Team Medalists (Shawn McMillen Photography)
Lexington, KY – Clear rounds were the order of the day in the Alltech Arena on Thursday evening as 11 teams went to task over Marc Donovan’s 12-obstacle track. Team medals in the US National Pony Jumper Championship were at stake as competition was held in the two-round Nations Cup format. Following the first round the top six teams came back to jump the same course in round two, in addition to 12 combinations that were jumping for individual classification.
For a second consecutive year, the team from Zone Four proved unbeatable as they cruised to the Gold medal on a score of zero faults. All four riders, Morgan Gravely, Micaela Smith, Cooper Dean, and Heather Vaxer, jumped double clear for Zone Four on Thursday.
“Our whole team rode it really well and it worked out great,” said Gravely (High Springs, FL) of the course, of which her own and Celia Evan’s Dragon’s Lair Banner made light work in the lead-off position for the team. “Last year, Zone Four won too, and it was all new riders this year and to come and win is awesome.”
Echoing her teammate’s thoughts on how meaningful it was to win, Smith (Clover, SC) was ecstatic with her pony Blue Me Away’s performance and that of the Zone Four spirit.
“I’ve never won anything this big before in my life,” said Smith. “We were pretty pumped up when one of us went clear.”
Dean (Fayette, AL) has only been riding his pony American Hero for a year, but has quickly forged a relationship with the gelding.
“He’s the best pony I could ever have. I’ve only had him a year but it has been the best year of my life and to come and do this (win), it’s just unbelievable.”
Riding in the anchor position for Zone Four, Vaxer (Del Ray Beach, FL) did not have to jump her own Cha Cha Cha in the second round as her team had already clinched Gold, but did so to maintain her Individual standing. She also felt it was important to continue to contribute alongside her teammates.
“I’m really excited; there’s a lot of adrenaline. We have a really strong team; they’re all so supportive. We all knew how we wanted to plan this. It was a lot of pressure but it all worked out.”
Collecting the Silver medal was the Zone Five Combined Team with eight total faults. Jumping in the anchor position, Caitlyn Conors (Glen Mills, PA) added her name to the double-clear list with two immaculate trips on her own Break Away. Carson Ruff (Maple Park, IL) was the lead-off rider for her team, producing four- and zero-fault rounds with Sarah Ruff’s Jet Pilot, while Emma Ellis (Annapolis, MD) was clear in round one and had a single rail in round two to collect four faults with her own Tangled Up in Blue. Rounding out the Zone Five Combined Team was Emma Bach (Cincinnati, OH) and Maria Kneipp’s Lucky Charm.
Zone Seven earned the Bronze medal after completing the two rounds of jumping on a score of 27. Their team was composed of Caroline Zaunbrecher (Lafayette, LA) with her own Fire Van Battenbroek, Madison Massey (Pelham , AL) and Picasso, Sedona Chamblee (Keller, TX) with her own Lucky Star and double-clear combination Elizabeth McDougald (Lawton, OK), and her own Knock My Sox Off.
A total of nine combinations jumped double clear on Thursday night including Zone Four’s Gravely, Smith, Dean and Vaxer, along with Zone Five Combined Team’s Connors, Zone Seven’s McDougald and Christina Rodriguez (Dade City, FL) and her own A Lotta Moxie of Team Blue as well as Camilla Siekmann (Washington Crossing, PA) with her own Mist of a Champion from Zone Two and Team Red’s Elena Stoltzfus (Gap, PA) with Hugh Cann’s Swears Like a Sailor.
In Individual standings, Gravely, Dean, Vaxer, Connors, McDougald, Rodriguez, Siekmann, and Stoltzfus all lead on a three round total of zero faults.
The Individual Champion for the 2013 US National Pony Jumper Championship will crowned following the conclusion of Friday’s Individual Final.
By Helen Murray
To follow all the action from the US National Pony Jumper Championship and the 2013 US Pony Finals, visit: http://usefconnect.com/ponyfinals/.