Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 8
The underdog U.S. Pony Club team stepped off the podium as the lone team to successfully complete the U.S. Pony Jumper Championships, held in conjunction with the U.S. Equestrian Federation Pony Finals, Aug. 4-10, against nine traditional zone teams. Then they hung up their gold medals, led their ponies back to the barn and went about all the barn chores themselves.
The team championship was modeled after a Nations Cup competition, so when the other teams couldn't field three riders going into the second round due to rider eliminations in the first, the USPC had a clear path to the gold if they could complete the second round. Richard Jeffery's track saw the majority of eliminations caused by rider falls, leaving the silver and bronze sides of the podium empty. The U.S. Pony Club was the only team to have three of its four members go clear the first round, and they continued delivering strong rounds through the second round and jump-off.
Chester Springs, Penn. native Julianna Empie, 14, anchored the team. After a clear first round, she added only 4 jumping faults to her second round score on her Northwind's Opus to help the USPC team to gold. "I had the opportunity to ride for Zone 2, but I decided to come for Pony Club because it's helped me so much with my riding, and I've been in Pony Club for many years and it's just been great," she said.
10-year-old Genevieve Munson, between her clear qualifying round the day before and faultess efforts in the team championship, was one of only two competitors to go triple clear on her Bluebelle. The key to her success? "Ride the Pony Club way!" said Munson, of Rogers, Ark. "Pony Club is more about the horse management than the riding. In Pony Club, 3/4 of what they teach is horse management. The riding they teach so it is safe for the horse and the rider, but they can accomplish things later."
The only team comprised of Pony Clubbers had several underdog qualities that made the win even more meaningful.
Magdalene "Maggie" Mann, 17, of Bushwick Bay, Mass., rode Diego for the USPC gold medal team, and although they ran into trouble resulting in elimination in the first round of the team competiton, they made it around the second, albeit posting 28 faults. Just being at the competition marked a major milestone in their career together, however. The two just switched from dressage one year ago, and they've worked their way up from cross-rails since then.
"He was getting so frustrated with the dressage, and I knew he was a great jumper so I decided to go back to the basics," said Mann. "We were kind of taking it one day at a time, seeing how it was going to be, but by the time spring rolled around I said I wanted to try to go for [the championships]."
Lizzy Simonian, 18, of Humble, Texas, piloted Blues Taveler to a clear first round, adding only 4 jumping faults to their second round score. The pony came from New Orleans, La., according to owner Caroline Marlett, and served as a parade horse in the city's annual Mardi Gras celebration in his former career. "We bought him March of 2012," said Marlett. "He didn't steer at the trot; he couldnt canter a 20-meter circle, but he loved to jump."
Richard Lamb, coach and chef d'equipe for the USPC, has been bringing a Pony Club team to Pony Finals since 2002, when the USEF invited them to participate as a scramble team. This win marked a major highlight for the newer establishment as they beat out the more traditional zone teams.