Spectators and riders could be forgiven for doing a double-take at Florida events this winter as Forrest Nymph, a 14.3-hand New Forest pony, ate up the cross-country courses in preliminary divisions with Lauren DeNeve aboard.
But DeNeve and the little liver chestnut mare have been taking no prisoners, winning a division at Rocking Horse Winter Horse Trials III on March 1-3 and claiming third at Rocking Horse Winter Horse Trials II in February on their dressage scores. At their first two preliminary outings of the year—at Rocking Horse I and Ocala Horse Properties I in January—they jumped clean with a few time penalties.
Beth Davidson breeds Connemara ponies and Connemara crosses, but when she came across “Farrah” four years ago, she didn’t have any experience with New Forest ponies, popular in their native England as children’s riding ponies and work horses.
A friend of Davidson’s bought Farrah (Forrest Flame—Hoppenhof’s Silvia, Nieuwmoeds Patrick) in utero from Trevelyan Farm, a New Forest breeder in Lancaster, Pa., and sent her to a dressage barn for training. The mare disliked the discipline, and after her owner had a family emergency, Davidson was offered the pony, then 5.
“I hemmed and hawed and didn’t want to take her. When she came to my barn, she was so awful—rearing in the crossties, throwing herself around, very opinionated,” Davidson said.
On a whim, Davidson took Farrah on a hunter pace, and the feisty chestnut enjoyed it. After incorporating more work outside the arena, Davidson took her to a dressage show, where Farrah won her class (but also body slammed her rider into the trailer).
Around the same time, DeNeve moved her event horses to Davidson’s Black Dog Farm in Plant City, Fla., and suggested that Davidson try eventing Farrah.
“I’d done dressage; I’d done stadium; I’d never evented. I’m 40 years old, [and thought,] ‘I’m not going to [try that],’ ” said Davidson.
But Farrah and Davidson won their first outing at a recognized beginner novice event. “There’s just something about riding a pony. They’re athletic, and they’re smart; they’re hardy, and they’re sound. It’s more fun than I’ve ever had on any of the horses I’ve ever owned,” said Davidson.
The pair moved up the levels together, but after Davidson competed Farrah in a couple of training level events, she handed the reins to DeNeve. “I admit that I’m a wuss. I knew she could do more,” Davidson said.
DeNeve, 28, competed the mare, now 9, in one training level event and finished in second place in the novice three-day at the Rocking Horse Three-Day Event and Horse Trials in Altoona, Fla.
At Ocala, their first preliminary event, Farrah scored a 30.9 in dressage, jumped a clear round in show jumping, and powered around the cross-country with just a few time penalties.
Watch Farrah and DeNeve in action...
“She’s a freak of a pony. She has a stride bigger than most of the horses here and loves jumping,” said DeNeve. “She didn’t look at a thing and just flew over everything.”
Davidson was particularly honored when she overheard eventing legend Bruce Davidson comment on her mare. “Coming off the course, I walked by Bruce Davidson, and he was like, ‘Oh my God, look at that pony’s canter.’ She really covers the ground,” she said.
Beth hopes that Farrah and DeNeve will qualify for the Ocala Horse Properties CCI* in April, then she’d like to think about breeding Farrah, whose sire was successful in the FEI pony dressage and was more docile.
“I don’t think she’s typical of the breed. [They’re] good child rides,” said Beth. “She’s more sensitive. I’m not sure where she gets her personality. She’s very easy to handle on the ground, but I wouldn’t have my kid get on her and ride her out. If you pointed her at the arena fencing, she would jump out. That’s a little too much work for my Connemara ponies!”