Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 11
If you’re going to travel a few thousand miles to compete at a horse show, you want it to go well. And Michelle Berry made her trip from San Diego worth the air miles when she rode Cambridge to the small green pony championship at USEF Pony Finals.
Berry clinched the win, topping Olivia Sweetnam and Stella Blue by less than one point, with a blue ribbon in her over fences round.
“He’s a catch-ride that I’ve been riding since [Desert Circuit (California)],” Berry, 13, said of the Welsh Pony of unrecorded breeding owned by Rabbit Root Stables. “He’s an incredible little pony. The face and his jump make him special. He’s really awesome.”
Berry has been catch riding Cambridge at shows for the Root family, who ride with Corinne Bevis in Santa Barbara, California.
“He is owned by three sisters, and they do anywhere from the short stirrup to the walk-trot,” Bevis said of the pony, who came from Amanda Derbyshire with assistance from Christa Endicott. “At home, he does a lot of trail riding and bareback riding and eating treats and things like that, as well as having trainer rides here and there. He’s been a really easy pony.”
Berry’s win tastes a bit bittersweet; Pony Finals has been the goal for Cambridge, and she’s not sure how much longer she will be riding him. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be out of the tack. She has more than a dozen horses of her own—mostly jumpers—based in Temecula, California, along with four miniature cows, a donkey and some chickens.
“Michelle meets up with us when she goes to the shows, and she helps us there,” Bevis said. “She does do a lot of riding and showing, but she doesn’t get a lot of schooling and practice outside of the show ring on this pony, so it’s pretty amazing that this green pony and this kid that normally does the jumpers and doesn’t have a huge background in the hunters can hook up with us at the shows and make that happen. It’s a really special thing, and we’re really fortunate that this all worked out.”
Going back and forth between the hunters and the jumpers—she competes in the medium junior jumper ring—is hard at times, Berry said, but she’s happy for the challenge.
“It is different,” Berry said. “The striding is a lot different when you’re doing 4’3” and going down to 2’3”. It’s a big ways down.”
Watch their winning ride here.
Pepsi’s Win Is Worth The Wait
When Pepsi came to Ali Sweetnam’s Sweet Oak Farm a year and a half ago from Samantha, Schaefer he came as a project for her daughter Olivia Sweetnam. While the Welsh gelding (Goldhills Master Bronze—Silvandra’s Classy Chassis) had talent to spare, he also had a few quirks.
“Jumping was fine, but he really had no interest in wanting to actually do it when we wanted him to,” Ali said. “He never stopped at a jump, but he didn’t want to go in the ring, didn’t want any part of it. Our very first show with him he tried to not go in the ring, but after that he was amazing. He did it one time, and Olivia’s like, ‘No, no.’ ”
Pepsi became such a barn favorite that the Sweetnams balked at selling him, but when Lily Epstein expressed interest, they changed their tune. Ali is good friends with Epstein’s trainer Hanae Leeman and the two often work together. They were mutually enthusiastic about Epstein taking over the ride.
“I got him around January,” said Epstein, 12. “I tried him at the Sweetnams’ barn. Then I took him through [the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)] and he was really good as I was getting to know him a little bit.
That partnership continued to mature throughout the season, culminating in the 2020 small green pony hunter championship at Pony Finals over Abby Dabby Doo and Kolbie Watson.
This year’s Pony Finals schedule includes three divisions for competitors that were qualified as green ponies for last year’s edition, which was canceled before the start of the competition.
“I was just in a rental house [when I found out Pony Finals were canceled last year], and I was sad,” said Epstein, who lives in Miami. “I had a small pony that I was going to do and a medium, and unfortunately it got canceled, but now I’m here so I’m super happy.”
While Epstein has been to Pony Finals twice before, this is her first time earning a ribbon in the over fences—which she won.
“He loves jumping, and he’s just really good in the ring,” Epstein said of 7-year-old Pepsi.
“At home, I practice. I do some jumping, flatwork, make sure he’s framing up and listening to my leg,” she added. “It’s just making sure he’s with me and doing as much as I can to make sure he’s good.”
Because Leeman was unable to come to Kentucky as she’s pregnant, Ali stepped in to train Epstein and Pepsi.
“We’re happy we get to be part of his whole story because he really became part of our hearts,” Ali said.
Watch their winning ride here.
First Time’s A Charm For Dyson
Most riders consider their first year at Pony Finals a learning experience and a chance for some fun competition. And Emma Dyson did have fun—she went for a hack on the cross-country course—but after that she got down to business, piloting Simply Ponies’ D’Artagnan to the large pony hunter championship during her debut trip to Pony Finals.
“It’s really special,” Dyson said of winning the championship. “I’ve wanted to come here my whole life. It’s really cool to win my first time coming.”
D’Artagnan and Dyson were fifth heading into the over-fences class, which counts for 50% of the total score, and they clinched the championship with a win over fences to take the tricolor back to Greenwich, Connecticut. Erin Morera and GC Ponies’ Nominee won the reserve title after a great jumping trip.
“We wanted to have a lot of pace to the first jump, and we did a little bit of a different opening circle than most people just so that we could see the first jump,” said Dyson, 13. “Also, when we were going to the first line, I was going to stay out a little bit more so he wasn’t focusing on the stands, he was focusing on the jump.”
Dyson paired up with the German Riding Pony (Donnerhall—Top Girl) in March, after her trainers Chance Arakelian and Maddie Flocks found him in Amanda Lyerly’s barn. He had been competing with Vivian Golden. It only took a few shows before Dyson and D’Artagnan started to mesh.
“He drifts left a little bit, so we work on this, and we also work on keeping an even pace throughout the rounds,” Dyson said.
This year, hunter and equitation competition has been moved to the Rolex Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park, where the large outdoor space is partitioned off to be about half its full size. Dyson said that suited her mount perfectly.
“His [barn] name is Beau, and he loves treats, and he really loves the big rings,” she said. “I love how even he is when he canters.”
Watch their winning ride here.
Beau is Dyson’s only ride in Kentucky, and so she’ll enjoy a few days off from competition before Sunday’s USEF Pony Medal.