The Spring Event at Woodside: Dressage Day Roundup

Intro through Advanced competition got the Memorial Day weekend off to a busy start as 450 horse/rider pairs filled six dressage rings at The Horse Park at Woodside. The Preliminary Challenge wraps up on “Super Saturday” with cross country in the morning and show jumping at night, while all other divisions continue through Sunday, May 26.

Let’s catch up with the Friday action!

Madison Langerak and Normandy’s Kivalo. Photo by Kim Miller.

Madison Langerak and Tamie Smith Lead the Preliminary Challenge Rider and Horse divisions

Now marking its 11th year, the Preliminary Challenge celebrates and incentivizes horses and riders preparing for the international divisions. Cash and prizes total $15,000 in each division and the show jumping finale features an electric atmosphere in which the top 10 pairs jump in reverse order of their standings. It’s a great test for horses and riders and has become the social event of the season for spectators.

Long trips have paid off for young eventer Madison Langerak. Two years ago, on a family vacation in Hungary, she fit in a horse shopping trip and found the Hungarian Sport Horse, Normandy’s Kivalo. He was a very green 5-year-old, but Madison saw potential that’s proven true.  After another long trip, this time from her Boise, Idaho home to Woodside, California, Madison and Kivalo topped a strong field of 27 contenders in the Preliminary Challenge’s rider division after dressage.

Madison has targeted the Spring Event’s Preliminary Challenge for some time. Previous horses had not had quite the right stuff for this stepping stone to international competition. “I’ve always looked at it as a milestone and to start this well is special because I’ve produced him through the levels myself.” She attributes their steady ascent together to Kivalo being “smart, willing and loving his job.”

Saturday’s Bert Wood-designed Preliminary cross-country track walks as the perfect combination of technical and big, Madison explains. They’ve done well with big and technical separately this year, and now she hopes to put the two together effectively. If they remain in a top spot for Saturday night’s show jumping showdown, under the lights and with a big crowd cheering, Madison hopes the jazzed-up environment won’t jangle her nerves. She’s confident of how Kivalo will respond. “I think that will spice him up. He’s a little on the lazy side, but he loves to perform.”

Madison and Rivalo’s 29.40 dressage score led the pack in the competition that has catapulted many careers. Maya Clarkson and Sweep’s Crystal Cruise are second with a 31.60 and Meg Pellegrini and RF Eloquence enter Saturday morning’s cross-country sitting third on a 33.

Tamie Smith and Elliot V. Photo by Kim Miller.

Familiar professionals dominated dressage in the Preliminary Challenge Horse division. Tamie Smith and Elliot-V are in the lead on a 27.10, Bec Braitling and Penhill Celtic are close behind on a 27.90 and Lauren Billys and Can Be Sweet are third on a 30.90 score.

Frankie Thieriot-Stutes and Chatwin. Photo by Kim Miller.

   Two Amateurs, Frankie Thieriot-Stutes and Hilary Burkemper, Lead Advanced

Two amateurs topped the standings after dressage in the Advanced division. Familiar Frankie Thieriot-Stutes and Chatwin lead the way on a 27.30 score from judges Valerie Crail and David Schmutz. Hilary Burkemper and her gorgeous gray Undercover are second on a 32.50, with Sara Selmer and PDQ Leigh in third on a 33.80.

An attorney who lives in Santa Barbara, Hilary is thrilled with “Ace’s” dressage test. It’s the latest in many milestones over the last year since Hilary started working with hunter/jumper coach Kristin Harden and eventing trainer Erin Kellerhouse. She describes both as “the greatest,” and credits them with restoring her own and Ace’s confidence in the sport. Ace lives with Erin in Temecula and Hilary keeps her riding sharp with a 5-year-old at home in Santa Barbara. She misses her Ace,  so named “because he aces everything”– but their 6-year partnership before that and Erin’s horsemanship make it work. It’s unusual arrangement for an Advanced pair, Hilary confirms, but it works. “Ace is happy and well taken care of and it’s thrilling to see your horse that way.”

As for Saturday’s cross-country, “Woodside is always challenging,” Hilary says. “But it’s a fun challenge. It’s not dangerous or intimidating but you have to take notice. There’s a lot of downhill terrain. I think it’s the most challenging course in California.”

Hilary Burkemper and Undercover. Photo by Kim Miller.

Along with continued top flight competition and the Preliminary Challenge dinner gala, “Super Saturday,” May 25, encourages new fans to come out and enjoy the sport. A VIP tent on cross-country offers up-close action of the Lake Shanahan water complex and US Eventing Association CEO Rob Burk will be giving a 4 p.m. talk geared toward newcomers.  The United States Pony Club has a booth all weekend with members happy to answer questions about the sport.

VIP X-C Tent tickets and Preliminary Challenge Gala tickets are available in the office while they last. For more information, visit

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