Mikala Gundersen and Leonberg once again dominated Grand Prix competition at Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge I. The pair took blue ribbons in both the FEI Grand Prix de Dressage and in the Grand Prix Freestyle at last month's Holiday Challenge and they did it again at the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge I, held Jan. 9-11.
Gundersen and Leonberg, a 14-year-old Zweibrucken stallion, won the Open FEI Grand Prix de Dressage with a score of 66.596 percent and won the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle with a score of 68.625. The stallion is owned by New Mexico-based Horses Unlimited and is available for breeding. It is one of several horses owned by Horses Unlimited currently in Gundersen's barn.
"I'm really thankful to Horses Unlimited. Getting so many good horses is really a big deal for me," Gundersen said. "I was very lucky to run into Anne and to develop this relationship that has resulted in all these great horses. Now, I'm just working hard and doing my best so that all these horses are as good as I can get them."
Horses Unlimited is owned and operated by Anne Sparks Whitten, who supports several riders by placing with them some of the farm's top horses, both dressage horses and show jumpers. In addition to Leonberg, Gundersen has several other horses owned by Horses Unlimited. These include Pikko del Cerro, a five-year-old Hanoverian stallion by Pik L that, last year, qualified for the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships for Five-Year-Old horses. "We're aiming for the Six-Year-Old championships this year," Gundersen said. "Mostly the plan is for him to stay with me and compete."
She also has in her care, Lord of Dancing, an eight-year-old Westphalian stallion by Lord Sinclair. He had been in Germany and just came to Gundersen in the fall. "He'll be a breeding stallion. Right now, I'm preparing him for Prix St. Georges. He's such a good horse and we'll just see where he goes."
Part of the plan in the partnership between Gundersen and Horses Unlimited is for her to have a sale horse on hand as well and the newest one set to arrive in her barn is Pikka Dream, a six-year-old Hanoverian mare sired by Pik L.
Gundersen has another nice horse in her barn at the moment and that's Festivo, an eight-year-old Westphalian gelding by Florestan that is owned by Christine DeHerrera of Equestrian Sports Promotions, the successful marketing company which among other projects manages the PR for the Palm Beach Dressage Derby.
"I'm riding him and showing him because Christine just doesn't have the time at the moment. She's very busy," Gundersen said. She and Festivo also competed at the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge I and took home a blue ribbon. "I'm certainly happy that he's doing so well," Gundersen said of Festivo. "He's Christine's baby and she's as excited about his win this weekend as I am."
Mikala Gundersen is the First to Earn Cash in Wellington Classic Dressage Wild Card Challenge
Blue ribbons weren't all that Mikala Gundersen received for her wins at the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge I. She also earned the right to draw more cards in the Wild Card Challenge and one of those cards was a Joker, which earned her an instant $500. But she wasn't actually the one who drew the card. She let her 10-year-old daughter, Claudia, draw it.
"I told her, 'Now make sure you think about the Joker.' And she actually drew one. She was so proud," Gundersen said. Her wins at both the Wellington Classic Dressage Holiday Challenge in December and the Challenge I have earned Gundersen five cards and she still has two more Wellington Classic Dressage shows to go.
Throughout the Wellington Classic Dressage series, winners of classes that are marked as Wild Card classes get to draw playing cards for a chance to win thousands of dollars in prizes. The grand prize for the competitor who draws a Royal Flush is $50,000. Four competitions in the Wellington Classic Dressage series are part of the Wild Card Challenge. The Holiday Challenge was the first show and the Challenge I was the second. The two remaining shows are the Wellington Classic Spring Challenge (Feb. 6-8) and the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge II (March 6-8). Riders who win Wild Card designated classes get to draw a card for a chance at a winning hand. If they draw a Joker, as Gundersen did, they get an instant $500. A straight is worth $1,000, a Flush is worth $2,500, a Full House is worth $5,000, 4-of-a-Kind is worth $10,000 and the first to draw a Royal Flush wins the grand prize of $50,000.
Gundersen said the concept of the Wild Card Challenge is fabulous. "I love the gambling part and I'm really getting into it and it's fun to have something like this happening at the show. I do notice that the Wild Card classes seem to have lots of entries," she said. So far, she has drawn five cards. "I don't know much about poker so I don't really know where I am in the game. It's just fun colleting the cards and we still have more shows and many more rides. So, I'll just have to see where I end up." Gundersen is clearly hoping for a bit of beginner's luck.