Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 11
Quick: You’re in the work-off of a major equitation final, and the judge asks you to turn on the haunches. What do you do?
If you’re Olivia Woodson, it doesn’t matter that “turn on the haunches” isn’t exactly a command pony riders hear in equitation classes every weekend. She hears it in her lessons with Charlie Moorcroft and Geoff Teall every time out.
“It’s Geoff’s favorite way to reverse,” said Woodson, 13. “We do about eight in every lesson. When they said turn on the haunch, I knew it was walk to walk, no halt. I looked around and saw everyone else was halted and said, well I’m going to keep going.”
That decision helped give Woodson the top prize in the USEF Pony Medal Final, the last event at this year’s USEF Pony Finals. Woodson scored the top prize over her best friend, Emma Kurtz. Emma Lemke took third, with Charlise Casas rounding out the top four.
Judges Julie Winkel and Bill Moroney called back 25 of the original 193 riders for a second round, then decided to call back the top four riders on the flat.
“For the second round I wanted to put in a good trip,” she said. “Two years ago I got into the second trip and blew it, added in almost every line. This year I said, 'I’m not going to screw this up. No major mistakes.' ”
That’s easier said than done in a pressure-filled situation like this one. Bernadette Chungunco lay down the best first trip of the day, and was called back on top for Round 2. Her pony dug in his heels at the trot fence and Chungunco fell, unhurt, walking her mount out of the ring. The Bobby Murphy-designed course had a few other faults as well, but no major accidents. Murphy pointed out that for this class, riders come in from many levels, and the course has to be straightforward enough that all riders have a shot at getting around, but challenging enough that the best riders can shine. It also has to accommodate different sized ponies, not giving too much of an advantage to the smaller ponies who may be able to turn more easily.
He did this by using all the space in the ring, with sweeping S-curves that rewarded riders that stayed on the right track. In the first round riders had to canter into a line, halt, and canter out (which caught plenty of victims as the judges had an up-close and personal view of the riders’ position during the halt). Both the first and second rounds included a trot fence as well.
Woodson came into Round 2 in eighth before she was called back for the test. All four riders who returned were mounted on medium-sized ponies, incidentally, and Woodson’s mount, Butterfly Kisses, was borrowed from her friend Erika Luter.
Woodson does a lot of borrowing horses. While Stacey Schaefer recruited her to catch ride Sportscast, her daughter Madeline Schaefer’s medium pony, in the hunter division, she came to Pony Finals first and foremost to compete in the Medal Final—her last as she’s stepping up to horses. She and Kurtz, who won three tricolors in the hunter ring this week, have found a niche in hopping aboard anything and everything and walking into the ring, though Woodson admits she still gets pretty nervous.
“We’re best friends, and she’s really good,” said Woodson. “I didn’t think I was going to beat her. We support each other and hope the other does well. When I was walking out from my first trip, she and her mom were looking up and giving me the thumbs up.”
Woodson was born in Northern California and lived outside Chicago until 2011. That’s when she met Moorcroft and Teall and decided to move to Wellington, Fla., to train more seriously, and now her parents and three younger brothers have made the move as well.
“She’s the nicest kid and the nicest family,” said Teall. “They stuck with it and ended up winning the class. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Full results are up at equestrianlive.com. Want more pony fun? Check out our list of top-ten themes for pony names or visit the photo gallery of jumps built just for the Heritage Farm ponies headed to Kentucky. Of course, we have all the news from the hunter and jumper rings too, plus plenty more.
For an in-depth report from Pony Finals, check out the Aug. 26 issue of the Chronicle.