Bonnie Cunniffe has a problem. When her daughter Ailish missed a lead change in the medium pony over fences class yesterday, she promised the 12-year-old that if she shaped up and won today’s USEF Pony Medal Final she would get her a new puppy.
So after Ailish put in a pair of stellar rounds to beat out 217 riders today, Sunday Aug. 9, Bonnie will have to explain to her husband, Frank, why she defied his objections and brought home a new Corgi from Lexington, Ky.
As the daughter of two trainers, Ailish has been coming to Pony Finals for as long as she can remember, but she’s never had a mount of her own. But this year she borrowed medium pony Major League, who has carried riders to top ribbons in this class several times before.
“He was leased out to a girl in our barn who has been doing the children’s ponies on him, and she was kind enough to let me borrow him,” said Ailish. “He’s just a fantastic equitation pony; he can turn and extend and collect really well.”
Richard Jeffery lay a forward course for the young competitors, with plenty of broken lines and unrelated distances, a trot jump, and a halt between two ferns in the ring.
“I wanted to test basic riding skills,” said Jeffery. “It’s not the [USEF] Medal Finals but it should be a lead up to the Medal Finals. The idea was to test everything, there were roll backs, and lines with some distances so they could do the numbers.”
Judges Karen Healey and Tammy Provost called back 25 riders for the second course, which included another trot fence, and several new broken lines. Madelyn Keck received the top call aboard her medium pony, with Ailish right on her heels. Both riders put in lovely trips, but neither was absolutely flawless, so the judges invited both riders back to test.
Ailish, South Salem, N.Y., showed plenty of speed to the first hand gallop, and finished the test without any problems. Keck rode a problem-free but slightly more conservative test, and in the end the judges rewarded Ailish’s bravado with the championship.
But Keck wasn’t too disappointed. She and Ailish are best friends on the show circuit, and before the test they’d already decided they didn’t care who won.
Ailish trains at her parent’s Whipstick Farm, and gets extra input from Peter Lutz and Cullen Latimer.
“I don’t have many ponies of my own, but luckily I get to ride people’s ponies who aren’t there,” she said. “I’d ridden Major some before, and he was perfect today. Getting to ride one like him made me feel very confident knowing that he’d done it so many times before.”
Top 10 follow; click here for full results.
2009 USEF Pony Medal Final
1. Ailish Cunniffe
2. Madelyn Keck
3. Victoria Colvin
4. Emma Lemke
5. Vivian Yowan
6. Allison Toffolon
7. Martha Ingram
8. Morgane Qualls
9. Kristen Dengler
10. Madison Goetzmann