An Unlikely Five-Star Horse: Ema Klugman Thanks Long-Time Partner, Bendigo

At the age of 18, Bendigo was still competing at the highest levels of eventing. Now, he is taking it a bit easier, but is still “bopping around like the badass professor he is.” Here is Ema Klugman’s tribute to her long-time partner.

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Thank you, Bendigo.

It was always our plan to retire Ben from Advanced-level eventing after this year. His giving me experience at the 5* level was pure icing on the cake— the horse was only ever supposed to go preliminary. He made me the rider I am today, and in turn he has done a huge amount in helping me pass on that education to my younger horses. While it would have been amazing to go out on a high of another 5* finish at Maryland, the horse owes me nothing and he’s ready to have an easier job now.

Marilyn (Little) once said to me: “We can only do the best we can each day as we each continue to learn to become who who we were meant to be— and perhaps attempt to go beyond even that.”

The best way I can describe Bendigo is that he has imposter syndrome, ADHD, anxiety, stage fright, and probably several other unnamed demons that he had to overcome to become the horse he became for me. He was never “meant to be” a 5* horse, or even a four- or three-star horse for that matter. He is half-Saddlebred, after all! He (and we) attempted to go beyond who he was meant to be—and he did that not for himself but for me. I won’t ever meet a horse with more generosity of spirit.

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Ben was a massive door-opener. He took me to some of the biggest events in the country. Great horses open doors, and they also connect people. Ben took me down the road to Packy’s, up the road to Raylyn Farms where I gained immeasurable experience, over to Hilary’s where I started and will continue to improve in the dressage phase, and even up to Canada and down to Ocala through the Bromont Rising grant program. He got me noticed by Australian High Performance. I made SO many mistakes on him, but he always kept trying. It is remarkable to look at his record—we started when I was dumb and 15 years old at the novice level, and here’s what we did together:

  • 60 starts since beginning his eventing career in 2013
  • 25 starts at the Advanced/4*/5* level
  • 43 top ten finishes
  • 40 clear show jumping rounds
  • 53 clear XC rounds

Bendigo got me through high school and university and my first job. I managed to crash and burn with him on multiple occasions, but he was always perky and willing to try again the next day. He taught me that failure is no excuse to stop trying. He taught me to be courageous. He taught me that very important skill of “stick-to-it-ness,” even when giving up would have been the rational and easier thing to do. He taught me to carve out my spot in the world when it didn’t seem like I fit in. To end this chapter feels more happy than sad—we did more than we were ever meant to do.

We #BelieveInBendigo! Photo by Elena Perea.

Looking back, I can identify so many moments in which I could’ve and should’ve made different decisions to get better results. But that’s what this amazing horse did for me– he gave me experience right after I needed it and then reminded me that you absolutely never stop learning in this sport, and in life. I really do wish Packy could have seen us over the last couple of years, because I finally started to ride properly on the odd occasion!

Karen O’Connor told me last year that my job is to make all of my horses feel the way Bendigo feels on cross country. The feeling he gave me at Kentucky is something I won’t ever forget. It will be my mission to produce horses that have that kind of keen understanding of the cross country phase, but to be honest I’m not sure another horse will feel exactly like him. Ben made me, and in turn he is making my other horses. I’ll draw on the experience he gave me as I work on getting more horses up to the top level, and back to events like Kentucky and Maryland and hopefully other 5* events around the world.

Ema Klugman and Bendigo. Photo by Shelby Allen.

I was hoping to find a young rider or adult amateur to take over the reins, and it seems that we have made a good match in a lease with one of my lovely students Julie Anne Bigham. He is too full of idiosyncrasies and dear to me to ever leave our farm and program, so I’m very glad that I’ll still get to see his cheeky face every morning. Having him here bopping around like the badass professor he is makes my heart smile. Look out for him next year with Julie; rest assured that he will be doing all three phases a little bit too fast with a grin on his face.

Thank you, my friend. It’s been an absolute honor.

Ema and Bendigo are being featured as part of Horse Nation’s partnership with Zoetis and in conjunction with their Long Live the Horse campaign. Talk to your vet to learn more about Zoetis’s full range of regenerative medicines and keeping your horse happy, healthy and performing for as long as possible.