Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 17
“They’re beautiful together,” trainer Amanda Steege says to me as she sends Mirror Image and Ellen Toon into the ring for the amateur-owner, 36 and over. As I watch them canter to the first jump, I can’t help but agree.
“Mimi” looks like a fun ride, something Toon confirms when we talk after they accept their amateur-owner, 36 and over, champion and the grand amateur-owner champion coolers.
“She’s consistent and phenomenal,” said Toon. “She’s just come along so quickly, and she’s easy. She’s the easiest horse I’ve ever ridden. You don’t have to worry about a lead change. You don’t have to worry about a swap. You don’t have to worry about rubs. You just ride—that’s all.”
We follow Toon back to the barn, and she passes Dorli Burke, who took reserve champion aboard her own Charming. Burke stops her and says, “I’d take second to you any day,” a sentiment Toon returns.
When we’re back in the stabling, things look far different than they looked two days ago. With the Pennsylvania National Horse Show wrapping up today, the drapes adorning the stalls have been pulled down and carefully folded. Stall doors lay open, empty of horses.
The Ashmeadow Farm and JT Farm aisle looks much the same. Only one horse greets us. It’s Invincible or “Shaq” the same horse Toon won the amateur-owners with here three times previously.
He looks at us eagerly and clearly believes he deserves as much attention today as he did in his heyday.
Ellen and her husband James Toon jokingly thank Shaq for teaching Mimi everything she knows.
Shaq came to Pennsylvania to be Ellen’s “practice horse” for the week, so she could keep riding while Mimi showed in the first year greens with Steege.
Mimi was given the moniker Mirror Image for her resemblance to Shaq and seeing the two horses next to each other, the likeness is striking.
“They’re definitely very different, but both like to win,” said Ellen. “There’s something about horses that love to show and you stay out of their way and they do it.
“She loves indoors. She rises to the occasion for sure.”
Danhakl Dares To Be Bold
Heading into this morning’s amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, Stephanie Danhakl had a singular goal: make improvements.
After her trips in the low amateur-owner hunters, 18-35, hadn’t gone as well as she would have liked, she was hoping her rides with Golden Rule, who won the division last year, would turn things around.
“ ‘Dreamy’ had sort of big shoes to fill from last year,” she said. “I was just hoping that I could give him good rides. He really pulled through for me in the end.
“He jumped incredibly in the last round,” she continued. “It came down to whoever won the last round was going to be champion, so I knew going into it that I needed to get an 88 to win and I definitely had my doubts.”
Because Dreamy has such a large stride, Danhakl is sometimes hesitant to open him up and ride more forward, but today she knew she’d have to do just that to take the title.
“I tried to ride him a little more forward and dare him a little bit to make him jump a little bit higher,” she said. “I had a couple rubs in two of the rounds which kept me out of the ribbons so I knew I really needed to go for it.”
Danhakl and Dreamy made headlines last year when they swept the championship at all four indoors, so she was understandably feeling a bit of pressure to repeat the performance. The gelding has shown sparingly this year in hopes that he’ll stay fresh and ready for indoors.
“I was definitely nervous last night in thinking, ‘oh I need to win today.’ ” she explained. “We won the handy round yesterday, but I was just thinking, for whatever reason sometimes it doesn’t work out and the important thing to remember is every day I get to spend with him is a good day.”