A generation of top riders took their first blue ribbons aboard this amazing small pony.
Even before his career began, Strike A Pose knew how to stand out in a crowd.
“We’d gone down to RosMel’s [Farm in Richmond, Texas] to try ponies, and they’d tied the 15 ponies that we’d picked out in a circle around the ring,” recalled Jack Towell, who made the trek with his wife, Lisa. “While we were trying another one Strike A Pose had climbed up onto the fence like a dog. Lisa said, ‘We’re taking that one, he’s so athletic!’ ”
The wily Welsh would go on to earn American Horse Shows Association (now U.S. Equestrian Federation)
Horse Of The Year honors twice, top the AHSA Pony Finals and take tricolors at virtually every major horse show in the country. And along the way he set a generation of top riders off on a winning path.
Rosanna and Melanie Gillett of RosMel Farm hoped for a great pony when they bred their new mare Bristol Sun Sylph to the well-established sire Findeln Blue Danube, but they never imagined they would end up with one of the most famous small pony hunters in history.
“We knew when he was born that he was a beautiful foal with plenty of potential,” recalled Rosanna. “It’s fun to keep up on his career—he certainly got into the hands of the right people!”
Strike A Pose has alternated nicknames between “Dizzy,” “Posey” and “Arctic” during his long career traveling child to child. Though he had the breeding, talent and training to make it to the top of the jog, getting there always took plenty of work. In his younger days the pony wasn’t the easiest charge to get to the ring.
“Geri [Roper] had heard rumors that the pony was wild and spooky and naughty,” recalled Mary Babick, who coached Whitney Roper and Ali Cook aboard the gelding. “But we said, ‘Whitney rides great, she’ll be fine.’ But Arctic explained to us early on that he had a certain lifestyle to which he was accustomed. He had one schooling day on which he was silly, then you’d show and he’d be all business.”
Alex Jayne, who trained the 12.2-hand prodigy for three years early in his career, recalled plenty of early mornings to get the then-frisky pony worked down and glistening white.
“We were in Kentucky one year and Haylie [Jayne] had just had her cast taken off from having broken her arm,” said Alex. “Her arm was still kind of locked into position from spending so long in the cast, but I told her to go gallop Posey around the cross-country course until he was quiet. Well, she came back and said, ‘Dad he fixed my arm! I was pulling so hard after 20 laps that it’s all better now.’ ”
“He was always a wonderful pony, with tons of talent—but set in his ways,” remembered Stacey Schaefer, who helped Roper and Strike A Pose pair up. “If he was fresh you’d know it at that first jump!”
Strike A Pose, still owned by Roper, has lived at Lanes End Farm in Versailles, Ky., since 2005 where he has served as a tutor and show ring companion for five children in the Farish family. The 25-year-old is still going strong, showing with Daisy Farish in the small pony division and 3-year-old Coco Farish in the leadline.
So over the years no one ever mistook Strike A Pose for a push-button blue-ribbon machine: he carried kids to as many instructive rounds as he did winning ones.
Many of the lucky children who had a chance to learn on this living legend went on to professional or serious riding careers. We invited his riders—Liza Towell, Lourdes deGuardiola, Cayce Harrison, Charlie Jayne, Haylie Jayne, Whitney Roper, Ali Cook, Dottie Grubb, Sarah Chovnick, Sofie Applegate, Jennifer Waxman, Ande Farish, Sammy Farish, Lulu Farish and Daisy Farish—to share their memories. Here’s what they had to say about him.
(rode Strike A Pose in 1990-91)
Dizzy was really easy to train—from Day 1 he knew what to do. His balance was so natural, so the changes were always easy. I just hopped on and automatically knew what to do. By the time I started riding him I’d already started riding horses, and I remember distinctly that he rode like a little junior hunter, not like a bratty pony at all. He had a fantastic rhythm.
We called him Dizzy because as a little kid I had a horse named Lizzy, so I named him Dizzy and another one Izzy. It just fit him and it stuck.
When we went to Jack [Towell’s] to try ponies my dad saw Strike A Pose in his stall, and Lisa said, “That one’s not for sale.” But my dad really wanted to try him, so we did. I remember the first jump I tried to jump on him he stopped, and [trainer] Larry [Glefke] said we had to get him.
Larry asked me what my favorite song was, and I said “Vogue” so we came up with the name Strike A Pose. When we first got him he was a little bit timid, but he was a fantastic little character. He was very green when I got him, and I was only 7 at the time, but he was a great pony for me. Right from the start he was absolutely the winner; we were champion at our very first show, and it continued from there.
The only tough thing for him was a green rolltop—he’d always want to spook. I knew if we had one in the first class we’d have a lousy first trip, but then we’d come back and win the rest.
Before Posey I’d had no success at all, really. I was new to the sport, and my mom and I went down to Florida for the first time showing outside the Midwest. We had no idea what we were doing. Then Alex Jayne introduced us to Posey, and we were champion the first week we showed. It was a big part of the reason I got hooked on the sport.
He was perfect in the show ring and just a sweet, gray pony in the barn. He’s a beautiful mover, so even if I missed in every class we’d still get a ribbon in the under saddle. When I had him he was still young and kind of spooky. I remember we were having a great round at Pony Finals in 1994 and the last line was a double with red flowers—I think we did three or four strides in the double. Riding Posey was humbling; it really did so much for me.
I learned that I had a job to do, and I felt like I had to because I had a pony that was really capable of doing well. When I’d have an off day or he’d be spooky, I learned from him: you’re never going to win every single time, but if you focus and try hard you’ll be right there.
With Posey it didn’t matter if the jumps were set for small ponies or small juniors, he could jump anything. I rode him when I was 11, and it was a great experience. When that pony was on there was no one who was going to beat him: he had such a big beautiful stride, he always won the hack and he modeled beautifully.
I rode Posey during my second trip to Pony Finals, and he was amazing. We won the over fences, and the small pony championship, and I won the over fences on the large pony I brought. I thought it was pretty cool! We had a great week. I’ve gone on to win a lot more, but it was definitely the biggest thing I’d won at that time. He really started me down the path to where I am today.
I’d had a few ponies before I got Posey, but never anyone I won on like him. He was the sweetest pony in the world; just great around the barn, and he’d find the distances for you. I was 9 when I started riding him, but I was pretty big for being 9, and I got way too tall quickly.
When I had him, he didn’t get ridden at home. He’d go out in the field and just be a horse with the other ponies. I remember my dad telling me that I couldn’t ride him at home, but I had to Quic Silver his tail every day! I was obsessed with him: I named all my Breyers Posey, and my parents got me a Corgi puppy and I named him Posey as well.
Posey was the first pony to give me confidence. I’d watched my sister and brother win so much and been in their shadow. Riding Posey was the first time I got to be something other than Maggie and Charlie’s little sister.
When we started together, no one expected that we would have the kind of success that we did. We were circuit champions at [HITS] Ocala [Fla.] right off the bat, which was a great way to start.
Riding Arctic was an amazing opportunity, but it put on a whole new kind of pressure. Before you were going in and doing your best, but once you start to be successful, if you mess up you feel like you’re doing the pony a disservice. For one as great as him, anything that went wrong was definitely my fault.
Arctic really taught me how to win. It was my first experience with a lot of success at anything I’d ever tried, riding or otherwise. But the greatest gift he ever gave me was learning to be appreciative and be humble. His quirks kept me on my toes and wouldn’t let me take any of it for granted. I really learned about teamwork and having trust between you and your horse. That’s worth so much more than being able to find eight perfect distances.
The biggest thing I remember about Arctic is boxes and boxes of Nature Valley Granola bars—they were his favorite. Whitney’s mom and my mom would go to the grocery store and come back with a carload and say, “We don’t care what it costs—it’s so worth it for him!”
Arctic’s name fit him perfectly: he was smooth as ice, and his coat was pure white. If you let him do what he did best, and not get in the way, you’d do great. The whiter his coat was, and the more you pampered him the better he went.
He could be a little temperamental. One day he’d be perfect then the next day you’d have to work harder in the warm-up. He taught me patience, because he loved the long one, and also how to control his stride, which would get really, really long. But above all he really taught me sportsmanship, because one weekend I’d win everything, and the next weekend my head would get big or he would be wild and I would get nothing.
The last show we did together was the Pennsylvania National, and I won best child rider. It was very emotional and exciting to do it with him. Everyone loved him.
Posey was probably the only horse or pony that my entire family was in love with. He was just a pet. We were so successful that I definitely molded my riding style around riding him. For example, he’s better off the right than the left, and to this day I’m better off the right. Over the course of six months he became a much quieter pony, and he got to the point where we barely had to prepare him.
We were champion everywhere: Lake Placid [N.Y.], Kentucky, The Hampton Classic [N.Y.] and circuit champion in Wellington [Fla.].
What’s really amazing is how he’s been through so many barns and so many families, and everyone is equally touched. He really brought people together. I was at NCAA Finals last week and could hear Alex Jayne cheering really loudly—he has this really distinct whoop that you can hear across the ring. Afterwards, Haylie says to me, “I’ll bet you haven’t heard that one since your Posey days!”
I didn’t know how famous he was until my dad took me to the Chronicle one time to look up some records of his old horse. I looked up a bunch of articles about Arctic and learned that he won Pony Finals and so many awards—I couldn’tbelieve it. I didn’t realize how famous he was. Everywhere I went people would go, “Oh my God, is that Strike A Pose?”
During indoors I ended up half a point from reserve at Capital Challenge [Md.] so I made it my goal to be reserve at Harrisburg because we were so close last time, but we ended up half a point away again. So I said, “OK, well next time we’ll just win.” And we went to Washington and finished as champions.
He wasn’t a big fan of certain jumps—he wouldn’t stop or run out, but he’d get to the base and peek and crack his back. I remember going to a few shows at Morven Park [Va.] and The Barracks [Va.] and they had nothing but brick walls, and he hated those! There were an awful lot of nice ponies in our zone in Virginia; it wasn’t like you were automatically going to win just because you’re sitting on something great. It meant that if I rode well I could win, but if I didn’t I’d do poorly. He didn’t let you get spoiled for the success.
Before riding Strike A Pose, I’d never really made it into the big leagues, but he really helped me develop most of my love for the sport. I remember trying him at Capital Challenge [Md.], and Sarah Chovnick was crying as she watched me ride. But I fell in love with him the second I got him.
I knew he was a big winner, but he was more than that. He had more personality than any other horse I’ve ever met. He had goofy facial expressions, and when we rode it was almost like we talked. It was really personal.
I remember how nervous I was going to Devon [Pa.]. It was my first “national” and terribly muddy, and I had bronchitis at the time. He was such a champ and completely took care of me. He guided me through so many life lessons, like how to handle being nervous about riding and competing in front of people. He was such a pro; he really showed me the ropes.
One of my favorite memories was at Capital Challenge in 2002 when we were World Champion Hunter Rider [pony hunter] champions. It made me feel so accomplished because it was an accumulated award.
I rode him for too long, until I was far too big, but I didn’t want to give him up. The pony wedged his way into my heart, and when he got on the trailer I was flashing back to when Sarah was crying when I started riding.
When I got him from Sophie Applegate she gave me very specific instructions: she told me that I had to give him 17 Mrs. Pastures cookies in a pile on the floor of his stall every night, and on his birthday I had to make him a cake, or he’ll be really upset.
I had him during my last small pony year, and we had a great year together. We were first champion at the National Horse Show [Fla.], we won the over fences at Pony Finals, and we were reserve champion at Washington [D.C.].
He was such a good pony, and he always rose to the occasion. Despite his age when I had him, he was still spunky at home and at every horse show I took him to.
I was at the 2004 National Horse Show (Fla.) in Wellington when I walked into the tent to see Dizzy standing in his stall with a huge red bow on him! I was so excited to be able to ride and show him for as long as I had the chance.
In 2006, I was able to show him again at Pony Finals where he won the jumping and finished second overall. I am lucky enough to be able to give him mints and watch him being ridden by my little sister every day. Dizzy is truly an amazing pony who taught me just about everything I know.
Showing was definitely always more of an interest of my sisters, but during the summer of 2006 I decided to give it a try. I was fortunate enough to be on Dizzy. And although I only went to four shows, I was champion twice and reserve champion once. How can anyone ask for any more in a pony?
Dizzy was the first pony that I showed in the smalls. I was 8 years old and my older sister, Ande, had been showing him. He taught me everything and was a very special pony to have been able to show.
Dizzy always walked into the ring ready to win. He took me to Devon [Pa.]) and all of the indoor shows. I
was second over fences and reserve overall on Dizzy at Pony Finals just the year after my sister had done so well on him.
Although I was ready to move on, Dizzy was very hard to give up. I’m glad that I get to watch him teach my little sisters just as he taught me.
When my older sister, Lulu, outgrew Strike A Pose, I had just started showing in the short stirrup division. I felt lucky to have such a great pony that had won so much and had been such a good pony for my three older sisters. It wasn’t long before we moved up to the children’s pony division, as Dizzy is the kind of pony that when you pick up the canter and have the right rhythm every jump just seems to come up right.
Last summer, when I was 7, I had such a great season on Dizzy that I was leading children’s hunter rider at the Horse Shows By The Bay [Mich.] series. This year I moved up to the regular small pony division, and at 25 years old, Dizzy moved back up with me. We had a great winter circuit in Florida and have a full summer schedule of showing planned!
I do have to share Dizzy occasionally with my 3-year-old sister, Coco, who has just learned to trot by herself on him and thinks that Dizzy belongs only to her. I hope we have Dizzy forever.
2007—USEF Pony Finals: reserve champion small pony hunter, high-score Welsh.
2006—USEF Pony Finals: reserve champion small pony hunter.
2004—USEF Pony Finals: first over fences, seventh overall. Pennsylvania National: Reserve champion small pony hunter.
2003—National Horse Show (Fla.): champion small pony hunter.
2002—Capital Challenge (Md.): reserve champion small pony hunter; Los Angeles International Jumping Festival (Calif.): reserve champion small pony hunter.
2001—Washington International (D.C.): champion small pony hunter.
2000—AHSA Horse Of The Year: small pony hunter; Devon (Pa.): reserve champion small pony hunter.
1998—AHSA Horse Of The Year: small pony hunter; AHSA Pony Finals: third small pony hunter.
1997—AHSA Pony Finals: champion small pony hunter.
Did You Know?
• Strike A Pose’s registered Welsh name was RosMel’s Blue Reign.
• He was born chestnut, but quickly grayed out.
• His most memorable trait is his giant forelock. “Anyone who has ever braided him remembers that,” said Jennifer Waxman. “We took him to a show with a new braider, and we were really worried that she was going to try to pull it or something.”
• Strike A Pose has the same mother, Bristol Sun Sylph, as RosMel’s Millennium.
• Whitney Roper arranged for Strike A Pose to “marry” Half Pint in a well-attended ceremony that featured a song written just for the occasion.
Strike A Pose And Half Pint Tie The Knot
Beyond the incredible show record that champion small pony Strike A Pose accrued during his 15 years in the ring, the 12.2 hand pony has served as a friend and teacher to his many lucky riders.
Long-time owner Whitney Roper led the jog time and time again with “Arctic,” but to her he was a companion first and a show pony second. During his time at Mary Babick’s farm he acted like any other pony, even developing a crush on a stablemate named Half Pint.
“Strike A Pose was as fancy as could be, and Half Pint was a very common-looking bay and white pinto, but he was so in love with her,” recalled Roper’s trainer Mary Babick. “We had a huge wedding ceremony for the two ponies, and it was so sweet.”
Meg Gallahan wrote a song to commemorate the occasion, which includes a reference to the new barn that Whitney’s mother Geri was building.
The song is the tune of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something:
Once upon a time there was a pony named Half Pint
Her mane was black,
she was half white
and the other part was bay.
All the ponies laughed and said you have to be one color
just one color or the other for us to let you play.
So Half Pint said “I want to go to a horse show
And I want to win the model
And what I dream I’ll do.”
So one day Half Pint met our Mary
And then she met Geri, and little Whitney too.
They took her to every horse show that was given
She won armful of trophies and ribbons
And most of them were blue.
And then Half Pint said
“I want to go to more horse shows
And I want to win the model
And what I’ll dream I’ll do.”
So one day Half Pint said I want to have a baby
And when Mary just said maybe
Geri said anything for you
So then Half Pint said:
“I want to live in a palace
And I want to live in a big stall
And what I dream I’ll do.”
So Arctic said to Half Pint:
“Come on Half Pint let’s marry
I’ll make an honest mare of you.”