Lexington, Kentucky—August 13
Ada Catherine Hays had a secret weapon in her arsenal heading into the ring for the USEF Pony Medal Final. It wasn’t a trick she learned in the arena—it was her skill set honed in the hunt field. The 12-year-old from Hillsborough, N.C., has been foxhunting since she was in diapers, and on Sunday she laid down two smooth and beautiful trips aboard Center Field to claim the championship.
“I think it helped me, because when you’re moving up to any distances or holding to make sure they’re the right ones in the hunt field, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Hays said.
Both of Hays’ courses in the two-round competition looked effortless, giving her the win over 164 entries.
“I don’t think I’ve ever ridden this well,” Hays said with a grin. “My trainer Robin always tells me it’s a cantering course, that the pace doesn’t really change. It’s not a gallop, and it’s not a trot-lope. It just flows nicely.”
Trainer Robin Greenwood of Southern Pines, N.C., was particularly proud of how well her student handled the high-pressure environment of a show as big as USEF Pony Finals.
“This is her first time at any major competition, ever,” Greenwood said. “She hasn’t been to Pony Finals before, or Devon, Harrisburg, anything. I’m really, really impressed with her ability to focus on what she had to get done.”
Hays was sitting in first place after the first round, so all the pressure was on her to keep the lead in Round 2.
“To not have come to an event like this before and to be able to go back and nail the second course,” Greenwood said with a smile, shaking her head. “If you’re second or third even, you go back and you say, ‘Well I’m nervous, but I’ll take a shot,’ but she was on top going back and nailed it. I’m really proud of her and really impressed with that.”
Hays’ pony “Bernie” lives with Greenwood at her show stable, but Hays and her mother keep their foxhunters at a co-op barn, so Hays is responsible for helping with their care.
“She is good with all parts of the horse care,” Greenwood said. “And even with the pony, he doesn’t get ridden for her. He hasn’t had a professional ride on him since we got him back in October. She’s the only one who has ridden and jumped him.”
When asked if she had anything else she wanted to say about her big win, Hays had to give a shoutout to Bernie. It’s the pony’s second time helping a rider win the USEF Pony Medal Final; he carried a young Lucy Deslauriers to the win in 2012.
“Bernie is the best pony, that’s what I have to add,” Hays said with a laugh. “He’s a unicorn.”