Josie Galvin set out for her first Junior North American Field Hunter Championships on Nov. 9 with just a few hunt meets under her belt, no idea what to expect, and her helmet forgotten back home. But a veteran pony, a well-prepared friend, and her own competitive experience as a state 4-H champion helped her claim the winner’s sash in the Hilltoppers, 11 and over, division in The Plains, Virginia.
“We just went up totally blind,” said Galvin, 13, Free Union, Virginia, who represented Farmington Hunt with her friends Katharina Ravichandran and Leah Hoffman. “I totally forgot my helmet, but luckily Kat brought two of everything!”
Although it was her debut at the JNAFHC, it wasn’t Galvin’s first experience at a big competition. She’s been a member of the Hoof-N-Woof 4-H club near Charlottesville, Virginia, for several years and earned top scores in the state for mounted and unmounted skills.
With Priceless, the same borrowed 19-year-old Welsh-Quarter Horse gelding she took to the field hunter finals, Galvin won the large pony junior hunter division championship at the Virginia State 4-H Championship Horse and Pony Show in September.
Hoof-N-Woof club leader Katie Sears explained that means more than just ringcraft. “In order to attend the [Virginia state] show, the kids have to keep a detailed record book on their horse project, attend a skills evaluation and a qualifying horse show,” she said. “The rider also has to attend a certain number of club meetings, knowledge competitions and community service.”
Galvin, a seventh-grader, excels in the horse knowledge competitions. “Josie was the junior high point individual at ‘Equismartz,’ the state-level contest that includes hippology, horse judging and public speaking,” said Sears.
The curriculum includes topics like nutrition, parasites, farriery tools, history, behavior, safety and anatomy.
“Hippology is like a school test, except all on horses,” said Galvin. “And Horse Bowl is like [the television show] ‘Jeopardy.’ Horse judging is just judging on conformation.”
Judging contestants are also evaluated on their ability to describe and defend their placings orally in front of a panel of experts.
“Another fun thing Josie has done with 4-H the last four years is a 50-mile trail ride,” said Jeniffer Galvin, Josie’s mother. “They do a total of 50 miles over three days and come back to the same base camp. It’s in a different part of Virginia every year.”
So even wearing a borrowed helmet at the JNAFHC, Josie was ready to compete. “I loved the mock hunt!” she said. “I guess we didn’t have to wait for a fox, so we just ran!”
She and Priceless, owned by Farmington member Locke Ogens, caught the mounted judges’ attention and were called back in the top 10 to perform an individual test.
That test included opening a gate, cantering away from the group, dropping a rail to jump a small fence, and other typical hunt field obstacles. “Me and ‘Pricey’ had trouble leaving the group, and I almost forgot to canter over the pole, so I had a mini-heart attack!” Josie said.
She also received some good advice just before heading out. “There was this one lady, and she told me to go alongside [the rail fence] and stop for a second—and then drop it, and your pony won’t move,” said Josie. “If she hadn’t told me that, then I wouldn’t have done nearly as well.”
In addition to her friend who had an extra helmet on hand, Josie thanked Farmington MFH Kip Holloway and trainer Jennifer Daly. “Kip was so helpful; if she hadn’t told us about the championship, we definitely wouldn’t even have thought about it,” Josie said. “And Jen trailered Pricey up for us, and she is just a great trainer always!”
Her mother added, “Besides all being extremely accomplished, I noticed that almost all of the [competitors] came in patting their ponies, even if they struggled at obstacles on the course. That was so refreshing to see.”
Josie hopes to fit in more hunting this season, when she can schedule meets around Interscholastic Equestrian Association shows and 4-H events. She definitely wants to qualify for the JNAFHC again next year, when the finals will be hosted by the Iroquois Hunt in Kentucky. “It was just so much fun!” she said. “All the little ponies were galloping right up front!”