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February 20, 2009

A Winner That's EZ To Spot

Adam Sklansky trained his colorful companion from a wild 4-year-old to a winning pony jumper.

Most people who took a look at EZ To Spot 31⁄2 years ago wouldn’t have paired him with Adam Sklansky. The spirited Pony Of The Americas had just turned 4, and at the time 11-year-old Sklansky competed in the short stirrup division.

But Sklansky had his eye on the pony jumper ring, and as soon as he climbed aboard EZ To Spot he knew that the match would work.

“He didn’t listen very well and was very wild, but my old pony was crazy so I was used to it,” he recalled. “I thought he was pretty cool-looking. Most ponies are either bay or gray; he’s both of them.”

The pony looked like he might have been just as comfortable in western tack and sported a name to match, that of B-list cowboy film star Lash La Rue.

“My mom said he’d always be easy to spot in a field, and it just stuck,” said Sklansky, who decided to keep “Lash” as the pony’s barn name.

Despite his inexperience, Lash boasted plenty of talent, and Sklansky proved impossible to unnerve when his mount acted his age. Within six months the pair ventured into the show ring for the first time. With the pony’s buoyant jump and natural foot speed, they quickly found themselves in the ribbons, but to get to the top of the division took some time and finesse.

“At the start the pony was out of control,” said Sklansky’s trainer Evan O’Donnell. “Adam had done all the
riding himself, and he’d done a good job. But we still had to work hard to get him pulled together on the flat and give Adam skills about the more technical side of riding.”

That work led to their most successful season yet last year, when the pair finished the season as the HITS-On-The- Hudson (N.Y.) circuit champions. They also traveled to the Pennsylvania National for the first time, where they placed eighth in the NAL Pony Jumper Final.

Like lots of pony jumper riders, Sklansky, Skillman, N.J., attends plenty of shows that don’t have specific classes for the 14.2-hand and under set, leading to an entry in the low children’s division and some tricky striding questions. As a result, O’Donnell and his student spend plenty of time practicing what to do when faced with a 24' in-and-out.

“We train the same way as I train other jumpers, but we play with the striding more,” said O’Donnell. “That’s where his flatwork comes in. This pony has a big stride, so we have the option to either leave it out or add one.”

Being more compact does yield an advantage for EZ To Spot in the children’s division. “If he goes clean he’s normally 5 or 6 seconds faster than any of the horses because he can do impossible turns they just can’t do. The only way he doesn’t win is if he has a rail down,” said O’Donnell.

One of the highlights of Sklansky’s year came at the Wild Horsefeathers/ USEF Pony Finals (Ky.) last August. Sklansky earned a last-minute invitation to ride on the USEF Zone 2 team when another pony fell ill.

“I only found out a week and a half before we had to go down that I was on the team, but we went, and he was really good,” he said. “The courses—especially the last day—were harder than at other places.”

Sklansky placed seventh in the welcome class then posted two double-clear rounds during his first trip to the championship to help boost Zone 2 to silver. As the only pony jumper rider at his barn, the trip to Pony Finals presented a unique opportunity for Sklansky to spend some time with riders his own age who share his enthusiasm for the sport.

“Our team got to be good friends there, and I really felt like I was cheering for them,” he said. “Now I have friends at the shows, which is nice. I was the only boy on my team, but that doesn’t affect me because I’m used to it.”

Sklansky’s season suffered a few setbacks as well. At Devon (Pa.), EZ To Spot hurt his leg, leaving Sklansky and his pony back at the barn with a bucket of ice while the rest of his division competed. The pony jogged sound just in time to contest the NAL classic on the final day, where they picked up second.

“I don’t know how he hurt his leg—we think he might have bumped himself in his stall,” Sklansky said. “Luckily, it wasn’t serious. I was glad we got to do the last class because we’d gotten a lot better than when we were there last year.”

At 14 years old and growing, Sklansky has been forced to look toward taller mounts, and EZ To Spot will soon find another young rider to join him in the show ring.

“It’s hard to miss that kid on his spotted pony,” said O’Donnell. “He’s a great rider, and it’s a really neat pony. They’ve helped each other get to the next level.” 

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