Harrisburg, Pa. – Oct. 19
Ellen Toon and her mount, Invincible, were not the only ones in the spotlight when they won the amateur-owner, 36 and over championship and the grand amateur-owner championship at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.
Jim Toon, her groom, trainer and husband, earned the grand amateur-owner hunter groom’s award minutes later.
“Like I told Ellen, I’ve gone back to where I originally started,” the experienced competitor and trainer laughed.
Ellen, 56, started riding with Jim in 1990. “It just really clicked. I’d ridden for quite a few years and never really had any success until I went to him,” she said. “When it’s just he and I going to the shows, he does most of the work as well as the training. I think it’s great for him to get that award. Whatever he needs to do, he’ll do, and he worked very, very hard this week.”
Over the past 17 years they’ve been married, Ellen has trained a few times with Amanda Steege and Rodney Bross. “You know, you have to take care of the marriage a little bit,” she joked.
The Toons found Invincible, a Bayerisches Warmblood, as a 6-year-old stallion in Europe and brought him home to their own J.T. Farm in South Salem, N.Y. He was formerly trained as a show jumper, but “he’s always been a natural hunter,” said Ellen of his seamless transition into the discipline. “He’s been a dream horse. He’s competitive everywhere but so easy; he’s like a pet.”
As we walked back to his stall, “Shaq,” patiently awaited the apple he knew was in Ellen’s award bag.
The now 13-year-old gelding, named due to her sons’ (26 and 15) love of basketball, has been in training with the Toons for seven years and has won the high amateur-owner championship at Harrisburg with Ellen twice before this year.
“He’s a very nice, seasoned horse,” said Jim. “He’s not afraid of any of the jumps and he’s very mature.”
Although Ellen attributes her success to her ever-reliable husband-trainer, he insists that “she always rode well; the only thing I did was put her on nice horses.”
“The hardest thing with showing horses is the mind,” he continued. “The mind is over 60 percent of riding.”
Invincible and the Toons were certainly like-minded at Harrisburg, and brought home hard-earned trophies and ribbons to prove it.
Hassfurther Earns Top Honors
“This means the world to me; I’m so happy right now!” said Colby Hassfurther after she earned the amateur-owner, 18-35 championship aboard Optimized.
Hassfurther, 21, bought the Canadian Warmblood two years ago and discovered that he hates going into the show ring unless he gets a mint right before.
“He has a huge personality,” she said of the 11-year-old gelding, often sighted with his tongue sticking out. “He knows that he’s the star and we treat him like one.”
Once she learned to coax him into the ring with mints, “we’ve developed a really good partnership. He’s just a blast to ride, jumps well and always makes up for my mistakes.”
Hassfurther just began her senior year at the University of Texas as a finance major.
“I only get to ride every couple of months while I’m at school so it’s really awesome to come here and do so well,” she said.
This summer, she put on quite the balancing act. She and her trainer of 13 years, Connie Stevens, worked together six days a week in Chicago on top of her internship at Medline Industries, Inc.
Last week, Hassfurther rode in a Michael Hennigan clinic to prepare for the Pennsylvania National since she doesn’t get to ride as much during the school year. “I always get nervous but tell myself I’m going in the ring just for fun,” she said. “Most of the time that works pretty well.”
Hassfurther and Optimized are currently on a waiting list for the Alltech National Horse Show (Ky.) and hope to compete in the Fla. circuit next year.
Want more Harrisburg? Stop by The Chronicle of the Horse's official Pennsylvania National page and catch up on all the news.
There will be a full report from the senior week of Pennsylvania National in the Nov. 4 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. Check out the Pennsylvania National's website for results. There's also a live feed at USEFNetwork.com.