Paige Walkenbach and Let’s Go Led the Way in the CPHA Foundation 21 and Under Medal Finals at Blenheim Summer Festival
San Juan Capistrano, CA – Following two days of competition featuring nearly 100 riders, three new California Professional Horsemen’s Association (CPHA) Foundation Medal Finals winners were named at the Blenheim Summer Festival, held July 19-23 in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
Paige Walkenbach and Let’s Go led the CPHA Foundation 21 and Under Medal Finals from start to finish to secure the win as the sun set over the Oaks International Grand Prix ring on Friday evening.
Walkenbach, who trains with the team at Elvenstar Farm, led the field of 55 competitors after posting a first-round score of 88.5 on Thursday, edging out fellow competitor Elli Yeager by just half a point. An impressive second-round score of 90, followed by a strong no-stirrups work-off, helped the Arizona native to secure her spot at the top of the leaderboard.
Yeager took home second place aboard Totoka Fuji, and third place went to Zadie Stack and Cetello.
“Coming back for day two, I knew I had to go at the beginning of the order,” said Walkenbach. “Going in the beginning has pros and cons, but I just wanted to go in and have a consistent round. I was quite nervous; for me, that’s a feeling that never seems to leave, no matter the experience. However, I think it is so important to check in with reality. Reminding myself that this is all just for fun helps a lot.”
In preparation for the day, Walkenbach took extra care to develop a thorough plan with her team to help ease the nerves.
“I always make sure to understand my plan fully – walking the course several times, looking at the ring from different angles and discussing with my coaches as well as my barn mates,” said Walkenbach. “Also, I always make sure to clean my boots, relax for a minute and make sure I am fueled.”
Paige Walkenbach, who trains with Elvenstar Farm, in her winning presentation. Photo by McCool Photography
Let’s Go, a 12-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Walkenbach Equestrian LLC, is no stranger to the equitation ring at Blenheim, having recently swept the WIHS equitation at the Blenheim Spring Classic II.
“Let’s Go – also known as Pedro, Saint Pete and many other names – has the best personality,” said Walkenbach. “He is completely a poser and knows when things matter most. He especially loves the grand prix field; he’s just the best. He has not only made my dreams come true but many more before me, and he is only 12 years old. I am incredibly grateful to have him as my partner, and I know he will have my back.”
Though Walkenbach has been in the winner’s circle at major horse shows across the country, she notes that the CPHA Foundation classes are always special.
“It’s one of my favorite classes,” said Walkenbach. “I love how the tests are built-in and how they constantly are changing and adapting. You never know if you will have to trot a jump, halt, counter canter, or more, but that’s what I love about it; it’s always a surprise and a fun challenge.”
Walkenbach conclude, “I would like to thank my team at Elvenstar because none of this would ever be possible without them, as well as my amazing family, friends and of course, [Let’s Go] for always supporting me! Also, thank you to everyone at the CPHA Foundation and Blenheim for hosting a wonderful medal final. I am so honored to have won such a prestigious class.”
Perseverance Pays Off for Maya Varga and Il Divo in the CPHA Foundation 22 and Over Medal Finals
Maya Varga and Il Divo. Photo by McCool Photography
In the CPHA Foundation 22 and Over Medal Finals, it was Maya Varga who secured the blue ribbon on Friday, July 21, aboard Il Divo.
At the conclusion of the first day of competition, Varga and the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding sat in fourth place, but advice from trainer Victoria LaCagnina to take the course one jump at a time helped the pair find their way to third before the work-off. It was there that a final test of the top four moved them into first.
Judges Shane George and Tony Sgarlata awarded second place to Kathy Nolan aboard Just Because, and third place to Whitney Coleman riding Cantalou TW.
Maya Varga, who trains with Victoria LaCagnina, topped the CPHA Foundation 22 and Over Medal Finals. Photo by McCool Photography
“I treated it as a new class instead of a second day in order to try and calm my nerves,” explained Varga. “Consistency has always been my hardest thing; so, with the work off, I was just trying to figure out how to calm my nerves and not rush things. This course really was testing finding your rhythm. If you did have any type of bobble, you didn’t really have a place to correct that, because everything came up quickly, but it also really rewarded you if you found your groove and were able to stick with it.”
After taking a five-year hiatus from riding, Varga returned to the saddle as an amateur during the pandemic.
“I wasn’t going to come back to riding, but I had nothing else to do in the pandemic,” said Varga. “[Il Divo] was a project, a sales horse that Victoria had in her program. I ended up falling in love and purchasing him. He’s been something that I’ve brought along, and it’s been an amazing journey. My team at Storia Stables has been so important; it’s meant everything to me, and I’m so grateful for their support.”
Maya Varga, Kathy Nolan and Whitney Coleman topped the podium in the CPHA Foundation 22 and Over Medal Finals. Photo by McCool Photography
Less than a week prior to her CPHA Foundation Medal Finals win, Varga felt far from such a victory.
“I wasn’t even going to come to the horse show, because I actually fell off on Sunday at home,” said Varga. “I literally threw my hands up in the air and said ‘That’s it! I’m done.’ So that’s our joke now. I’m happy for people to hear about it though, because I think the biggest thing about this sport is that it’s an emotional rollercoaster. It can be very humbling, and a big part of this is that you have to go with it.”
For Varga, the CPHA Foundation classes are a favorite to take part in.
“I think the two-day format in particular is really good – having a clean slate the second day,” said Varga. “I’ve been in it where I didn’t have a good first day, but I came back for the second day and still ended up in the top 10. It really is a great opportunity and format to test what you work on at home. This is a really big success for me – to bring my horse along and to have a win in this. It’s a culminating journey for us to be able to celebrate.”
Violet Tatum earned the top spot in the CPHA Foundation 14 and Under Medal Finals. Photo by McCool Photography
Redemption is Sweet for Violet Tatum and Iron Man van de Kalevallei in the CPHA Foundation 14 and Under Medal Finals
For the past year, Violet Tatum has recalled an error that she made in the 2022 CPHA Foundation Medal Finals that bumped her from the top spot into second place. So this year, redemption was sweet as she walked away with the win in the CPHA Foundation 14 and Under Medal Finals.
“Last year, I was sitting in first; I had a great work-off, but they asked for a lengthened canter, and I accidentally hand-galloped,” said Tatum. “I ended up getting bumped to second, which is frustrating to me to this day. I am so happy to redeem myself from last year.”
Aboard trainer Archie Cox’s Iron Man van de Kalevallei, Tatum returned to the second day of competition in the sixth-place position, but she posted an impressive second-round score of 83 to move into the work-off.
Violet Tatum and Iron Man van de Kalevallei. Photo by McCool Photography
“The first day wasn’t my best, so I came into the second round without too much pressure,” said Tatum “I just wanted to come in and score something in the eighties. Since I was sixth yesterday, I was hoping I could maybe move up two spots to get into the test.”
The final test is where the pair stood out, climbing from their third-place position in round two to the top of the leaderboard. Second place went to Chloe Oh riding Ayuno, and Georgia Bass and Normandy took third.
“[Iron Man Van De Kalevallei] was imported not that long ago,” said Tatum. “He’s very kind and smart, and even though he hasn’t done this for a very long time, he understands what you’re asking very quickly and knows what to do. He’s just a nice horse to ride, and he’s very smooth.”
Tatum enjoys riding in the CPHA Foundation classes, since they allow an opportunity to improve over multiple days of competition.
“I really like how everyone makes round two; it’s nice that you get to have a second chance,” concluded Tatum. “Plus, they always have pretty ribbons!”
For their wins, Walkenbach, Varga and Tatum received coolers from DaMoors Feed & Tack, DeNiro Salento boots from Outdoor Outfitters, horse cookies from Harlow’s Heavenly Horse Treats, and Ariat Backpacks. All riders also received CPHA ball caps and riding socks courtesy of Kim Otteson of James Klein Insurance and Great American Insurance.
To learn more about the CPHA, visit CPHA.org.