local eventing community in the Mid-Atlantic, particularly when it comes to the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm, a venue Ema has been competing at since she was 10-years old. This July the venue is hosting their first ever international four-star event and it was a must-attend for Ema’s competition calendar.
Ema even hosted an excellent course walk in conjunction with Equestly the night before the course was run. Summarizing the four-star course, Ema concluded, “Parts of the course are pretty technical, there’s a lot of terrain involved. It’s similar to Carolina [International], which Ian Stark also designed,” she said. “It’s friendlier than you might think, but you’ve got to be on your game. The horse has to be well-educated, brave -– all the things a four-star horse should be. It’s a proper course with lots of turns, you’ll want a horse that turns well. But I’m glad it’s not soft and we’ll just have to see how it rides.”
It turned out that RF Redfern, Ema’s four-star mount, had all the traits required to complete the course with flying colors. The pair came in second place with a final score of 62.3. She was easy to spot at July’s Maryland International Horse Trials, thanks to her Equestly gear!
This article was sponsored by Equestly. Ema’s favorite product from her new sponsor are the Equestly Seamless LS Tops. “They come in lots of different colors. They’re just really nice and cool for summer,” Ema said. “Usually I get very sunburned and kind of look like an idiot when I get to the office and have a farmer’s tan. But these long sleeve shirts are great because they’re cool, and they keep the sun off of you and they look quite nice.”