Beauty on the hoof

Leslie Cox takes a victory lap past the spectators after a fine ride at the Bainbridge Classic equestrian competition at Battle Point Park Sunday afternoon - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Leslie Cox takes a victory lap past the spectators after a fine ride at the Bainbridge Classic equestrian competition at Battle Point Park Sunday afternoon
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

The Bainbridge Classic celebrates the majesty of the horse.

Horses are in Madeline Hepler’s blood.

“It’s one of those things,” the 10-year-old rider said of her relationship with Brindy, half thoroughbred, half Dutch warm-blood. “It’s ingrained in my life. It’s a stress relaxer for me. I’ve never been a team sport person.

“I like the one-on-one thing with my horse.”

She was in good company this past weekend, as more than 100 riders and their families converged on Battle Point Park for the 23rd annual Bainbridge Classic horse show.

The three-day event attracted enthusiasts from Bainbridge, Kitsap County and around the Northwest, with some riders hailing from Spokane, Burnaby, B.C. and Portland, Ore., as well as the Puget Sound area.

The competition roughly divides by adult and junior riders. Tallies in a series of judged events determine show winners in each category, and Kyla Barr of Bainbridge won Best Child Rider Hunter. Amanda Gelderman of Poulsbo won one of the three Jumper Rides of the Day, while Jackie Chipman of Bainbridge received the Senior Sportsmanship award.

This year, the island horsing community dedicated the new Elsie Backland Arena, under development in the southeast corner of the park, to honor a Bainbridge resident now in her 90s.

“Elsie was instrumental in keeping the Pony Club going,” said Leigh Manheim, whose involvement with the Classic goes back eight years, when her daughter Alana got involved with horses.

The event was started by Haven Farms owner Mollie Bogardus, who named her operation after her first love coming out of college, a horse called Talk About Haven. She said the event provides an important chance for local riders to compete at home as hosts.

“Putting the event on, seeing the joy and benefits for the local kids as the home team…provides the impetus to keep it going,” Bogardus said. “Their family and friends come out to watch. They get to sleep in their own beds.”

Sixteen-year-old islander Katie Burke rode Dee Dee, also a thoroughbred-warm blood cross. Asked what horsing around means to her, Burke said, “Everything. Basically, it’s my life.”

It’s her third year competing in the event since her family moved from Bellevue – a good move for her hobby.

“There’s a lot more opportunities around here for horsing,” she said.

Numerous equestrians from around the area make a point of coming to the Bainbridge Classic because of the park environs, organizers said. Many individuals and lots of volunteer labor keep the event going.

“There’s so much going on, so much to do,” Manheim said. “But it’s worth it to see how much the kids get back from it. The Bainbridge Classic is a cornerstone for our community.”

Said Bogardus, “When you stop to think that any event can go on for 23 years, and what it takes to pull it off, that just makes you realize how much people enjoy it.”

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