May 28—Devon, Pa.
The last weekend in May isn’t usually a good one for Maddy Darst. She’s been coming to Devon for years, but she’s always felt a little cursed.
“I always have bad luck here,” said Darst, 13. “I’ll have one good trip, then something will go wrong.”
But Darst, Lebanon, Ohio, put that all in the past this time around. She rode Betsee Parker’s For The Laughter to the grand pony and large pony hunter championships, Pegasus Show Stables’ Swingtown to the medium pony hunter title and Enchanted Forest to the medium pony hunter reserve title.
Judges Thom Brede and Leo Conroy rewarded her skill with the Best Child Rider on a Pony award.
Darst trains with Rob Coluccio, Richard Cunkle, Tom Wright and her mother, Mindy Darst.
For the trainers who call upon Maddy to campaign their ponies, this honor came as no surprise.
“Maddy rides in such classic, beautiful style,” said Parker, who recruited Darst to ride For The Laughter this winter. “Plus she’s an intelligent, thinking rider. If she doesn’t get it right one round, you can bet the next round she’s going to do it.”
For The Laughter won the large pony hunter award at Devon last year with Victoria Colvin aboard, and Parker’s other large pony Vanity Fair claimed the title the year before.
Scott Stewart imported For The Laughter, a German-bred 9-year-old (Brilliant—Mon Cheri) as a 2-year-old. “Bubbles” picked up four blues—two over fences, the under saddle and the model—to claim the grand title. Isabelle Caccamise’s Losander’s Camelot and Kriss Eisaman claimed the reserve large pony title.
A New Partnership
Maddy’s other champion ride, Swingtown, wasn’t nearly as well known to her. She and the chestnut just paired up just days before Devon.
“This is brand new for him,” said his owner, Christa Endicott. “I expected him to be really chill, and he was. He’s a really dependable pony, and I knew he was quality and could handle the atmosphere. It was really exciting to see him stand up to some stiff competition.”
Swingtown earned the medium pony championship thanks to three wins over fences.
Endicott imported the pony two years ago for her son, Mitch. But after riding the pony last year in the green division, Mitch decided to focus on the jumpers and equitation, and Krista found herself with a talented pony she didn’t need. She recruited a few kids to ride him on the California circuit this year, then decided to bring him east to try his luck here.
“I’m friends with Mindy, and that’s how we got Maddy on him,” said Christa. “I knew Maddy would do a great job—and she did.”
West Coast-based “Artie” didn’t even get the thumbs up for a spot at Devon until a week ago. Christa put him on a flight from California three days later.
Schaefer Hi Lites In The Smalls
Madeline Schaefer found herself in an enviable position heading into Devon. She had several ponies qualified in the small pony division and had to select two.
“I could tell that she wanted to do Cardiff Mardi Gras, but I had a feeling about this one,” said trainer Patricia Griffith. “I really pushed for her to ride Hi Lite. The pony’s the whole package: he’s the hack and the model and has a beautiful jump.”
That decision paid off when Schaefer rode Hi Lite to the small pony hunter title for Madison Maners.
“It’s a really good match,” said Griffith. “The way she likes to ride is the way he likes to go. She’s very natural, so she doesn’t need her reins for balance, and most kids at that age do. Her mom makes sure she’s very well mounted, so she’s completely fearless. Maddie will jump anything. She’d jump backwards with no stirrups if I told her to.”
10-year-old Schaefer follows in the footsteps of her older sister, former pony star Samantha. In some ways, she’s already outdone her older sister. Despite multiple championships at indoors and USEF Pony Finals, Samantha had never claimed a pony title at Devon.
Hi Lite earned three blue ribbons over fences to claim the championship. Sophie Michaels’ Rolling Stone and McKayla Langmeier took the reserve title.
Madeline, Westminster, Md., also campaigned her own Flashback to ribbons in the small division.
“Hi Lite likes treats, especially his special peppermints, but Flash always wants candy,” she said. “I’m doing Flash in the pony hunt teams. That’s the most exciting part about Devon for me.”