Photo: Tessa Downey and Hallelujah.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 12, 2018 – The 2018 USEF Pony Finals drew to a close Sunday, but not before one more champion was crowned following the capstone event of the week, the 2018 Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals. Nearly 200 young riders aboard small, medium, and large ponies took their turns around the equitation track inside the Alltech Arena, and ultimately it was Tessa Downey aboard Hallelujah who outshone the large pack to earn the coveted winning title. Downey added to an already outstanding week with her new accolade, as the 13-year-old rider also earned the tricolor just one day ago in the Medium Regular Pony Hunters.
Riding 112th in the original order of go, Downey set the bar high for those that would follow her performance with a first-rate display of equitation riding, surpassing almost the entire herd of pony riders that had already jumped the 11-fence track. Designer Jasen Shelley’s winding first round course offered exhibitors a number of chances to display their skills, with a handful of inside turn options in addition to a trot fence and a required halt following the final obstacle to conclude the test before exiting. After watching more than 190 pony-and-rider partners tackle the course, judges Jeffrey Ayers and William Ellis awarded Downey the second slot on the callback behind Alexandra Lynn Willner, who had the reins on a medium pony, to emerge as one of the early frontrunners headed into phase two thanks to her precise and quiet riding.
Whittled down to an elite 20 riders, the second portion of the 2018 Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals brought back the remaining contenders, with riders aboard small ponies trying their hands around the abridged pattern first, followed by the larges and finally the mediums in order to allow the leading pair to ride last. Of the returning crew, four duos were smalls, 11 were mediums and five were larges. Slightly shortened to nine obstacles, the second sequence of fences asked riders to halt after fence two and then immediately canter to the subsequent vertical only a few strides away. Though Downey was ranked second in the standings, she returned as the ninth out of 20, due to the larger group of medium pony riders that would ride last. As noted by Judges Ayers and Ellis, Downey improved upon first round performance to put her at the top of the scorecard with 11 left to ride, and ultimately overthrew the initial leader and leapfrogged to the top to claim the championship honors.
Adding to her impressive performance is the fact that Downey first took up the reins on Hallelujah just four days ago, and this week was her first time competing on a large pony. Based in Texas, Downey is trained by Peter Pletcher and made her fourth appearance at the USEF Pony Finals this year. Though the young rider had never made it to the winner’s circle before, Sunday’s win gives her double the reasons to celebrate after her divisional win earlier in the week.
Though third-phase testing was a possibility should the judges panel opt for it, Ellis and Ayers chose not to ask for a final work-off, citing that the creme of the crop was easily distinguishable. Of the original top five, only two entrants retained their status, with three riders moving up the ranks with their second phase performances. Advancing from sixth place, Reilly Gogul nabbed the reserve championship behind Downey, followed by Alexa Lignelli and Maddie Tosh, up from seventh, in the third and fourth positions, respectively. Alexandra Miller finished in fifth place, making the move up from 12th after the first round.
Contact: Rebecca Walton
phone 561.753.3389 fax 561.753.3386