August 13, 2009 -- August 8 was a day of champions at the 2009 USEF Pony Finals as ribbons and top honors were handed out in the Regular Pony Hunters as well as the Individual Jumper Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park on a sun-drenched day where the competition was as hot as the weather.
Beginning early in the day was the Medium Pony Hunters. Following that, the Large Pony Hunters made their way across the over fences course in a battle royale to see who would not only take the overall win in their division, but to see if one of them would be named the Overall Grand Hunter Pony Champion.
In the Medium Regular Pony division it was a banner day for 14-year-old Porter Allen and Halo. The 13.1-hand chestnut gelding owned by Ashley Kennedy Whitner was unstoppable in his quest for a Pony Finals win.
Scoring her highest to date--a 90 from one judge--Allen was thrilled with her ride and the pony's performance on Saturday in the Walnut Ring.
"I've had the best experience this year at Pony Finals," said the Texan. "Both my trainer and the pony have built up my confidence." That trainer happens to be "pony guru" Bill Schaub of Over the Hill Farm who only began working with the young rider since earlier this year in Ocala.
"It's been great training with Bill," said Allen. "It was great right off the bat and the pony is so fun to ride."
Near the top of the leader board going into the decision-making round, the pair looked in expert control and glided over the course set before them. The nine-year-old Welsh cross was a true star for his young pilot.
"This has just been so much fun, and the best part of Pony Finals is interacting with all the ponies," she said.
In the Large Regular Pony division, it was a double victory for Florida's Victoria "Tori" Colvin and the flashy For the Laughter, who not only won the Large Pony title, but picked up the Overall Grand Hunter Pony Champion honors.
On a final combined score of 1,089, leagues ahead of the competition, Colvin guided the 14.1-hand bay gelding through a beautiful round and showed the crowd just what a championship-winning round looked like. She also shared a story about the pony and his interesting dislike of flowers.
"When he was a baby, he got his bit stuck in a flower pot," she said. "So, he spooked, and now whenever he sees flowers or jumps over them he gets a little spooky. So, today I had to give a lot of leg and support." You would have never known as the horse was appeared the template of confidence.
Colvin, who benefits from the coaching of owner Scott Stewart, was appearing in her fourth Pony Finals this year. She definitely has plans to make another go at it next year, as well.
Next up for Colvin, who happened to win two of the Green Pony Hunter divisions two years ago, is a trip to the Hampton Classic in three weeks time. But, before heading north, she said that being at the Pony Finals was great.
"This year it was a bit more challenging for me," she said. "But, I had so much fun."
In the Individual Jumpers, it was a five-way tie forced to jump-off to determine who would leave the Pony Finals with the coveted Gold medal and a year's worth of bragging rights.
The five pony-and-rider combinations each posted double-clear rounds over the 15 obstacles in the night's first round, and any one of them could have taken the title.
The jump-off began with Maryland's Sarah Mills aboard Meadowood's Oreo No Cream who was the first of the night to post a triple-clear week of jumping. Unfortunately, the duo representing Zone 3 pulled two rails and ended with an eight-fault total and an ultimate fourth overall finish for their work.
Next up was Pennsylvania's Carly Attanasio representing the U.S. Pony Club and Rascal who practically hopped over the first fence in the night's earlier round. It was the fifth jump of the jump-off that the pair nicked the rail and downed it to take on four faults, leaving them with a very close second-place finish and reserve champion title in the tiebreaker.
Third up was the ill-fated Amanda Metzer and Zack Attack who displayed an impressive first round, but as fate would have it, the pair was eliminated after receiving uninvited outside-the-ring assistance and were, therefore, automatically bounced from the competition. It was a disappointing finish for the hopeful rider and pony, but they did make it to the jump-off so they were awarded with a fifth-place finish nonetheless.
With only two triple-clear jump-off riders to go, it all came down to Bella Cramer from Zone 5 and her Good Fortune. As the name of the pony suggests, fortune is exactly what she had experienced thus far at the Pony Finals. But a pesky plank put an end to their championship dreams as the four faults relegated the rider from Michigan and the pony to third place.
As it would turn out, the night's final ride belonged to the ultimate champion. Connecticut's Sydney Shulman and Back Country Farm's Set Sail appropriately sailed through the entire competition without a fault. The 10-year-old, 14.2-hand dapple grey Welsh/Thoroughbred cross maneuvered the course as the diminutive Shulman guided the gelding to the win in just over 39 seconds.
"This week was a lot of ups and downs," said Shulman, who happens to be coached by her mother, Jill, in addition to working with Frank Madden. "It was tough, but I had so much fun. My pony has been busy. He qualified for the Large Hunters, and we'll be in the Pony Medal Finals on Sunday."
The young rider said that she prefers to be put under pressure as it motivates her and makes her perform better. "I just do better, and going last always helps me out," she said.
Shulman said that she has a favorite rider that she looks to and tries to emulate, Olympian Beezie Madden. "She is so good! Watching her pushes me to try to improve and be more like her. When she rides, she does it really soft but connected. She just makes every course look so easy."