Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 13
When Aubrey Jones brought Big Bad Bunny home four years ago, the bay mare didn’t exactly look the part of a USEF Pony Finals competitor. The Welsh/Thoroughbred (Otteridge Foxtrot—Kate) bred by Leslie Vansant had spent the last few years foxhunting, and with her big, cob-like head, a small neck and her “zippy” way of going, she looked like just what she was: a horse that spent her days chasing the hounds.
But with guidance from trainer Carol Eichner and a lot of flatwork, they’ve transformed “Bunny” into a show hunter.
“Foxhunting makes them brave; it does not give them elegance, so we’ve been putting a ton of flatwork into her, and does a lot of hill work, a lot of conditioning,” Eichner said. “She probably could’ve come last year, but we knew this pony could do it, and it was really important to not do it too soon.”
“I call her my big eq pony because of all the flatwork she’s done,” Jones, 16, said. “She can do hairpin turns easily, and sometimes I have to make sure not to overdo it because she’s like a jumper pony sometimes except slower paced.”
Jones described the 14-year-old mare as a little quirky and “too smart for her own good sometimes.”
“When she gets braided she knows where she’s at, and she’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to show off.’ Because she likes to show off,” Jones said.
Bu she’s also a mare with her own set of opinions, and even though “She likes to please people,” Jones said, “She likes to do her thing. You have leave her alone. It’s a lot of compromises.
“She was my first mare I’ve ever really ridden for a long time,” she continued. “I really only rode geldings, and we’ve learned that I kind of take to mares better than geldings because I like to make compromises, and I’ve learned that you have to make compromises.”
Jones, Frederick, Maryland, had dreamed of competing at Pony Finals, so her parents agreed that they could do it once. They carefully planned out shows that would prepare them while staying within budget. The pair qualified for the large green division and the USEF Pony Medal.
“I just want them to go in and have a good time and do the best they can do, and if they make a mistake so what?” Eichner said. “Life’s hard; you should enjoy yourself. It’s one day; it’s one round. That’s what they have to understand: this round, this day, is not reflective of your capability as a rider. Enjoy it for what it is.”
Jones’ mother Tina Jones describes horses as Aubrey’s therapy.
“Horses for her, it was a big deal,” Tina said. “She was diagnosed with severe anxiety in second grade, and she started riding in third grade, and the transformation was literally overnight.”
Aubrey was also recently diagnosed with autism.
“Having the horses that’s her thing to talk to people; that’s what allows her to show her true self,” Tina said. “Horses have been her outlet.”
Useful links and information:
- All of the Chronicle’s Pony Finals online coverage, with behind-the-scenes stories, lovely photos and more!
- The complete schedule of classes
- Livestreaming from USEFNetwork
- The USEF Pony Finals official website
- Links to daily results
- Don’t forget to follow the Chronicle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @Chronofhorse
- We will have full analysis of the competition in the Sept. 5 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine