You know how when you ride a line to a distance, and it doesn’t work out, so you come again but try a different track to see what the outcome will be? That’s what the last two weeks have been like for 17-year-old Isabelle Mesiarik and her large green pony Defying Gravity.
Isabelle had a great week at the Kentucky Summer Classic Horse Show with her 7-year-old Welsh cross (Glannant Broadway—Royal Fame) in preparation for their debut at USEF Pony Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. And then Pony Finals was canceled. They packed up and headed home to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and thought about how to make the best of the situation.
A few days later, and with the trailer still partially packed from the previous trip, they decided to ship in to another show, so “Elphie” could get a little more experience before the likely early end to the season. What happened next was not what anyone could have expected.
Tell me a little bit about Elphie.
We got her in April of last year, and she was barely doing cross rails when we got her. For her to do the large greens this season and do so well, that’s really special to me that she was able to do so much. She’s the sweetest pony. I can go in her stall, and she’ll give hugs and kisses, and she’s just so, so sweet. She always has a good attitude. I love that about her.
What’s it been like to train her from cross rails to green hunter height?
When we got her I was a little nervous. I was like, “Oh my gosh, is this pony going to be ready to do Pony Finals in a year?” She has such a great brain, and she learned and picked up on things so, so quickly. It was definitely a little challenging in the beginning, and I was nervous that she might not be able to do it, but she was. She has been amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
I know you were really bummed when Pony Finals was canceled, just like all of us. I’m sorry. What would be one word to sum up how you felt after you got the news?
Just really sad, I guess. I know that’s such, like, a generic word, but just sad that I wasn’t going to be able to show her after we had worked so hard. I felt like we were there, we had done the show before, and she had gotten better and better each time in the ring, and she was settling in. I thought, “OK, this is going to be really good.” I guess just really sad that that wasn’t able to happen.
You packed up your tack and stall and trailered back to Pennsylvania with your entire family, who had come to cheer you on and rented a house. A few days later you thought of the Lexington National Horse Show in Virginia and decided to go. Then what?
We got to the horse show. There had been four in the greens when we left Pennsylvania to go to Virginia. When we got there the night before, there were three. We were like, “Oh boy, OK. Everyone just has to go around and get over all the jumps.” Then in the morning when there was a scratch [which caused the division to be canceled], we were like, “Oh no, what do we do?” It was like Pony Finals all over again. We thought about packing up and going home because we just weren’t sure if she was ready to do the regulars. We hadn’t practiced stuff for the handy or anything like that. We had really never practiced her doing the bigger jumps, either. We were debating whether we should just go home or stay. We ended up saying, “Well, she’s going to have to go out in the regulars eventually,” so we stayed, and we did the regulars, and she did pretty well.
You and Elphie won grand champion large pony hunter. You also won the classic out of 17, and you were named Best Child Rider on a Pony!
It’s like we were doubting her, and she’s like, “Don’t doubt me, I got it.”
It was a large division with many seasoned regular pony hunters.
When I was in the ring I was just thinking it doesn’t matter as much, because it’s not the greens. It’s OK however she does in the regulars. I guess I was just a lot less nervous because I wasn’t expecting her to do that well. I was just really calm and trying to give her a good experience. That’s what I wanted for her, and it turns out that worked for the better.
Was this your first time doing a handy together?
Yeah, she’s actually never done a rollback, and she’s never done a trot fence.
How did you feel?
I didn’t really know how to feel. I just was so surprised and so proud of her that she was able to take such a big step up and do so well, and totally unprepared for it, too.
Did you prep her a lot?
I don’t school too much with her. Especially this past weekend it was really hot, so she gets very worn out by the heat. She’s just more heat-sensitive for whatever reason, so I don’t really warm her up a lot. If anything, before I go in the ring I’ll try to just take a walk, laugh, and just let her relax and not be stressed or anything about going in the ring. It helps me relax too I guess, instead of going right from jumping to schooling ring into the ring. I like having a little bit of a walk just to chill out.
Were you worried about Covid-19? What precautions did you take?
We were definitely worried about Covid-19, but we’ve been taking a lot of precautions at horse shows. When we get our stall at a horse show we disinfect commonly touched areas, and we make sure to use hand sanitizer constantly. We are also really good about keeping our masks on, and since it’s just us going by ourselves to most horse shows, it is fairly easy to social distance.
Tell me more about you. Who is a rider you admire and why?
My mom [Constance Howell Mesiarik]. I really admire her. She was a very successful rider in her pony days. I look up to her for that and also for helping me and my little sister do horse shows with her training us. That’s pretty special that she’s the one that I look up to, but she also helps me achieve my goals. She rode her ponies sometimes, but she also rode a lot of ponies for everyone else. She always tells me about her favorite pony that she ever rode, IC Blue Shadow. She was champion with him at USEF Pony Finals, I think it was in the ’80s. Actually, he and my little sister’s pony—who was my first pony—are related, so that’s kind of cool too.
I love that. Wow, she was the champion at Pony Finals?
Yeah, she showed that pony. She always says her biggest regret was selling that pony.
When did you start riding?
I started riding when I was 5, but I didn’t really get into showing until I was like 13.
What’s your favorite movie?
I really like “Secretariat.”
Do you have other horses or ponies?
We have five horses on our farm, and my little sister’s only 9, so I kind of ride all of them because she can’t be the only one riding her pony. Elphie is the large green. I have Vito, who’s my horse for next year. My mom’s older, kind of retired horse Kodak. We have my little sister’s pony, Plié, and we’re starting to ride our 3-year-old pony, Kermit.
Do you have any other pets on the farm?
We have miniature donkeys, chickens, bunnies, cats and dogs, and a peacock that isn’t ours, but he hangs out around the farm, so I guess he’s kind of ours.
Yeah, he just showed up, and he never left, so I guess he’s our peacock. The first day we were like, “Wow, what is this? Where’d it come from?” Now he’s just Mr. Peacock.
Tell me a little bit about keeping your animals at home.
It’s a lot of work. My sisters and I will take care of all of them, but it’s mostly just me who takes care of the horses. My dad will help if I can’t do them one day or something. But I love keeping them all at home. I love being able to see them whenever I want, and they’re just right there, and I can always have an eye on them and give them attention.
Describe a typical day for you—well I guess nothing is typical these days, but I’m still curious.
I’ll get up in the morning, and I’ll do stalls before I bring in. I’ll feed all the horses and do other chores in the morning, and then I’ll usually ride after that. That’s pretty much my whole morning and into a little bit of the afternoon. At night I’ll feed them dinner again, and I’ll turn them out, if they can go out, because we don’t turn out in the rain.
You said you do chores in between. What kind of barn chores?
Organizing some things that weren’t put away from the day before, or cleaning out the bunnies’ cages, because they don’t get cleaned out every day. Something like that. I don’t really know what I fill my time with. I clean the buckets outside. I’m always keeping up with their appearance. I’ll be pulling manes or clipping, or giving them a bath even if I didn’t ride them. Stuff like that, like carrying water buckets out to the pastures is the worst, as far as I’m concerned. They’re just so far away, you always spill the water halfway, and it’s just a pain. I try to stretch the hose as far as possible, but it’s still not far enough sometimes.
What’s your least favorite barn chore?
Probably cleaning stalls. In the summer especially, just because it’s so hot, and you just want to be done. It’s not fun.
Do you train your sister’s pony?
I kind of make her pony do the work, and then she can get on, and the pony’s ready to go. She’ll get bad habits if my little sister’s the only one riding her for two weeks or so. But she’s pretty good. My little sister’s learning how to fix problems when her pony’s being naughty, so it’s getting so I don’t have to ride her as much.
Does anyone else in your family ride?
My mom rides sometimes. Not as much, but she definitely used to. Then my other sisters might get on occasionally, but they never do more than walk, maybe trot. They’re definitely not as into it as my youngest sister and me.
You said your mom competed when she was younger. What does she do now?
When she was little she did the pony hunters. She lived in Florida. She just kind of got out of it, and then I guess just got back into the horses when I started riding, especially when we moved to a farm.
Does she ever comment on something you’re working on?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. She doesn’t watch me ride every time, but I can ask her like, “Hey, can I have a lesson today?” She’ll give me a lesson on whoever I want to have one on, or she’ll give my little sister a lesson sometimes. It’s mostly me teaching my little sister, but occasionally she’ll come up to the ring and help us. Or if we’re having a problem, she’ll help us work through it.
How often do you usually show?
Recently we’ve been showing a lot. Normally we try to go out at least twice a month, maybe three times. I guess less in the winter. But with the green pony we wanted to give her experience before Pony Finals, so that’s why we were showing a lot recently. I braid for pretty much every horse show we do. We were going to have a professional do USEF Pony Finals just because I’m not the best braider. They’re fine for most shows, but for an important show like Pony Finals I would want her to look nice.
What’s your social life like with taking care of the ponies all of the time? Is it hard for you to balance taking care of the animals and school and friends?
Yeah, it’s definitely hard, especially because my school is 30 or 45 minutes away. A lot of my friends live out that way, so it would be hard to meet up with friends occasionally if they live nearby, but then being further it’s definitely harder. But they’re very supportive, and they get that I can’t come to everything. I do still get to hang out with them sometimes. It’s just harder being so far and having so many responsibilities with the horses.
Do you homeschool?
It will probably be online this fall.
What are you most afraid of?
Probably spiders. They’re so terrifying. My mom’s like, “You have to get over that if you’re going to have horses your whole life.” Also I’d say losing someone that I love.
What’s something you and your family really like to do for fun?
We love going hiking together. We’ll drive places to hike, or we’ll hike from home. We’ll go camping together too. Just kind of being outside in nature is something that my family and I like to do together, especially the hiking.
How about your younger sister, does she always want to go to horse shows with you, or the opposite?
There are four of us, and there are two between my youngest sister and me. They don’t go to every horse show, especially with coronavirus and there being no spectators allowed. But if it’s a close-by horse show, they’re there, they’ll come. They did come down to Kentucky the day before Pony Finals was canceled. They were going to be there for that and just at least be in Kentucky with us, even if they couldn’t be at the horse show. My youngest sister will go to all the horse shows with us; she loves it.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to young riders?
If you have a goal or if you want something, don’t stop working towards it. No goal is too big. Before I got my pony we were kind of thinking, “Oh gosh, are we going to have anything to show?” Things just kind of fell in our lap, even though she definitely was not ready to do what she’s doing now back when we bought her. She just came so far. We worked really hard. Don’t ever give up on something that you really love or really want to do.
What do you feel like is your biggest accomplishment?
I was actually thinking about it this morning, when she went in the large regulars this past weekend it had been one year from the first time she did children’s pony. That would be my biggest accomplishment, taking her from being a cross rail pony to doing so well in the regulars after she’s done so well in the greens in a year and a half, not even.
What are your upcoming plans?
For the rest of the 2020 season I want to continue showing Elphie in the large green ponies (large regulars when it doesn’t fill) and get Vito ready to show in the junior hunters for the 2021 season. In 2021, I will also be helping my sister with her small green pony and working with our 3-year-old pony.
I’d like to ask a USHJA Horsemanship Quiz question. For calculating the number of strides in a line, what is the average horse’s stride?
Bonus question. What is the large pony stride?
Ella Doerr, 17, from Avon, North Carolina, is a recipient of the USHJA Youth Leadership Award, the USHJA Youth Sportsmanship Award and the USHJA Foundation Gochman Family Grant. Since she was 7 she’s bought and paid for her ponies with her own earnings while keeping them at home and performing all their care. She’s brought them along from just broke to zone championships and USEF Pony Finals (Kentucky). She’s the brand ambassador for multiple companies and chairs the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Youth Group. She volunteers for charities and has managed three horse shows to raise funds for terminally ill children.