Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 4
The minute they called Lillie Keenan’s name in second place at the ASPCA Maclay Finals, a wide smile spread over Jacob Pope’s face, and he started patting his mount, Uno, repeatedly. Instead of the detached pleasure that some equitation finals winners display, Pope’s demeanor was as if he couldn’t quite believe the news.
He probably couldn’t, since Pope’s year has been like a fairytale. Going from winning the 2011 USHJA Emerging Athletes Program Final to riding in the George Morris Horsemastership Clinic in Wellington, Fla., to winning the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Final-East (N.J.), it seemed like Pope’s year couldn’t get any better.
But then it did, as he added the win in the ASPCA Maclay Finals to his résumé. “I am still in shock that I won. It is unreal, just being on the trophy with legends such as George Morris, and everyone else that is on the trophy. I just can’t believe it,” he said.
Watch Pope's first round...
Pope, of Columbia, Md., had shown on the local level before his 2011 EAP Final win, but this year, he’s been catapulted into new territory. Andre Dignelli took him under his wing at his Heritage Farm in Katonah, N.Y., and Pope hit the spotlight.
Judges Hap Hansen and George Morris put Pope in third after the first over fences round, but he dropped to sixth after the flat phase. A stellar Round 2 course helped put him back up into third going into the test of the final four.
The final four—Pope, leader Lillie Keenan, Elizabeth Benson and Catherine Tyree—had to switch horses and ride the Round 2 course again. Tyree did well on Pope’s horse, and then Pope laid down a beautiful trip on Tyree’s Patrick. “He’s an awesome horse, but he didn’t jump the way I imagined,” Pope said of Patrick. “I thought he would be a typical equitation horse—sort of smooth, nice—he was great, but it was a little tough to stay with him. He landed both leads and was very smooth. He was awesome.”
Benson came to grief on Keenan’s mount Clearway when the tall bay side-stepped around a narrow, wingless wall. She continued to the next fence, but the judges ruled it a refusal and judged her as off-course. She dropped to fourth.
While Keenan’s rides on her own mount, Clearway, had been stylish and smooth, she encountered a few problems on Benson’s San Remo. Her round on him didn’t have quite the same flow, and she got deep to once fence and had a front rail. “I would say he is very different from my horse but also an extremely talented and fun horse to ride. I think I just needed to help him out more at the second fence, but overall I was really happy with how he went, and I was happy with how my day went,” Keenan said.
See Keenan's first round, on her own Clearway...
In the end, that mistake in horse switch was the difference between winning and second for her. Pope’s splendid switch round won it for him.
“I said a [while] ago that the sun seems to be shining on Jacob,” said trainer Andre Dignelli, whose Heritage team was behind both Pope and Keenan. “He is a talented kid and keeps getting into the right hands. He showed up at a clinic that Patricia Griffith was doing. She came back and said that there was a real talented boy there. He got invited by George Morris to the Horsemastership Clinic in Florida. I went over to watch Jacob and Lillie. You couldn’t miss them. One of my former students, Kent Farrington, actually gave the clinic, and everyone was in agreement that he rode well. His dad walked over and asked, ‘How do we get this started?’ He started to ride with us and began winning ribbons right away.
“He has had great parental support. They drove eight hours from Maryland to New York continuously to practice. He rode every horse I had, some good, some bad. We had a conversation in August. I said to his dad, ‘How much money have you got? Let's get the best horse you can afford.’ "
Pope doesn’t come from a family with unlimited funds, but his parents, Andy and Barbara Pope, are extremely supportive of his career. When they realized Jacob had a talent that needed nurturing, they were prepared to do whatever it took to help him succeed.
“He has it all—style, position, timing, disposition,” Dignelli said. “He handled the ride-off extremely cool. I think he is a great role model, but there are a lot of Jacob Popes floundering around the United States. They need to find their way; it’s not impossible. You have to work harder than everybody else, and I think he has done that. I am not surprised he won at all.”
For more action from the ASPCA Maclay Finals, including a description of the unusual course, check out the Chronicle’s live blog of the action.
See all of the Chronicle’s online coverage from the Alltech National Horse Show.
Check out full results from the Alltech National Horse Show.