Klugman and Bronte Beach Breeze into Five-Star Status

Eventing phenom and lawyer-to-be Klugman successfully piloted Bronte Beach through her first five-star event at the 2024 Kentucky Three-Day.

By Alana Harrison

Klugman and Bronte Beach tackled their first five-star cross-country course last Saturday during the middle phase of the event. @Amy K. Dragoo

Ema Klugman discovered something new about her partnership with Bronte Beach during their first five-star competition at the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event. That is that her partnership with the nearly 12-year-old, 17-hand Zangersheide mare is even stronger than she realized.

“After this weekend, I definitely learned that she trusts me—and I trust her. She proved she’s a five-star horse, and I learned that she’s even more genuine than I thought. And incredibly generous,” the 27-year-old horsewoman said. “My number-one goal—in addition to making her a five-star competitor—was to finish the weekend with a healthy, happy horse.”

Klugman and Bronte Beach: Moving Up the Ranks

Bronte, who Klugman found at a random jump yard in England about six years ago, quickly moved up through the ranks in her eventing career. She and Klugman won the Virginia CCI3*-L and the CCI3*-L in Lexington in 2020 and finished in the Top 10 at the Morven Park CCI4* in 2021. Saturday marked the first time Bronte tackled the more challenging five-star cross-country course. About seven minutes into their run, Klugman worried the event’s rigors and massive course were taking a toll on the mare.

“You get some horses who have all the talent, but they don’t necessarily fight for you. I just told Bronte we had to keep going a little longer than the four-star course, and she took off for me,” she recalled. “She was super honest and did especially well since she’d never competed with a crowd that large.”

Klugman said Bronte can be spooky in new environments, so she was somewhat concerned about the massive crowds in Lexington. After walking the course numerous times, Klugman devised a plan to tackle it—as well as numerous contingency plans in case things didn’t ride quite as she expected.

“Bronte was amazing. She left at a variety of spots to help me out when I wasn’t quite accurate,” she said. “She has this great desire to get to the other side of the flags, which I don’t think you can really teach a horse. They’re born with it.”

Proving Her Five-Star Prowess

Going into cross country, Klugman wasn’t particularly concerned about any single jump combination being too big or overly technical. But she was worried about the cumulative impact of the long and challenging course.

“There wasn’t anything on the course Bronte hadn’t jumped before. She’d done variations of all those questions for years—and jumped them well,” Klugman said. “But putting them all together in 11-1/2 minutes was definitely a big question for her. I just hoped I could be very accurate and brave and give her a good ride.”

In the end, however, she was thrilled with Bronte’s fitness level coming out of cross country. Klugman chose several longer routes on the combinations, including one of the water options when the mare felt disorganized after a long distance to the first obstacle.

“The more five stars you run in, the fitter the horses get and the more you can kind of press them on,” she explained. “I clucked to Bronte a couple of times, and she was great. She has a fantastic gallop in her. It was a real positive to me that she has the stamina to compete at this high level.”

While the horse-and-rider team didn’t make the Top 10 in the cross-country phase, Klugman was happy with Bronte’s performance and their 19th placing.

Shared Successes & Lessons Learned

As Klugman and Bronte prepared to enter the dressage arena during the first phase of competition, the young horsewoman admitted feeling a pang of emotion. The last time she competed in the Rolex Arena, she was aboard her beloved 19-year-old Thoroughbred/ Saddlebred-cross Bendigo competing in their first five-star at the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Klugman was only 23 at the time, and the pair finished as the highest-placed young rider that year. “Ben” passed away last January at the age of 22 due to complications from colic surgery.

“I have to say, I would actually rather be riding Bronte in the dressage than Bendigo. We were always worried that he was going to bolt out of the ring at one point or another,” Klugman laughed. “It was definitely a bit emotional or me. I was also grateful to have experienced being in the ring and going down that centerline before. That helped pass my experience and confidence on to Bronte. But she has a lot of self-confidence and walked in that huge ring like it was just another horse show.”

Klugman acknowledged the dressage test was rather complicated and that they made a couple of mistakes she plans to clean up prior to their next competition. But overall she was pleased with how well Bronte handled the experience.

“Since she’s still such a young horse, I definitely think in a few years we could score 10 points lower,” Klugman said after she and Bronte finished 18th in the dressage phase of the event.

Name of the Game

Klugman and Bronte Beach finished in 21st place following the show-jumping phase and rightfully earned their five-star status. @Amy K. Dragoo

Going into show jumping on Sunday, Klugman said Bronte felt ready and not overly fatigued following cross country. The challenge of show jumping after running a cross-country course, she noted, is adjusting the horse’s stride length. In cross country, horses approach the fences on a much longer stride—more akin to steeple chasing. Show jumpers must jump up and over the fences with a bit more scope.

Klugman admitted she was disappointed with their show-jumping round after making a few minor mistakes. But she also noted it was the first time Bronte had competed in jumping after running such a long cross-country course. The pair finished in in 21st place after the show-jumping phase.

“Now we have more information about her to decide if we might prepare a little bit differently next time. She’s such a big horse, I think it’s more of a function of her needing to compress a bit more,” she said. “So, we’ll just keep training. That’s the name of the game in our sport. You learn from your mistakes and take that knowledge to the next competition.”

Balancing Act

While Bronte tends to be an incredibly laid-back horse at home—and even borderline lazy if she doesn’t find her work inspiring enough—Klugman said the mare has had a huge amount of athleticism since they first partnered six years ago.

“She’s a big horse—probably around 17 hands. And she’s very leggy, so I’ve really had to work on teaching her how to organize herself and compress,” she said. “Bronte’s built quite uphill, so I have to work on keeping her together. But she is an absolute pleasure to ride. I love to ride this horse every day. I’m very lucky in that.”

Klugman—who is currently finishing her juris doctorate at George Washington University of Law in Washington, D.C.—earned a double congratulations over the weekend. In addition to successfully completing her first five-star with Bronte, Klugman received word that she’d passed the District Bar Exam she took last February. Offered twice a year, she had the option to take the exam in February or late July.

“It’s an awful, awful test. I don’t recommend it to anyone, but if you want to be a lawyer, you have to take it,” Klugman said. “Prepping for the test requires eight or nine hours of studying every single day, so if I’d waited to take it in July, it would have made my summer plans a bit tricky. And since February is pretty much our off-season, it made sense. It did make us a tad late to starting our eventing training this year, but it was such a relief to get it out of the way.”

No Plans to Slow Down

Klugman, who’s set to finish law school in about two weeks, plans to clerk for a judge following graduation for a couple of years. From there, she plans to just see where her career takes her. Newly acclaimed status as attorney at law or not, Klugman has no plans to slow down her eventing career with Bronte.

“She is such an awesome mare. I’ve had her since the beginning of her career, so we know each other really well. I know all her quirks. We’re kind of like an old married couple in that way,” Klugman laughed. “I absolutely think the world of Bronte. She has so much ability and try. Now that she has a five-star under her belt and is still so young, I’m so excited to see where her career takes her.”

For full coverage of the 2024 event, click here.

Thanks Kent Nutrition Group and Blue Seal to for our coverage of the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event. 

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