For Riley Hogan, the U.S. Pony Finals dream all started with a t-shirt.
“My cousin one time gave me a Pony Finals t-shirt, and ever since I saw it, I decided I wanted to get one of my own, so it’s been a big dream,” said Hogan.
So with dreams of a shirt of her own with that famed logo Hogan began chasing that goal. She qualified for the large green hunters with her pony My Shooting Star, but there was still one big hurdle standing in her way. The cost to take a pony to Kentucky for a week just wasn’t feasible for her family.
But an email from the USHJA changed things. Hogan had applied for the USHJA Foundation Gochman Family U.S. Pony Finals Grant and was selected alongside Judy Dettore and Cecillia Machado.
“It’s amazing. I’m super excited for her. It’s pretty cool because she does work really hard,” said Hogan’s mom Sara. “It was really, really cool to have her get this grant and have the opportunity to go out there and do it. She’s wanted to do it for a few years. She’s been talking about and watching videos, but she didn’t have the pony. Then she wasn’t there and the pony wasn’t there and financially we weren’t there.”
“I’m looking forward to watching a bunch of the good riders and good ponies and the clinics and getting more experience for my pony and myself,” said Riley.
This will be the first time Riley has shown in Kentucky. To keep costs down, the Hogans primarily show on the local circuit and when they do show at the national-rated shows it’s in the Maryland and Northern Virginia area, so that they call haul in for the day and do all their own care before going home each night.
Riley started riding before she could walk. Horses are in her blood after all. Her parents are avid foxhunters and once steeplechased. Her grandfather is a former Master for the Warrenton Hunt (Va.) and her uncle is a huntsman.
In addition to showing My Shooting Star in the large green pony hunters, Riley Hogan fox hunts him with the Warrenton Hunt. Photo courtesy of Sara Hogan
The Hogans run Hogan Horse Transport and their shipping company helps them keep up with their horsey habit.
“We do it on a bartering system,” said Sara. “Luckily that gives us the opportunity to be able to trade off shipping and stuff for lessons and board.”
“Comet,” an 8-year-old Welsh Pony cross, joined the Hogan family three years ago. While he cheerfully jumps around rings or fields, that career path wasn’t carved out from birth. He was bred to be a polo pony, but when he didn’t grow tall enough it was time to find him a new career.
The Hogans’ trainer Susan Deal, who is based out of Grovespring Farm in Culpeper, Va., offered to break and train comment to help his owner’s out.
“I would take the kids for lessons, and I just kept seeing him and thinking, ‘Wow, I really like that pony,’ ” said Sara. “At first he was green and big and Riley was young and small, but the stars aligned, and we were able to make it work. It’s our luck that he didn’t grow.”
“He just has a great brain and personality and jumps great,” said Riley, 13. “He thinks he should get whatever he wants and loves to be in your pocket and is very opinionated.
“There was one horse show where we got a ribbon and we had been pushed back in the model, and he took the ribbon off the stall door and threw it on the ground of his stall,” she continued. “He has so many opinions.”
Time and patience have transformed My Shooting Star from a too small polo pony to a successful show pony. Photo courtesy of Susan Deal
Once the two paired up, Riley took her time with Comet, jumping around the 2′ at local shows before slowly building him up to the large green pony hunters. While Comet attends horse shows in the summer months, he spends his winters taking chase with the Warrenton hunt.
Just as they did with his show career, the Hogans took extra time with Comet in the hunt field to make sure that he was introduced to the sport right. He hilltopped for the first 1 1/2 years in the hunt field and both Deal and Sara took him for a spin before letting Riley take him out.
“It wasn’t because we thought he was going to do anything stupid, but we wanted him taught the right way from day 1,” Sara said. “I remember the first time waiting at a gate and then the field galloped off. He was like, ‘WHAT?!’ He’s very smart as ponies usually are. Once he figured it out he was pretty good.
“She hunted him all last year and had a blast. The first time she moved up to first field was our junior meet,” Sara continued. “It was great. He stayed quiet, trotted the coops, jumped the big stone wall in the hunt field, and the big drop, he just trotted down to it no problem.”
Chronicle reporters are on the ground in Lexington, Ky., to report on all the action at the U.S. Pony Finals from Aug. 10-14. You can follow along on www.coth.com and on COTH’s social media—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.