Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 14
Chandler Wilks couldn’t help but smile as she exited the ring following her first trip in the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Final. The 15-year-old was the first to go after the height change from medium ponies to larges, and she executed a smooth halt after Fence 4 and caught the trot fence right out of step at Fence 8.
As she waited to see where she landed on the standby, she passed the time by pacing. When announcer Oliver Kennedy began reading out the numbers, starting with 77, Wilks could hardly believe her ears.
“When it comes out I’m in first, me and my friend are like, ‘What?’ We were so surprised, so exciting,” she said.
After 207 ponies completed the course, the list was reduced to 25 to jump a second round, and Wilks returned last.
“It was dead quiet when I walked in,” she said. “As the round went on, I had one deep jump, so I [stayed] out in the turn, got straight, held my shoulder; she jumped up real nice. It was such a fun course.”
Judges Keri Kampsen and Timmy Kees had three riders return for testing on the flat without stirrups: Wilks, JJ Torano and Abby Morris. They were asked to demonstrate a rising trot, sitting trot and canter in both directions, and a change of direction through the walk before continuing at the canter.
Wilks wasn’t stressed about having to test without irons. “I’ve been working on my sitting trot for a while and no stirrups because I had a overuse injury from riding too much,” she said.
Following testing, the top 10 riders are invited into the ring with their trainers, and they are pinned in reverse order. When Torano’s name was called in second, Wilks broke out into a huge smile once again, while thinking, “Oh my God. Oh my God. That just happened.”
“It’s such a big honor,” she said of winning the class. “I’ve been competing in this class for a while too, and every time it’s just one thing that happens. Never anything big, but just one little thing. This class is so fun.”
Wilks, Canton, Georgia, is trained by her mom Jonna Wilks Murray.
“She told me to go in there and said, ‘Be slow, have a calm mind, just be patient,’ because every now and then I’ll get ahead of myself, so just be calm,” said Wilks.
Earlier in the week Wilks showed Veikko in the large greens, but for the Medal she tacked up an old friend, Orchard Hills Bougie. They purchased the mare in 2020 and competed in the 2020 large greens at last year’s USEF Pony Finals before selling her. But when they realized “Hayden” was competing this year with Sophia Cruise, Wilks and her mom asked if they could borrow the mare for the Medal.
“It was like she was my old best friend, and then she went away and made a new kid happy, and then I got to get back on, and she was like, ‘I remember you,’ ” Wilks said. “It was like right back to where we left off.”
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