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Hilda Gurney Finds Her Joy in Burbank

She’s a 75- year-old Olympian who still rides close to 20 horses a day.

Hilda Gurney and Lotta Silver celebrate their win in the Fourth Level Freestyle with Krystina Wright of USDF and CDS President Kevin Reinig on the first day of the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 7 Championships, held as part of the 2018 California Dressage Society Championship Show in Burbank. Photo: Jennifer M. Keeler/Yellow Horse Marketing.

She is a legend of American dressage and a beloved icon of the sport on the West Coast. And on the first day of the Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 7 and California Dressage Society (CDS) Championship Show, being held September 27-30 in Burbank, Hilda Gurney once again found the winner’s circle – and her joy.

Making her victory in the Great American/USDF Region 7 Fourth Level Freestyle Championship with 73.633% even sweeter is that she bred, raised, trains, and owns her mount, Lotta Silver. Gurney has carefully developed the eight-year-old Trakehner gelding with an eye to the future, helping him rise through the lower levels and CDS Young Horse Futurity ranks to now be on the cusp of an FEI career.

“This is my joy, bringing them along like this,” Gurney explained. “For me, competing is just proving that I’m okay with where we are in our progress. Every morning I get up and ride somewhere between 15 and 20 horses, riding at least six hours a day. I love it and it’s my passion. I even do less judging now because I’m so into this horse and my other mount here, Iris – she’s awesome and is moving up to the Intermediaire 2. With Silver, I’m showing Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges at this show, plus he already has a very good piaffe and passage. Once we get our one-tempi’s finished he’ll move on up too – he’s going to be a heck of a Grand Prix horse. I also have his full-brother who is three, and I’m really excited about him as well. I’m just having a ball and I hope to keep on doing it.”

Here in California, it just wouldn’t be a Championship Show without Hilda. She competed in the very first event more than 50 years ago in a farm field, and has hardly missed an edition since. “I was one of the founding members of CDS, and I have a lot of loyalty to California,” she noted. “It means so much to me to come to the Championship Show year after year and support our programs here, and honor the people who have taken over what I helped start and keep it going – I appreciate so much what they do.”

The first day of this year’s CDS Championship Show saw competition across five arenas at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, but freestyles took center stage in the covered Equidome. Earning the very first Great American/USDF Region 7 championship title awarded at this year’s championship show was Triana Pangrcic of San Marcos, Cal. riding Lisa Galliath’s eye-catching six-year-old Hanoverian gelding Sunsprites Saltamontes for a top score of 72.700%. “We just started doing freestyles this year, and this is only our third time riding it at a show. My music is Pink Panther-style and was actually used for another horse about 10 years ago. But it just fit him like a glove and it’s kind of become our favorite thing to do,” said Pangrcic after her winning ride. “I thought our leg yields were great, but the best thing of all in our test was our canter lengthening. You never quite know with a young horse if when you go forward you’ll be able to come back, but I was able to trust him and it was fun.”

In the Second Level Freestyle division, adult amateur Sara Bartholomew of Galt, Cal. rode her KWPN mare Gelbria to victory on a score of 67.250%. “My music is from Top Gun – I wanted something recognizable and fun, and I’m a child of the 80’s,” Bartholomew laughed. “We had a little bit of first-day jitters which resulted in a couple of mistakes in individual movements, but as a whole she was super in her frame, very forward, through and bright, and it just felt great.”

Fellow adult amateur competitor Kasey Cannon of Moorpark, Cal. brought her stunning Hanoverian stallion Diesel CF to the CDS Championship Show for the first time in 2016 at Training Level, and have returned every year since as they move up the levels. Although the pair will be focusing the most on several Fourth Level rides to come, they kicked off their championship weekend in winning style by easily topping the leaderboard in the Region 7 Third Level Freestyle with 72.767%. “He was so super today – he’s grown up a lot, and I felt like I could just go in there and get the job done,” Cannon explained. “At this point in his development, the collected work is a highlight for him – his changes are super and he’s already doing half-steps. All the hard stuff is his strength. It’s funny because we just kind of did this Third Level Freestyle on the side – I borrowed my trainer’s music, rode it a few times and here we come away with the win!”

Just a month ago, Ari Lopez of Pleasant Hill, Cal. and Karen Kahn’s Oldenburg gelding Flynn traveled across the country to compete against the nation’s best at the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Dressage Festival of Champions in Lamplight, Ill. Looking no worse for wear, the road warriors topped a tough field in the Region 7 Intermediaire Freestyle Championship with a winning score of 73.250%. “We’ve had a busy summer,” Lopez chuckled. “But Flynn’s a super easy traveler, so we came home from Lamplight, had a little time off, and were ready to get right back to work to prepare to come here. He’s a really consistent horse and I pretty much know that he’s always going to be there for me. His tempi’s are really solid and his pirouette work is a highlight, plus I can ride our half-passes really steep so that’s nice in a freestyle to be able to show a little more degree of difficulty.” Lopez and Flynn will now be looking to add additional titles to their resume in open Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I divisions over the weekend.