Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Farpoint So Fine Finds Blue At Dallas Harvest Festival

Kelsie Brittan squeezes in one last championship aboard her favorite pony in Tyler, Texas.

Kelsie Brittan’s growing legs forced her to bid farewell to her pony Farpoint So Fine at the Dallas Harvest Festival. Before she passed the reins on to her younger brother, Spencer,  however, she earned one final small pony hunter championship in Tyler, Texas, Nov. 5-9.

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Kelsie Brittan squeezes in one last championship aboard her favorite pony in Tyler, Texas.

Kelsie Brittan’s growing legs forced her to bid farewell to her pony Farpoint So Fine at the Dallas Harvest Festival. Before she passed the reins on to her younger brother, Spencer,  however, she earned one final small pony hunter championship in Tyler, Texas, Nov. 5-9.

“She was very calm and easy going,” said Brittan, 12. “Sometimes I can get nervous and hold my breath, but she’s always perfect. I have so much fun with her, and she takes good care of me. She’s my absolute favorite pony.”

The show capped off a stellar season for Brittan and 7-year-old “Sophie,” which included numerous championships as well as trips to the Pennsylvania National, the Washington International (D.C.) and Devon (Pa.). No one felt more pride than Sophie’s breeder, Denise Youell.

Youell didn’t take up breeding ponies to live out some childhood dream or try to make a fortune, but rather out of sheer necessity. “I’m a hunter/jumper trainer and I have kids, and I just couldn’t find any ponies for them to ride,” said Youell, of Snohomish, Wash. “We just don’t have an awful lot of ponies up here in the Northwest, so I decided to try to help change that.”

With a paucity of pony breeding operations and few pony hunter breed shows in the neighborhood, Youell relied on trial and error to figure out the process of breeding and breaking. She turned to her students—including her now-13-year-old daughter Courtney—to get the ponies going under saddle, but she found another way to get more hands-on with the younger animals.

“I break all of the ponies to drive, which was new to me, being a hunter/jumper person, but it turned out to be a great way to get them sacked out and used to stuff banging around,” said Youell. “When So Fine was a 3-year-old she was pulling a cart. It wasn’t her forte, but she did it!”

Sophie (Farmore Flamboyant—Fairy Tales) fit in better in the show ring, placing fourth at the USEF Pony Finals in the small green pony division as a 5-year-old with Meredith Darst before Kelsie took over the ride 11⁄2 years ago. The Brittans were so impressed with Sophie’s personality and performance that they flew to Youell’s Farpoint Farm and bought Sophie’s full brother, 5-year-old Farpoint Magic Man, who will start in the green division at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.).

Kelsie’s enthusiasm for the sport inspired her non-horsey family to jump onto the equestrian bandwagon. Her younger twin brothers, Jackson and Spencer, join her in the pony ring, and her parents, Kristen and Tim, have started Silver Oaks Farms, a 50-horse boarding business in Westlake, Texas. Marilee Carrol keeps everyone in shape at home, and the Brittans meet up with pony guru Jennifer Bieling at shows.

“Kelsie is a very motivated student, but for her it’s not just about winning, she really just loves the ponies,” said Bieling.

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A Perfect Partnership

Having two parents in the horse business means Maggie DiVecchia rides a lot of green and investment ponies rather than her own. But her partnership with one special sales prospect proved too special to sacrifice, and over the past 11⁄2 years she took Siddhartha from green-broke 4-year-old (who wouldn’t walk over a pole on the ground) to the top of the large pony hunter division at the Dallas Harvest Festival. 

“He went as well as he ever has at Dallas,” said DiVecchia, 13. “He’s soft and fluid and quiet and rarely spooky. He’s become really fun and easy.”

Siddhartha’s journey from field to winner began at Retreat Farm in Gordonsville, Va., where Christine Owens bred the Welsh-Thoroughbred by Welsh Hills and named him Captain Kid. After Owens passed away, her daughter Jenny stepped in to carry on the family tradition in the breeding business, and the promising young chestnut found his way to Christine’s son—San Antonio-based trainer Frank Owens.

“I’d mentioned to Frank that Maggie was looking for a large [pony] to work with, and he mentioned he had a young pony he wanted to sell,” recalled Maggie’s mom Debbie DiVecchia. “We intended to sell him but liked him so much, and Maggie got along with him so well we had to keep him.”

When Maggie started riding the pony it wasn’t clear that he had any future in the show ring.

“When we first got him I had to hack him for a month before I could even point him at a jump, and he wouldn’t go anywhere near poles lying on the ground,” said Maggie. “He was tough at first—he would stop a lot. Then we took him to his first show in the children’s and he was unbelievably good.  I was like, ‘Whoa! What happened?’ ”

Siddhartha showed in the greens all season, improving enough to step up to the regular division halfway through the year, earning tricolors at Blue Ribbon (Texas) and Brownland (Tenn.).

“He keeps going better and better than we expect him to,” said Maggie. “I hope we can qualify for Devon—that’s our goal.”

As a talented and petite rider, Maggie has become an invaluable assistant to her mother at her Windswept Farm in
Argyle, Texas, helping to bring along green ponies and keep the boarders’ ponies show-ready. She squeezes in riding time on Siddhartha and her junior hunter who live at a nearby farm run by her father, Tommy DiVecchia.

A Confidence-Building Champion

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When trainer Laura Hightower scouted out ponies for student Madison Billings, championship potential wasn’t her top priority. After a string of difficult mounts, Billings was ready for a seasoned partner who could serve as a confidence builder and a good teacher.

But the pony she found, Queen Frostine, went beyond just showing her 12-year-old partner the ropes in the medium pony ring and carried her to tricolors all season, concluding with top honors in the medium pony division at the Dallas Harvest Festival.

Billings, Westlake, Texas, started riding with Hightower and her daughter Jordan Siegel two years ago as she started to head into the show ring after a scant half-year in the tack. Billings started riding “Paris” last summer, but the partnership didn’t jell right away.

“It took me a while to get used to her because I wasn’t used to riding made ponies,” said Billings. “She had a huge jump. We’d go to a couple shows and be good, then I’d get confused and we wouldn’t do well again. Then finally I
went to a show in Tyler in May where it all clicked, and we were consistent the rest of the year.”

Paris sports a pair of docked ears, an unusual characteristic that draws quite a bit of attention, but only further endears the pony to Billings.

“People come up to me all of the time and ask what happened to her,” she said. “I tell them about how she was born in Canada and got frostbite on her ears. She acts like they’re still there, and I can’t imagine her any other way.”

At this year’s USEF Zone 7 Finals, Billings picked up championships in the mediums with Paris and the green pony division with Mary Ann Funk’s Consider It Done. Hightower credited Billings’ success to the confidence she gained aboard Paris and her student’s gung-ho enthusiasm.

“She’s turned into a regular barn rat,” said Hightower, who runs Summer Hill Farms in Flower Mound, Texas. “She’s at the barn five days a week. She’s always ready to get on whatever comes through the barn.”

For her part, Billings considers her progress a testament to her trainer’s ability to motivate her in just the right way. “Laura’s really honest,” said Billings. “She really wants everything best for the horse, and she always tries to push you to the best of your ability.”

In addition to her success in the pony ring, Billings has already started hopping aboard taller mounts. She’s started competing in the children’s hunters and hopes to take a stab at the jumpers this winter at Gulfport (Miss.).

Mollie Bailey

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