Washington D.C.—Oct. 27
When Storyteller's usual rider, Barbara Ann Merryman, couldn’t make it to the Washington International Horse Show on Saturday because of a family obligation, her friend, Ashton Alexander, catch-rode the WIHS first-timer to help out.
That teamwork paid off when Merryman, Lutherville, Md., and Alexander, Ocala, Fl., rode Storyteller to the large pony hunter and grand pony hunter titles. “I rode him two days ago for the first time,” said Alexander. “To me, he rides like a little horse. He was amazing and so straightforward and did everything I asked.”
Alexander, 16, is used to catch-riding ponies for Kim Stewart, Merryman’s trainer, and her own trainers, Don Stewart and Bibby Farmer Hill. So this ride was a breeze for her.
“I felt pretty prepared, and Kim didn’t put any pressure on. She said just to have fun, so it was easy,” said Alexander.
Merryman, 18, attends Johns Hopkins University (Md.) and was nostalgic to finish her last show on Storyteller. “I’m aging out, so I’m going to focus on school for a while,” she said.
Although he’ll switch riders yet again, Samantha Kasowitz’s Storyteller has a bright future, Kim said. “He’s so easy, and he loves to win, and he’s really brave. He never spooks, so it’s great at a place like this where a lot of ponies are going to look. He’s never stopped with us,” she said.
Gochman’s All Smiles Over True Love
Mimi Gochman felt excited just to be at Washington International, never mind earn any ribbons. So when she heard that her True Love earned the medium pony hunter championship, she was ecstatic.
“We’re in Washington, D.C.; we’re in the Verizon Center; it’s a basketball court; you only get to do it once a year; you have to qualify for it... So it’s special! And I get to qualify and get to go in the ring and ride my pony and have fun,” she said excitedly.
When the 9-year-old rider from New York City entered the ring for the handy hunter class, she was armed with a plan.
"I just tried to keep calm and pretend it’s the first day and not worry about getting champion or reserve,” she said. She was careful not to take any long shots so they could nail the inside turns. The plan worked, and she won that class to clinch the division title.
Gochman’s lighthearted attitude suits her laid-back pony. “He has a good rhythm, and he jumps cute, and he’s very easy. He’s a little slow sometimes!” she said.
Peter Pletcher has known Gochman since birth and has trained her to ride over for years. “For her age, she has an unbelievable eye,” he said.
True Love’s Blue Streak Continues For Kurtz
True Love wasn’t done cleaning up in the pony classes when the hunter divisions ended. He then went on to partner with Emma Kurtz in the equitation ring, helping Kurtz win the Washington International Horse Show Pony Equitation Final.
She stood in second place out of 25 riders after the jumping round and sealed the top spot when the judges called back the top 10 riders to work on the flat.
Kurtz, 13, is as adaptable as her mount. She rode True Love for the first time last winter and took him to some shows over the summer, but she rides so many different ponies that it’s tough to stick to a consistent training program with just one.
Her greatest strength is “mental toughness,” said Amanda Lyerly, her trainer, along with Mark Rheinheimer of Madison Hills Farm. “She’s just a hard worker. She rides pretty much six days a week on whatever we have for her to ride.”
Kurtz, Hudson, Ohio, said, “I was just trying to show off as much as I could on the flat,” and that’s what made the difference from second to first.
Rolling Stone Holds His Own
Rolling Stone might be one of Washington’s tiniest ponies, but it doesn’t feel that way to his 12-year-old rider, Madeline Schaefer.
“He rides like a horse and has a big stride, so it’s nice to kind of float the ring,” she said of Rolling Stone, who finished his trip to Washington as the champion small pony hunter. He's owned by Sophie Michaels of Further Lane Farm.
Schaefer's trainer, Patricia Griffith, has been working with Schaefer for five years and said it was experience that paid off today when she won the stake class to clinch the championship.
“[Maddie] has a lot of feel. She can ride all different types of ponies, and she can adapt to what’s happening in the ring. So you can have a plan, but when she goes in there and it goes awry, she’s able to quickly adapt and kind of roll with the punches. She knows that pony well, and it’s a pony I [used to own], so that’s extra special for me.”
Click here for lots more from the Chronicle on the Washington International Horse Show. For a full report from the Washington International Horse Show, check out the Nov. 11 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. Full results are available at the official Washington International Horse Show site.