It isn’t easy being the last to go at the USEF Pony Finals.
As always, the top-ranked pony and rider have to wait around the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington all day for a single over fences class. And, no doubt, as the rider watches she’s continually re-evaluating her plan for the toughest course of the season.
But that stress didn’t affect Victoria Colvin.
She guided For The Laughter to the top scores of the competition—a pair of 90s and a 93—to win the over fences phase and capture the large pony and grand pony hunter championships during this year’s USEF Pony Finals, held Aug. 5-9.
Allison Toffolon and Phoebe Robinson’s Braveheart took home reserve large pony honors.
This marks Colvin’s third Pony Finals tricolor, as she rode a pair of green mounts to championships in 2007.
“We brought the pony here last year as a green pony, and he won the model and the hack and got a little green over fences,” said Colvin. “But this year was much, much better! When he was a baby he got his teeth stuck in a flowerpot, which really spooked him. He’s better now, but he still can get scared of flowers and ribbons and things. But he was perfect here.”
When trainer Scott Stewart saw a sales tape of the German pony free jumping as a 2-year-old, he knew he’d found a superstar. Stewart imported the Welsh cross (Brilliant—Mon Cheri) as a stallion, gelded him, then turned him out in a field with his other future ribbon winners, All The Best and Follow The Laughter. When the time came for “Bubbles” to go under saddle, Stewart took the first ride himself, eventually handing the reins over to Colvin, who’s been the only one to show him.
The pony’s “almost perfect” conformation initially drew Stewart in, and sure enough, the 8-year-old has only picked up one model ribbon that wasn’t blue during his two-year career.
But Stewart bid farewell to the pony he trained from the ground up when Betsee Parker asked to buy him at the start of this year’s Pony Finals. The bay’s fantastic style and quirky character caught her eye during Devon (Pa.), and after collecting his championship ribbons in Lexington he joined Parker’s stable of top ponies in Middleburg, Va., which includes Liseter Clever Star, Elation, Vanity Fair and Landmark Bread And Butter.
Despite the change in ownership papers and Bubbles’ new home, Colvin will continue to campaign the pony.
“Tori works very hard,” said Stewart, Flemington, N.J. “The animals love her, and she makes them feel really relaxed. Her mother, Brigid, really deserves most of the credit for getting her where she is today. I just give her a few pointers and give her nice ponies to ride.”
Halo Glows For Allen
A last-minute change couldn’t stop Porter Allen and Halo from rising to the top of the medium division.
After watching more than 100 ponies contest the difficult over fences class, which included a broken line to an option fence at the start, Allen and trainer Bill Schaub decided to switch their plan when Allen was on deck.
“I know that Porter can be a little nervous, so we’d planned for the safe route,” recalled Schaub. “Then we got up there and Heart’s Desire was on course [whom Schaub used to train], and I knew that pony’s stride, and I knew Halo’s stride, and I said, ‘We’re changing your plan, and you’re going to win this thing unless the stars don’t line up.’ ”
Sure enough, by taking a different option fence and riding the broken lines in a stride fewer than she’d originally planned, Allen earned her first score of 90 as well as the blue ribbon, the medium pony title and the reserve grand championship for owner Ashley Kennedy Whitner.
Madison Goetzmann and Sportster moved up from 12th place to take reserve honors.
“I didn’t really have time to be nervous,” said Allen. “He went up the first line right on plan, and he listened amazingly and cantered right up there. I landed off the last fence, and Bill whooped so loud. I thought, ‘Oh wow, that must have been really good!’ ”
This year marked Allen’s second trip to Pony Finals, a competition she lists as one of her favorites.
Both Allen and Halo have decorated show records: Allen and her large pony Midnight Hour picked up the USEF Horse Of The Year honors last year, and Halo earned the grand pony championship at Capital Challenge (Md.) last year with Ashley LeCroy. But together they have a newer partnership.
“I started riding Halo in Tampa [Fla., in March], and we were great right off the bat,” she said. “He’s built my confidence up a lot, which has helped me as a rider so much, and he’s just a blast to ride.”
Schaub was especially proud of not only his student’s performance in the show ring, but also how she managed the stress of a competition that drives plenty of other riders to crack.
“So many kids are putting so much pressure on themselves, and parents are putting so much pressure on their kids—this show can be very tough,” he said. “The kids have to come very prepared so that the show can be relaxed. Porter worked on staying relaxed before this Pony Finals, and she rode beautifully here.”
A Great Day For Everyday Enzo
Carly Reinsel may have a new favorite number: 13.
That’s where she and Everyday Enzo stood in the standings after the model and the under saddle phases before returning for their over fences round—nearly out of tricolor contention.
But a slick trip propelled Reinsel and “Enzo” to the small pony title, picking up the over fences blue along the way. Allison Toffolon and her Lands End Eros catapulted up the standings from 14th to take reserve honors after a second-placed over fences round.
Reinsel’s win rings even more impressive considering that the 11-year-old only had a week to get to know the pony before heading into the intimidating Walnut Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park. She was originally slated to ride a different pony, but a last-minute lease put that out of the question.
“She sort of fell into Enzo,” said the pony’s trainer, Michael Newman. “I knew Carly and her mom, and when it wasn’t going to work out with the other pony I suggested she give him a try. Obviously, it’s been a fantastic fit. She’s a great kid, and she and her family are so gracious and sweet.”
Despite their short tenure together, Reinsel jelled quickly with her new mount.
“He’s a pretty good pony!” said Reinsel, who trains with Heather Tinney at home in Alpharetta, Ga. “He has a giant stride, so you have to go pretty slow. His lead changes are different than what I’m used to, so I had to practice those.”
“I never thought we’d win the championship—I was just hoping to get a ribbon,” she continued. “My trainers were great. They really helped a lot this weekend.”
Charlie Moorcroft paired Jessica Donatelli with Enzo years ago after the Welsh (Den Bramel’s Rio—Morgenster) impressed him with his potential. Though Donatelli rapidly outgrew the chestnut, he was special and talented enough for Moorcroft to keep. Enzo spent a few years on the West Coast, but he never settled into a long-term routine with any rider, eventually finding his way back east.
Newman saw the pony in the schooling area at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., over the winter and immediately thought the pony was a showstopper. He mounted his daughter Aleece Jarman on Enzo, and the blue ribbons followed on the Gulfport (Miss.) circuit.
“Charlie’s always believed in the pony, and that’s made all the difference,” said Newman. “They proved that today.”
Darst Dominates The Greens
Meredith Darst knows a little something about the Pony Finals. As the daughter of pony hunter guru Mindy Darst, she’s been attending this competition for as long as she can remember.
But this year’s trip proved to be her best yet, as she rode Kimberden’s Brownland’s Mr. Mack to the small green pony championship and All Seasons Farm’s Rock The Boat to the medium green pony championship as well as winning the grand green and reserve grand green titles.
Owner Kim Burnette-Mitchell could barely contain her excitement at seeing Brownland’s Mr. Mack (Conway High Honors—Brownland’s Boxer, Brer Jeremy Fisher), take top honors with blue ribbons in all three classes and earn a trio of 90s over fences.
“[Brownland Farm owners] Mack and Sissie Anderton, who bred the pony, are very dear to me, and I named Brownland’s Mr. Mack and Brownland’s Miss Sissie to honor them,” said Burnette-Mitchell. “It’s such a blessing for them both to come out so well.”
Burnette-Mitchell fell in love with the pony when she came across the few-day-old colt in a field, and she immediately knew he was the one. Now 5, “Starburst” has come into himself and proved a quiet, willing partner, winning the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit championship in the green division and picking up plenty of ribbons in the regular small division all season as well.
“Maddy’s done all the work herself,” said Mindy, the co-chairman of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Pony Hunter Task Force along with Sissie. “There’s never been a pro on that pony before—or anyone else really. I think she let her brother sit on him once, maybe.”
Though Maddy’s medium green partner, Rock The Boat, had never set a hoof in the Walnut Ring, trainer Tom Wright couldn’t pretend to be surprised that the pony stepped up to the challenge so easily. He trained Rock The Boat’s dam, Dreamboat, who dominated the pony hunters close to a decade ago.
“[All Seasons Farm owners] the Lindners chose to breed their mares who have really special attributes to pass on, and Dreamboat was amazing,” said Wright. “Rock The Boat is another really fantastic pony.”
The 6-year-old gelding, who is by Lands End Poseidon, started with Maddy at the beginning of the year in Wellington, Fla. “When we started this winter, the lead changes were really hard for me,” said the Lebanon, Ohio, rider. “We had to practice a lot, but now they’re easy. He’s really been good the whole time.”
The only green pony hunter championship that escaped Maddy went to Dana Rizzo and Cassius Clay. A fourth-placed over fences round clinched the title for the pair from Wall, N.J.
Rizzo couldn’t have been happier with her 5-year-old’s performance during the festival-like atmosphere.
“My trainer Nona Garson was horse shopping in Germany when she found him,” said Rizzo. “She called my mom and said, ‘You’ve got to see this pony!’ And the next thing you know, he was over here.”
The lovely chestnut (Champion de Luxe—Donata) had been started as a dressage prospect without any experience jumping, and Rizzo put in plenty of work to get him to blue.