Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 9
Fourteen-year-old Cooper Dean and bright-eyed American Hero won Pony Nation’s heart at the USEF Pony Jumper Championships. “Hero” wowed with his fast pace and form over fences, while Dean delighted spectators with his fist-pumping and waving after each clear round on their way to the individual national title at USEF Pony Finals.
Leading the pony jumper championship victory gallop is nothing new for 15-year-old Hero; Breanna Holmes piloted him to Zone 4 team gold in 2012. For Dean, however, it marked “the best week of my life.” The Fayette, Ala., farm boy is a self-proclaimed “cowboy,” and pony jumper gold was the culmination of years spent mucking stalls and caring for the horses on his parents’ farm. Said his mother, Jill Dean: “He works hard for everything.”
Fresh off his team gold with Zone 4 the night before, Dean continued his clean streak, wth his fourth clear round on the third and final day of competition. Christina Rodriguez aboard A Lotta Moxie was the only other rider who could match him, and they would jump off for gold. First, four 4-faulters—Camilla Siekmann on Mist of a Champion; Carly Williams on High Hopes; Heather Vaxer on Cha Cha Cha; and Morgan Gravely on Dragon Lair’s Banner—had to go head-to-head to determine who would wear bronze.
They returned in that order over Marc Donovan’s short course, which began with a steep oxer and featured the dreaded liverpool (which sent several ponies packing early on) as well as a few opportunities for inside turns. Although Vaxer posted the fasted time, Williams and her 17-year-old partner were the only clear.
Rodriguez then rode the same jump-off, but her only target was Dean. She rode a fast course with 8 faults until the second-to-last fence, where a miscalculated distance resulted in her fall. Rodriguez suffered an injury to her left arm, but was still guaranteed at least a silver medal.
With a slight change in strategy, Dean put in a conservative four-fault round and solidified the gold. “(Hero) was pumped up,” he said. “When we went out there for the jump off he was just wanting to jump. But when my competitor fell off and hurt herself I wished that had never happened. I’m really happy but sad for her.”
Rodriguez still joined her fellow riders on the medal stand, albeit with her arm in a sling and her pony in hand.
The judges unanimously agreed and awarded Dean the Pony Jumper Style Award. Fellow Zone 4 rider Morgan Gravely’s Dragon Lair’s Banner earned the High-Score Welsh Pony trophy.
Full results can be found here.
Want to know what happened in the hunter ring? See how the small ponies fared here.