Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 6, 2019 – Hundreds of ponies descended upon the Kentucky Horse Park once again for the first day of competition during the annual installment of the 2019 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, to mark the event’s 52nd year. The most celebrated event of its kind for pony riders in the United States, the USEF Pony Finals is a three-phase competition judging the pony’s conformation, way of moving, and jumping ability. With blue ribbons in both the model and under saddle phases, Samantha Takacs and Brighton emerged as the early frontrunners ahead of a pack of nearly 150 pairs in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, while Annabelle Brown and Sunshine Kid topped the leaderboard in the Small Green Pony Hunters.
Hailing from Oldwick, New Jersey, Takacs is no stranger to the winner’s circle or the pressure of leading a division head into the over fences portion of competition. In 2018, the now-14-year-old rider modeled and hacked Galianna to the day one lead in the Medium Green Pony Hunters, eventually securing the overall championship following an exemplary over fences performance. Similarly, Ellie Sadrian’s Brighton is a returning champion, boasting two major accolades from the 2018 event. With the highest cumulative score of the six divisions, Brighton reigned supreme with rider Kat Fuqua to capture the Grand Regular Pony Hunter championship title, along with the rosette in the Large Regular Pony Hunters. The partnership will jump last Wednesday as the current leaders with 544.27 total points, comprised of their scores of 266 in the model and 278.27 in the under saddle.
In the Small Green Pony Hunters, Brown nabbed the top spot on the overall scorecard with Sunshine Kid, owned by Alina Glover. Earning 258.55 points in the model, the duo was awarded second place out of a pack of 44 challengers and later returned to the Walnut Ring to with a score of 248.25 and fourteenth place in the under saddle. Sitting on a cumulative tally of 506.80 points, Brown and Sunshine Kid lead the division by just one point ahead of a hotly-contested field and will aim to retain their momentum during Wednesday’s third phase of competition.
Kat Fuqua and Brighton (Photo courtesy of Shawn McMillan)
Lexington, Kentucky (August 31, 2018) – A new gold standard set by a golden pony and his rider: the 2018 USEF Pony Finals presented by Collecting Gaits Farm saw the birth of a new superstar partnership and a new era in Pony Hunter competition. Kat Fuqua and Brighton were a world apart: sweeping their division and leading the field by over 30 points was the beginning; being crowned Overall Grand Pony Hunter Champion for the entire Finals was the bridge. And to clinch their extraordinary effort, having just turned 11 years old, Fuqua may be the youngest and highest scoring USEF Pony Finals Champion in the event’s history.
Fuqua, who came to have the ride on Brighton just a few months ago, went into the USEF Pony Finals aboard the flaxen maned pony with an undefeated record. They were to quickly prove their mettle by sweeping all three classes, a rare achievement, and garnering an impressive 1063.65 points, the highest cumulative score for a USEF Pony Finals competitor. With over 30 points differentiation between Champion and Reserve, Fuqua galloped to Overall Grand Pony Hunter Champion and is one of the youngest, if not the youngest ever, Grand Pony Finals Champions. Her trainer, Michael Newman, was awarded the Emerson Burr Perpetual Trophy, which recognizes the trainer of the Overall Champion at USEF Pony Finals and their contribution to the advancement of youth riders.
“Michael doesn’t put a lot of pressure on me, and even when I’m nervous before a big show like USEF Pony Finals he always finds a way to make me laugh before I go in the arena,” said Fuqua. “It teaches me the importance of being relaxed in the saddle. Brighton is such an easy, happy pony; I think that is what has made us click so well even though I haven’t known him that long.” Channeling this happy attitude instilled by her trainer, Kat’s team, including her mom and a few friends, decided to have a dance off to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s classic “Let’s Groove,” while waiting for her ride. Despite some level of embarrassment, Kat admits that the positive, relaxed atmosphere has contributed to her high scores in the show ring.
With Brighton taking the blue in the 10 & Under Large Pony Hunter, the Owner/Rider Large Pony Hunter, the Large Pony Hunter Championship out of a field of 147 Large ponies, and Grand Pony Champion out of 417 ponies of all sizes, it would be fair to assume that Fuqua’s other ponies may have fallen by the wayside. That was not the case, however, as she piloted her medium gray pony mare, Sasha Fierce, to Reserve Champion Overall in the 10 & Under Medium Green Pony Hunter, 12th in the Model Medium Green Pony Hunter, and 17th Overall in the Medium Green Pony Hunter out of 72 entries. Her Medium pony, Finesse RF, a.k.a. Ladybug, was also well placed: 6th overall in the 10 & Under Medium Pony Hunter, 7th in the Under Saddle Medium Pony Hunter, and 25th in the Overall Medium Pony Hunter out of a field of 167.
Because the USEF Pony Finals restricts riders to only one pony per division, Fuqua passed the ride on her other large pony, Chic in Time, aka Spicey, to her friend and another prominent champion equestrian Caroline Passarelli. Spicey and Passarelli were 2nd in the Under Saddle Large Pony Hunter, 15th in the Model Large Pony Hunter, and 3rd in the Large Pony Hunter Combined Model & Under Saddle.
With the whirlwind of USEF Pony Finals behind her, Fuqua then stepped into the irons of her Junior Hunter, RS Levitation, a.k.a. Jett, to take home the Division Championship at the 2018 Atlanta Summerfest III, held August 16-19, 2018. The Junior Hunter division has been a natural next step for Fuqua as she expands her horizons beyond just ponies, and she states that her success in the show ring comes from the support of her family as well as the advice guidance of trainer Michael Newman.
She and Jett also placed 3rd in the country during July’s USEF National Junior Hunter Championships before setting her sights on USEF Pony Finals and the Atlanta Summerfest. Fuqua’s next outing will be September’s Brownland Fall Horse Show Series in preparation for indoors at Harrisburg and Washington Championship Shows in October.
Fuqua’s USHJA Zone 4 rankings, also as of August 27, 2018, currently sees Finesse RF as the #1 Medium Hunter Pony, Chic in Time as the #1 Large Hunter Pony, RS Levitation as the #1 Junior Hunter Small 15 & Under, and her other Junior Hunter mount, Calvaro, as the #3 Junior Hunter Small 15 & Under.
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.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 11, 2018 – The final and largest division of the week concluded with the over fences phase Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park, closing out 2018 USEF Pony Finals competition in the hunter ring. Tessa Downey and Anisette were awarded the championship in the Medium Regular Pony Hunters ahead of a massive field of 163 other contenders, moving up from third position to earn the coveted tricolor. Boasting the highest cumulative score of the six divisions, Kat Fuqua and Brighton reigned supreme to capture the Grand Regular Pony Hunter championship title, while Downey and Anisette rode to the Grand Reserve Regular Pony Hunter honors, in addition to the Best Turned Out Award.
Beginning bright and early in the Walnut Ring, the expansive collection of entries in the Medium Regular Pony Hunters were in the spotlight for the majority of the day, but ultimately it all came do the final few pairs to tackle the course. With one championship already under her belt for the week, Maddie Tosh aimed to add another to her list with the reins aboard Peacock Ridge, LLC’s Smallwood Mystic, navigating the pony to a top score of 264 over fences and 1,019.52 overall, bumping them from 20th position to the top of the leaderboard. Tosh would retain her position until Downey and her own Anisette entered the ring as the third-to-last duo to take their turn over the fences. The pony-and-rider partners executed a textbook performance to the tune of 87, 88 and 89 for a total score of 264 over fences and 1,045.14 from the judges, overthrowing the sitting leaders. The final two pairs to ride, Caroline Signorino aboard Newhaven’s Magnum and Ava Berman with Toblerone, tried their best to match the efforts of their peers, but were unable to surpass the lofty scores earned by Downey and Anisette.
Proving that everything is bigger in Texas, Houston-based Downey fittingly nabbed the win ahead of the largest division of the week and was accompanied by a horde of supporters including family, friends, and the team at PJP Farm. Trained by Peter Pletcher, the 13-year-old rider is attending her fourth USEF Pony Finals, but the 2018 event marks her first time in the winner’s circle. The Downey family had reason to celebrate last year as the owners of News Flash, the pony that won this same division and the Grand Regular Pony Hunter title in 2017 with Augusta Iwasaki in the saddle, but this year the division win is even sweeter as Downey both owns and rode Anisette.
Tosh and Smallwood Mystic earned the reserve spot in the Medium Regular Pony Hunters, followed by Skye Kania and Sammy Kania’s Falling Moon Front Page in third position, up from their 12th place spot after the first two phases of competition. Baylee McKeever and Heritage Farm, Inc.’s Dream Come Blue nabbed the fourth position, and owner-rider Calder Trotz navigated Not So Secret to fifth overall.
Exemplifying the highest level of talent and ability across the three size-based Regular Pony Hunter divisions, Fuqua and Brighton added another accolade to their names as the winners of the Grand Regular Pony Hunter title. The first divisional champions of the week, Fuqua and her own Brighton modeled, hacked, and jumped their way to a two-day total score of 1,063.65 in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, impressively putting them in a league all their own more than 30 points ahead of the next-closest competitor in their respective division. Downey and Anisette had double the reasons to celebrate Saturday as the Grand Reserve Regular Pony Hunter winners.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 10, 2018 – The penultimate day of hunter competition concluded Friday at the Kentucky Horse Park with two new 2018 USEF Pony Finals champions hoisting their titles. In the Medium Green Pony Hunters, Samantha Takacs and Galianna extended their day one lead to secure the overall championship and the Grand Green Pony Hunter rosette, while Grace Debney and Lafayette Park led the victory gallop and took home the final green pony division championship in the Large Green Pony Hunters in addition to the Grand Reserve Green Pony Hunter title.
Beginning the day as the early leaders and the last to ride over fences out of 72 entries, Takacs and Kim Wolf’s Galianna needed 236 points to surpass Cecelia Jackson and Northwind Marwyn, the current leading pair, as they entered the ring for their over fences ride. A steady stream of solid performances throughout the class kept the top of the leaderboard close, but luckily Takacs and the dappled dark bay pony had finished the first two phases of competition with a 16-point lead, easing some of the pressure. Pulling in scores of 84, 85 and 87 from the judges’ panel for a total 256 points after a first-rate trip, the 13-year-old rider and Galianna earned the over fences blue ribbon and boosted their cumulative two-day score to 1,040.02, claiming the division title and Grand Green Hunter Pony championship as the highest scoring of the three size-based Green divisions.
Takacs and Galianna, affectionately known as “Adele” or “Deli Sandwich,” are newfound partners, with the young rider only just getting the reins on the mare one short week ago. When California-based Gabrielle Sokolow was not able to attend the 2018 USEF Pony Finals with trainer Corinne Bevins, New Jersey-based Takacs stepped in to take over the ride. Though their time together was scant, the combined talent of the rider and pony proved to be the perfect match, earning top marks in all three phases.
Jackson and Susan McDade’s Northwind Marwyn finished in the reserve position with 1,000.50 points, the only other pair to break the 1,000-point threshold, closely followed by owner-rider Lola Head and Goldhills As You Like It in third position overall. Kierstin Antoniadis and Elizabeth Garcia’s Blank Check finished fourth in the standings, while Alexa Lignelli and The Lignelli Family’s EMC Entourage rounded out the top five placings.
Concluding the afternoon was the Large Green Pony Hunters, comprised of a pack of 81 pony-and-rider combinations vying for the top spot. Riding fifth-to-last in the order of go, 14-year-old Debney and Temple Equestrian, LLC’s Lafayette Park executed a near flawless trip over the 10-fence track to usurp the sitting class leaders, Kierstin Antoniadis and Winter Tietjen’s Pokerface, who leapfrogged from 20th position to the top of the field with a 259-point over fences score. The remaining four contenders each navigated satisfactory rounds, but were unsuccessful at matching the finesse shown by Debney and “Jake,” who ultimately finished in the top spot overall with 1,018.85 points and second in the over fences portion of competition. With their composite score, Debney and Lafayette Park secured the Grand Reserve Green Pony Hunter tricolor.
Debney is hot off a standout performance at the Devon Horse Show with the famous pony, Storyteller, who she piloted to the Large Pony Hunter Championship, the Grand Pony Hunter title, and the Best Child Rider on a Pony title in May. With her win Friday, Debney can add another accolade to her mounting trophy case.
The only other duo to hit 1,000 points, Antoniadis and Pokerface finished in the reserve position with 1,005.03 points, trailed by Isabella Griffin and her own Heaven’s Gift with the bronze. Owner-rider Jessica West and Stoneledge Just My Style captured fourth place, while Takacs added another top placing to her repertoire with fifth position aboard Rendezvous Farm’s Small Romance.
In the Medium Regular Pony Hunters, the last hunter division of the week, Toblerone carried Ava Berman to the forefront of the standings after two strong showings in the model and the hack. Narrowly missing first place by less than half of a point in the model, Berman and Sofia Baiker’s Toblerone secured the divisional lead with a ninth place finish under saddle, propelling them to the top of the overall scorecard with total marks of 519.55.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 9, 2018 – The 2018 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, returned to the Kentucky Horse Park for the third day of competition , with Maddie Tosh and Bit Of Love proving to be the day’s big winners as the over fences and overall champions in the Small Regular Pony Hunters. The winning 12-year-old and Bit Of Love bested a lofty field of 101 entries to assert themselves as the 2018 titleholders. The remaining larger green pony divisions all had their time to shine Thursday, as well, with Samantha Takacs aboard Galianna and Josephine Rose with the ride on Cacique claiming the early leads in their respective divisions, the Medium Green and Large Green Pony Hunters.
Returning in sixth position for the Small Regular Pony Hunters, Tosh was not faced with the pressure of riding as the last to go with Dr. Betsee Parker’s seasoned pony, Bit Of Love, but was challenged to lay down a near-perfect showing in order to eclipse Finley Morgan and the five pairs sitting ahead of her after the model and hack phases. Tackling the expansive track with finesse, the young rider and Bit Of Love pulled in scores of 88, 90 and 92 for a composite score of 270 over fences, overtaking the early leaders Morgan and her own Howie Do It, who impressively jumped from 50th position to the initial lead after a textbook trip. Forced to watch five of her peers chase her down, Tosh was ultimately rewarded as each pair failed to accrue enough points to oust her from her spot atop the leaderboard. Though Helen Ryan and Smitten gave them a run for the title with individual scores of 87, 87.5 and 88, their effort would have to settle for second position in both the over fences and overall.
In addition to their class and division tricolors, Tosh and Bit Of Love also earned the High-Scoring Welsh Award for Small Regular Ponies as the top finisher for the breed. Tosh is trained by her father, acclaimed rider and trainer Hunt Tosh, out of Alpharetta, Georgia, and has been riding “Chester” for two years. This is her second appearance at Pony Finals, but the first win for Tosh, who also competes on the horses in the equitation and Children’s Hunter.
Combined with Wednesday’s score from the model and under saddle portions of divisional competition, Tosh and Bit Of Love concluded the Small Regular Pony Hunters with total marks of 1,050.54, a handful of points ahead of the reserve champions, Ryan and Town Line Equestrian, LLC’s Smitten. Not far behind, the day one leaders Carolyn Colter and So Enchanted, owned by Jessica Zandri, claimed third position, trailed by Lauren Gee and Ava Berman’s Farmore Charismatic in fourth place. Morgan and Howie Do It made the largest jump of the afternoon to round out the top five finishers.
Boasting two strong showings in the Medium Green Pony Hunters a few hours prior, four-time Pony Finals veteran Takacs modeled and rode Kim Wolf’s Galianna to the highest total marks of the day to emerge as the early pair to beat. The pony-and-rider combination commenced their morning with a third place finish out of 72 exhibitors in the model, and then secured the divisional lead with an eye-catching performance in the hack, riding to the blue ribbon more than 10 points ahead of the next-closest finisher.
Rose and Joey Rose, LLC’s Cacique concluded the initial phases of Large Green Pony Hunter competition as the frontrunners with a narrow 4-point lead headed into the over fences class. Now at her fifth Pony Finals, Rose showed off Cacique’s conformation expertly, warranting a fourth place ribbon and score of 255.59 from the judges’ panel. The pair soon improved upon their showing in the hack, displaying the walk, trot and canter to the reserve spot and a lofty score of 270.16, less than one point behind the class winner, Caroline Passarelli in the irons aboard So Dapper, owned by Jessica Zandri.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 8, 2018 – Bowties and braids returned to the Walnut Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park for the second day of the 2018 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, on Wednesday, with the day one leaders aiming to retain their top positions in the Large Regular and Small Green Pony Hunter divisions. In the end, Kat Fuqua and Brighton led from start to finish and were successful at fending off the large field of competition to emerge victorious in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, while Skylar Wireman, with the reins on Neon Moon, leapfrogged 20 places to the top of the leaderboard in the Small Green Pony Hunter division.
As the last to ride of more than 140 entries in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, 11-year-old Fuqua and her own Brighton overcame the pressure to lay down the highest scoring single trip of the day, easily sweeping all three phases of the division and claiming the championship tricolors. Displaying their prowess by maintaining an even rhythm around the lofty track, the winning duo raked in scores of 85.5, 87.5 and 88 from the judges’ panel to brandish top marks of 261 in the over fences class. Combined with Tuesday’s score, Fuqua and Brighton’s final tally was 1063.65, more than 30 points ahead of the reserve champion and a strong score to keep them in contention for the Grand Regular Pony Hunter title to be crowned Saturday following the conclusion of all the divisions.
The 2018 event is Fuqua’s fifth Pony Finals appearance, but her first championship win, fittingly on her mother’s birthday. Both of Fuqua’s parents are grand prix dressage riders, but their daughter has shown an aptitude for jumping and shows no signs of slowing down, recently earning a top placing at the USEF Junior Hunter National Championships – East. The young rider from Atlanta, Georgia will return later in the week to contest more pony divisions against her peers.
One of only five pony-and-rider combinations to break the 1,000-point benchmark, Chandler Wilks navigated Ashley Vail Aycox’s Valentino to the reserve championship with a cumulative score of 1029.86, followed by Propp and Aquitaine Equine’s News Day, who jumped from ninth at the beginning of the day to nab the final podium spot with marks of 1027.76. Clair Campbell and Eastside, owned by Maher Family, LLC, claimed fourth place, while Emma Rupinski and Lily Rupinski’s Stonewall Top Call pulled off one of the largest improvements of the day to finish in fifth position after jumping from the 30th spot.
Capping off the afternoon, the Small Green Pony Hunters took the spotlight and, with a smaller field of 40 contenders, movement among the top of the ranks was not out of the question. Riding 19th in the order of go as the 21st-ranked pair after day one, 13-year-old Wireman and Balmoral’s Neon Moon were not pegged as one of the frontrunners, but quickly attracted attention with their talented trip that earned them scores of 86, 87 and 90 from the watchful eyes of the judges. Forced to wait with nearly half of the class still to ride, Wireman looked on as her fellow riders took their shot at usurping her place atop the scorecard, but none were able to overtake her over fences marks of 263 or her cumulative 998.50 division points.
Alexa Lignelli and Agatha Lignelli’s Just Right rode to the second place ribbon both over fences and overall with 254 and 994.60 points, respectively, while Alexandra Miller aboard Pineapple, owned by Emily Elek-Burtard, likewise clinched third position over fences and in the final division rankings. Owner-rider Vanessa Mazzoli and Partly Cloudy earned the fourth spot, and Propp and Aquitaine Equine’s With Love, the day one leaders, rounded out the top five finishers.
Earlier in the day, Carolyn Colter and Jessica Zandri’s So Enchanted maneuvered their way to the early lead in the Small Regular Pony Hunters thanks to ribbon-worthy performances in both the model and under saddle phases.
Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 7, 2018 – Tuesday morning marked the highly-anticipated commencement of the 2018 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, at the Kentucky Horse Park, with nearly 200 ponies and their junior riders taking center stage in the first two divisions of the week. The most celebrated event of its kind for pony riders in the United States, the USEF Pony Finals is a three-phase competition judging the pony’s conformation, way of moving and jumping ability. After the first two rounds of competition for the Large Regular Pony Hunters, Kat Fuqua and Brighton emerged as the early leaders by impressively earning blue ribbons in both the model and hack ahead of 146 fellow contenders. Besting the field in the Small Green Pony Hunters, Clara Propp and With Love will ride last over fences as the initial frontrunners in their division.
Though Fuqua and her own Brighton have only been paired together for one short month, their short relationship did not detract from their performance in the Walnut Ring as the pair consistently impressed the judges’ panel in the Large Regular Pony Hunters. Under the tutelage of trainer Michael Newman of Aubrey Hill Equestrian in Pace, Florida, the 11-year-old rider and chestnut pony collected scores of 260.23 in the model and 281.42 in the hack to solidify their place atop the leaderboard headed into the final portion of competition. No stranger to the winner’s circle, Brighton carried Claire Campbell to a similar lead in the division after day one of the 2017 USEF Pony Finals with a cumulative score of 512.62, and this year the pony improved on his performance to stand an even better chance of sweeping the division with total marks of 541.65 headed into day two.
Chasing Fuqua and Brighton’s commanding early lead, Chandler Wilks and Ashley Vail Aycox’s Valentino currently sit in the reserve spot with 534.56 points, while Caroline Passarelli piloted another Fuqua-owned mount, Chic in Time, to third position overall. Sitting in fourth is Brynn Kuhnell and D’Artagnan, owned by Simply Ponies, LLC, trailed by Ava Aguilar and Sienna Gustafson’s Imagine That rounding out the top five slots.
In the Small Green Pony Hunters, Clara Propp began her day on a high note, winning the model with Aquitaine Equine’s With Love to the tune of 265.98 points from the judges. In the flat portion of the division, fellow bow-clad rider Omi Enkin and her own Happiness nabbed the first prize with a score of 258.00, but Propp and With Love’s third place marks of 254.50 were enough to propel the 11-year-old from Canada and her grey pony to the top of the overall scorecard. Boasting a composite score of 520.48, Propp and With Love currently sit 10 points ahead of the next-closest competitors, Enkin and Happiness with 510.20 points, headed into the over fences final phase.
Currently sitting in third place, Helen Ryan and Town Line Equestrian, LLC’s Charming will attempt to usurp the leaders, with owner-rider Jordan Gibbs and Show Off hot on their tails less than one point behind. Vanessa Mazzoli and her own Partly Cloudy clinched fifth place to close out the top contenders after day one.
Lexington, KY – August 9, 2015 – Beginning early Sunday morning, 174 young riders and their ponies took their turns around the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park Friday, with each hoping to claim the coveted honor of Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Champion by day’s end. Ultimately, it was Sophie Gochman aboard Rico Suave who outshone the rest to take the top prize following two seamless over fences trips and a stand-out performance in the additional flat testing.
“I’m so excited. I came in here thinking that it would be great if I was in the top 10 because last year I was in the top 25. My goal was to just be top 10, but I never expected to win. I’m so excited, I’m so pumped,” Gochman said. “My heart was in my stomach. I was shaking. Just making the top 10, I achieved my goal.”
After the first phase course, 25 riders and their mounts returned to the limelight for one more trip around the natural track. Having whittled down the field to the top contenders, it was only fitting that the equitation course increased in both options and difficulty level. After starting with a diagonal four-stride line, the riders were already faced with an inside or outside fence option at the third effort, which then affected the long approach to the ivy-covered oxer headed towards the gate. A left-hand rollback gave way to another sharp turn in the opposite direction to a two-stride oxer-to-vertical combination, followed by a turn option to the subsequent vertical. The final fence once again presented riders with a jump option. Gochman opted for all of the reasonable inside tracks, undoubtedly showing off her equitation ability and the pony’s handiness.
“The courses were challenging, especially the long four-stride line and several of the rollbacks. The second course had a lot of rollbacks, and you had to be very careful to land on the correct lead or to get the change quickly. Luckily, Rico is very good at getting his lead changes, which made it a bit easier,” Gochman stated.
The 12-year-old from New York City may have believed the course to have its fair share of challenges, but she hid it well, conquering the tough track and consistently impressing judges Frank Madden and Ken Smith.
“What we found out in the second round is that the cream just wasn’t rising to the top, but Sophie was solid all day,” Madden commented. “When we flatted the top five, they were all within two-and-a-half points of each other, so that had a lot to do with the outcome. Sophie was leading headed into the test and stayed on top.”
“She had two of the most consistent rounds of the day, and she was quite good on the flat, so all of that combined put her at the top for us,” echoed Smith.
The young Gochman was quick to note that it was a team effort that contributed to her win, sharing thank yous by the handful just outside the ring, still dressed in the traditional champion garb with a blue sash hanging off her shoulder.
“I really, really want to thank Amanda [Derbyshire], Scott [Stewart], and Ken [Berkley] for training me, my parents for supporting me with my riding, Gustavo, Rico’s groom, and Dr. Betsee Parker. Although she doesn’t own Rico, but she has given me lots of great rides,” Gochman graciously expressed. “And of course, Rico. I gave him a kiss and made sure that he got a candy.”
Gochman had a repertoire of ponies to choose from but felt that Rico Suave, ‘Rico’ for short, was her best bet at a top placing in the Medal class. Owned by Ponies & Palms Show Stables out of Boca Raton, Florida, the small pony had been one of the 12-year-old’s trusty mounts for two years, and on Sunday, it looked like her choice paid off.
“Rico is so comfortable and brave, even when the jumps are a bit spooky. He has a good stride and a nice lead change, so I think that he was the best-qualified pony of ours. Thinking about all the challenging things in the equitation, he was the best at all of them,” Gochman said. “Plus, he is just so cute.”
Another vital member of Gochman’s support team, trainer Scott Stewart, was right by her side throughout both rounds of competition and the flatwork test, offering useful help to keep the young talent riding her best.
“In round two, it seemed that she was a little more relaxed and was able to have fun since she was so excited about making it to the top 25. I had to tell her to be calm because she was almost a little bit too excited,” Stewart laughed. “She has a naturally nice position and is always working on something. It’s exciting to watch her grow as a rider. She rides a lot and tries to get better. It was great for the week to end this way.”
Gochman plans to revel in her win a bit longer, but soon the young talent will turn her eyes to the next competition on the horizon. She hopes to qualify for the pony classes at the Washington International Horse Show during the Indoor season and eventually move on to the open equitation classes when she “gets a bit bigger.” With many more junior years ahead of her, Gochman is certainly one to keep on the radar.
Boasting another strong performance, Natalie Jayne of Elgin, Illinois earned the title of reserve champion. Third place went to Grace Debney of Hamden, Massachusetts, followed by Ellia Giuliani of Middleburg, Virginia in the fourth spot. Jenna Drago of Aurora, Ohio and Jennifer Staniloff of Setauket, New York rounded out the final two top six spots.
The USEF Pony Finals fun came to an end on Sunday, but competition will continue this week at the Kentucky Horse Park with the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show beginning on Tuesday, August 11.
Lexington, KY – August 7, 2015 – Entering the final phase of competition with two blue ribbons already under her belt, Augusta Iwasaki, aboard her trusty mount Kingston, had a target on her back as the one to beat in the Large Green Pony Hunters. Already a weekly champion in Thursday’s Small Regular Pony Hunter division, Iwasaki was hoping to add another 2015 U.S. Pony Finals win to her list of accolades.
As the last to go, she and the chestnut Kingston were faced with the task of surpassing the 1,012.450 score set by competitor Ellia Giuliani and Brighton Decidedly, which the pair easily crushed with their cumulative score of 1,046.8 to sweep all three classes of the division and claim the lead spot in the victory gallop.
Called “Prince” in the barn, Kingston will surely be treated as royalty tonight, as he not only carried Iwasaki to her second champion tricolor of the week, but also the title of Grand Green Champion. Their overall score was the highest of the 208 Green ponies in the hunt for the Small, Medium, and Large size-based divisions throughout the Finals.
“He is never wild; he is always very sweet. He’s just perfect, always. He never puts a foot out of line,” Iwasaki sung the pony’s praises. “I’m very excited and very lucky to get to ride him. I want to thank Ava Peck for letting me ride this pony. He’s so perfect.”
The 11-year-old rider from Calabasas, California, opted to ride Kingston, owned by Peck of Topanga, California, instead of one of her own family’s horses, which ultimately proved to be a smart move. The pair has been together since January.
“This is definitely my favorite part of the week so far. I’m excited to hang up my ribbons and put up my trophies in my room when I go home. This was for sure worth the trip,” the young champion smiled. “The competition is one of my favorite things here; it’s much more competitive than at home. I think that the better competition makes me ride better.”
With one more pony still to ride this week, Iwasaki will try her hand at one more division, hoping to earn herself a third reason to celebrate in the Medium Regular Pony Hunters with Somekindawonderful.
Giuliani and Brighton Decidedly, owned by Morgan Munz out of Califon, New Jersey, maintained their reserve spot in the Large Green Pony Hunters as the only other pair to break the 1,000 point mark. Rider-owner Emma Seving and Captivating captured the third position, followed by Christina Judy’s Recess from Chesterland, Ohio, ridden by Camryn Halley, in the fourth spot. Rounding out the top six were Top That, owned by Emily Elik-Burtard of Ixonia, Wisconsin, and ridden by Giavanna Rinaldi, and San Francisco-based Pretty Penny Farm’s Splendid, with Ava Leraris in the saddle.
As the over fences portion of the Medium Green Hunter Pony division commenced, Emma Kurtz knew that she would have to navigate Truly Yours to a high-scoring ride to overcome her 21-point deficit behind Sophia Calamari and Unforgettable, the leaders after the model and hack portions of competition, and to jump from third position to the champion spot. Kurtz and Truly Yours ultimately did just that, impressing the judges to earning a 263-point score, the highest score of the over fences class, to secure the championship honors more than 10 points ahead of the next-closest finisher with 1,028.4 points.
“It is always such an amazing opportunity to get to ride the ponies I do. It is just so much fun. I love how family-friendly Pony Finals is – they make it really fun for everyone,” Kurtz commented.
Dr. Betsee Parker, out of Middleburg, Virginia, owns Truly Yours and has owned many ponies and supported numerous riders throughout the past years, but was quick to note Kurtz’s special place in her heart. Kurtz’s win marks a new milestone for Parker: her eighth consecutive year winning a division championship, an accomplishment no other owner has achieved.
“I have been very blessed to have Emma,” Dr. Parker said of the young talent. “She has had several champions with me. I feel very fortunate to have her and her mom. We brought her out to the George Morris clinic, and George really liked Emma. The first person who is going to hear about this win is George Morris.”
Dr. Parker added, “She is a very serious student. She tries so hard, and rides so many ponies and horses. I think she has a very bright future ahead of her. It has been really fun to see the children grow up.”
Regarding her future, at least for the next few years, the 15-year-old plans to continue working with green ponies and horses, hopefully racking up more accomplishments in the process.
“It is really fun to bring them along, see them excel and see them become the ponies they are today,” Kurtz said.
Clinching the reserve position was Iwasaki aboard her family’s Small Suggestion. Third place went to Vienna, piloted and owned by Samantha Palermo out of Merritt Island, Florida, followed by Calamari and Unforgettable, owned by Forget Me Not Farm in Wellington, Florida, in fourth position. Olivia Ferro in the irons aboard Anderin’s Momento for Linda Evans of South Hadley, Massachusetts, and Taylor St. Jacques with the ride for Danielle Roskens of South Lyon, Michigan, on Motown Mini swept the last two top six spots.
The Medium Pony Hunters kicked off their first day of competition Friday morning with over 150 ponies parading into the Walnut Ring for the model and under saddle classes. Vanessa Mazzoli of Rockford, Michigan, and her own Find the Love took the lead in the division with two top placings, concluding the opening day of competition with 512.79 points. She clinched the first place in the model, as well as the second place in the under saddle for a strong lead. Claire Campbell and Leon, owned by Madeline Schaefer of Westminster, Maryland, follow in the second place with 505.91 points, while Devin Seek and Heaven’s Sake, owned by Bibby Hill of Reddick, Florida, are only a hair shy with 505.67 points.
Zone 4 Pony Jumper Team Captures the Gold in Team Competition
Down the road in the Alltech Arena, 34 Pony Jumper riders took center stage, with nine teams facing off in the Pony Jumper Team Championship. Riding in championship format, competing over two rounds of courses, it was Zone 4 that came away with the 2015 Team Gold. Riders Charles Smith, Chloe Farmham, Hallie Rush and Anna Reisling left nothing to chance as they overtook the competition to end the two rounds of competition with only 20 faults to their team name.
“Every single one of these riders contributed to this championship equally,” said Katie Maxwell, Chef d’Equipe of Zone 4. “I watched them grow as riders from each round. It was just phenomenal to watch them learn and explore the process and achieve what they did.”
Zone 4 didn’t kick off the competition with a strong lead, earning a team total of 20 for the first round total, but they returned for round two with their eyes set firmly on the top finish.
Charles Smith, 17, and Venice rode to a faultless second round score to set a trend for his fellow teammates. Chloe Farnham, 15, and Cookies & Cream duplicated his effort, while the youngest rider of the team, Hallie Rush, 12, rode to a four-fault score. It was 17-year-old Anna Reisling’s clear effort that confirmed their winning point total as she laid down the third clean round aboard Blue Me Away.
“It’s a rush for sure; you feel it out there, and then when [your team members] go in, you feel it,” Smith said. “I think that competing as a team is more difficult than the individual competition. When you are on a team, you are rooting for everybody; you want to see every person do well. We each have to put in the rounds in order to win, and it makes it that much more exciting.”
As the second round came to a close, a hush fell over the Alltech Arena as it was announced that there would be a jump-off. Maxwell admitted that she had lost count of the points by that time, but when the announcer said that it was for the two 28-fault teams, the cheers erupted from the riders, trainers and parents as it dawned on them that Zone 4 won its third Team Gold in four years.
“What a big opportunity this is, and having such an amazing team to go through this with, it has been such a wonderful time and experience,” Rush smiled as she held her trophy.
2015 marks Rush’s second time competing in the Pony Jumpers; however, the young talent is going into the Individual Championship on Saturday as the top ranked rider of the team, with only four faults.
For teammate Farnham, the pony jumpers were a change of scenery from competing in the pony hunters at the USEF Pony Finals. After feeling the surge of adrenaline and the taste of victory, Farnham admitted that she is never looking back. With rescue pony Cookies & Cream, Farnham plans to compete in many more events in the future.
The gold medal proved extra special for one rider on the team, 17-year-old Reisling. With her birthday approaching in November, her days as a junior are limited; however, it was on her bucket list to make it to the Pony Finals and compete for Zone 4 before aging out of the division.
“I didn’t get to do the championship when I was 13, but now, in my last junior year, my trainer asked me what I wanted to do, and I had my heart set on making it to the championships,” Reisling explained. “It is so exciting going out there, and there is so much energy packed into a little body.”
She continued, “It is so different than showing in the hunters. You have pressure lifted off of your shoulders. It isn’t about how the pony looks, but rather the athleticism. You have to focus on lifting your pony off the ground.”
It worked out to be the perfect situation for Reisling and Blue Me Away, the spunky gelding whose trademark move is starting out the course with a few strong bucks and cow kicks. His antics do not bother Reisling, who refers to his quirks as “personality.”
Blue just recovered from colic surgery after being found only a few months prior in a field with no pulse. Thanks to an insurance policy, he was rushed into emergency colic surgery where he pulled off a remarkable recovery.
“They removed 10 feet of intestine and he just popped right off the table,” Reisling laughed. “A few months later we were jumping him around, and now he is here.”
Although Zone 4 rode cloud nine after the announcement of their gold medal win, the silver medal was tied between Zone 2 and the combined Zone 9/10, both with 28 points.
Zone 2 chose to send in Claire Jones and Proven Therapy, but four faults at the fifth obstacle would leave the door open. Stephanie Don and Joel followed consecutively, putting in their fourth clear ride of the competition, and earning Zone 9/10 the silver medal, while Zone 2 took the bronze.
Don is currently tied with Elizabeth McDougald and Knock My Sox Off going into Saturday’s Individual Championship, each with zero faults.
The 2015 USEF Pony Finals competition continues Saturday with the Medium Pony Hunter over fences classes beginning at 9 a.m. in the Walnut Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Pony Jumpers will conclude Saturday evening in the Alltech Arena with the individual final round and the farewell class.