White Lightning: Epitome of Versatility
The first evening’s class (Tuesday, June 2) at the GCHS was the $5,000 GCHS Hunter/Jumper Versatility Challenge. This class honors the tradition of Barney Mallace’s horse Keepsake, a 1990 Dutch Warmblood who was noted for her versatility in winning both in the hunter ring and the jumper ring. There are two rounds in this competition: a hunter-style judged round in which the horses jump 3’3” to 3’6” and a jumper course looking for fastest clear round. The top 12 hunters from round one come back for round two. Overall winner is the highest point total from both rounds. In addition to prize money, the winner receives the Keepsake Perpetual Trophy donated by Peggy Jones and Barney Mallace.
This year’s winner was Michael Tokaruk riding White Lightning. “I just rode this horse for the first time yesterday,” Tokaruk told Mid-South Horse Review publisher Tommy Brannon. He called this horse the “catch ride on the fun horse of Shannon Hicks and Helen Gilbert.” Lightning performed a smooth, polished hunter round that put him in the top contenders – third place. Coming back for the jumper round, the horse rounded the course in “lightning” speed, cutting corners and showing remarkable flexibility, all the while maintaining the smooth hunter style.
Michael Tokaruk’s “catch ride,” White Lightning, showed what a talented and versatile horse he is in other classes at the show. Owned by Helen Gilbert and trained by Shannon Hicks, Lightning placed first in all but one of the Second Year Green High Performance Division classes, placing third in the under saddle class. He was first in both classes in the Blue/Red warm up, fourth in the Germantown Classic, and, of course, won the GCHS Hunter/Jumper Versatility Challenge.
Lightning is a German Warmblood, about 13-14 years old. Michael had seen the horse campaigned by Andy Kocher on the Grand Prix circuit. “The horse jumps well, but he showed better potential as a hunter,” Tokaruk said. He was sold to Helen Gilbert, who owned him as a hunter. He has shown in High Performance classes and Derbies. “I watched him at the Brownland show the previous weekend [from the Charity show], and I always liked him but I had never ridden him,” Tokaruk added. Then the ladies from St. Louis asked him to ride Lightning at the GCHS.
Given his experience doing both jumper and hunter classes, when it came to the Versatility Challenge, “We knew he’d be great at that,” Tokaruk said. Lightning had a smooth hunter round, “but he was a little excited for the hunter part,” Tokaruk explained. “But I could call on him easily for speed in the jumper round. We were third after the hunter round, and in the jumper round we were 10 seconds faster than everyone else. …he’s a fun, made horse to ride” This was not only the first time Tokaruk had ridden Lightning, it was also the first time he’d ridden in the Versatility Challenge.
The win of the Versatility Challenge was even more meaningful for Tokaruk because he had ridden Keepsake, the horse after whom the class was created and the trophy named, several years ago when he was at Spring Mill Farm. He describes the horse: “She was a blast, so much fun; willing to please.”
Tokaruk continues to learn and improve his riding. He was recently chosen to participate in the USEF Developing Rider Clinic, part of the George Morris Gladstone Program, held in Antioch, Illinois June 15-20. Tokaruk described the clinic as “an all encompassing symposium,” including riding instruction from George Morris, barn management, veterinary, and farrier clinics, learning all aspects of horsemanship and horse care. Tokaruk’s dream and goal is to ride on the Nation’s Cup team for the USA. Tokaruk now has dual citizenship in Canada and the USA.
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