Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024

Onassis Shows Off At Pennsylvania National

Sarah Ward finishes her junior career with the grand junior hunter championship.

Sarah Ward has a pretty simple plan for riding Onassis: “He knows his job—I just have to keep up with him!” she said.

Keep up with him she did. At the Pennsylvania National Junior Weekend, Oct. 9-14 in Harrisburg, Ward claimed the grand junior hunter and large junior hunter, 16-17, tricolors.

“He’s so amazing. He just went in and did his thing,” Ward said.



Sarah Ward finishes her junior career with the grand junior hunter championship.

Sarah Ward has a pretty simple plan for riding Onassis: “He knows his job—I just have to keep up with him!” she said.

Keep up with him she did. At the Pennsylvania National Junior Weekend, Oct. 9-14 in Harrisburg, Ward claimed the grand junior hunter and large junior hunter, 16-17, tricolors.

“He’s so amazing. He just went in and did his thing,” Ward said.

The pair won the first over fences class and then followed that effort with a blue in the handy class. A second place in the under saddle and fifth in the stake class clinched the tricolors.

“He loves this show. He likes it when he can tell it’s a big deal. He likes this show better than Capital Challenge [Md.] or Washington [D.C.] because the ring’s bigger, and I can really open his stride up.

“I was super nervous, but I knew he’d take care of me. After the first class, I was so excited that I just wanted to have another good round. I didn’t really expect to win the handy class, but I took a couple of shots and it paid off. I was very proud of him. He loves those hand gallops and shows off,” she said.

This is Ward’s third year riding Onassis, but it hasn’t always been this easy.

“He’s really springy, and the first time I tried him I picked up the trot and almost fell off!” Ward said with a laugh. “It took me a while to get used to him, so we practiced a lot. He was a lot different than my other horses.”

Ward started showing Onassis in the children’s division but moved up quickly. “He was one of my first junior hunters, and he really taught me how to ride the 3’6″. I had trouble in the transition from 3′ to 3’6″, staying with the jump. And he, with his spring, really made me work on it,” she said.

Ward, Atlanta, Ga., took the year off from school to concentrate on her riding. She trains with Jack and Hardin Towell and Liza Towell-Boyd of Finally Farm in Camden, S.C.

“It’s been a lot of practice and no-stirrup work, and it has really paid off,” she said.

Ward, 17, plans to attend Oxford College at Emory University (Ga.) next fall.

Vanity Fair Repeats

Lillie Keenan found the perfect way to wrap up her career with Vanity Fair when she won the grand pony and large pony hunter championships at the Pennsylvania National again.

Harrisburg Tidbits

•    Lucy Davis earned the best child rider on a horse title; Victoria Colvin won the best child rider on a pony award.

•    Katherine Newman earned the junior rider sportsmanship award; Mitchell Endicott won the pony rider sportsmanship award.

•    Mavis Spencer, Santa Monica, Calif., earned team and individual silver medals in the Adequan/USEF Prix des States Junior Jumper Championships and took home the William C. Steinkraus Style of Riding Award.
        Spencer, 17, rode Winea Van’t Vennehof, a spunky 9-year-old mare who is missing most of her tail. “When I got her 21⁄2 years ago, she lived in a field with other horses and they ate it. Since she’s been in a stall, she’s rubbed it. It gives her character!” Spencer said.

•Last year’s grand junior hunter, Lyle, returned this year with a new rider to take the small junior, 16-17, tricolor. Caitlin Hope, 16, Chicago, Ill., rode the gray gelding. “He’s got such a resume, so it’s been great to have been added as one of his riders,” she said.

•Samantha Schaefer dominated the large junior, 15 and under, division, taking the championship with her mother’s Jackson and the reserve with Scott Stewart’s Perfectionist. “The horses were perfect. They came in and wanted to win,” Schaefer said. It was the first junior hunter win at Harrisburg for the 15-year-old, who is a former pony champion there.

•Katie Dinan wasn’t able to show the first day of the junior hunters at Harrisburg since it was the Yom Kippur holiday. So, Lucy Davis took over the reins of Dinan’s Angelo and was first and third over fences, as well as winning the under saddle. Dinan took back the ride for the second day, placing fifth and clinching the small junior hunter, 15 and under, championship.

•Bikini Beach and Reid Patton, 13, topped the medium pony division, with Kara Chad and Stone Ridge’s Hearts Desire taking reserve. Hearts Desire earned the top call in the conformation class, but the judges promoted Bikini Beach after getting a good look at the ponies in the lineup, which clinched the championship for Patton.


•Allison Toffolon rode Ingenue to the small pony championship for Chansonette Farms, edging Emma Mandarino and Hilton HHonors for reserve. Toffolon, Bronxville, N.Y., had to wait three years for the chance to ride the bay mare she fell in love with back in 2005.

The pair took second in the under saddle and earned two blues over fences to clinch their second consecutive large pony and grand pony hunter titles for owner Betsee Parker, Middleburg, Va.

Keenan, New York, N.Y., and “Cocoa” have been a force to be reckoned with in the large pony ring during their 11⁄2-year partnership. Their recent accolades include topping the USEF Pony Finals (Ky.), winning the WCHR Pony Challenge at Capital Challenge (Oct. 17, p. 38) and picking up the reserve championship at the Hampton Classic (N.Y.).

“Cocoa’s easy because you do nothing, but it’s hard when you’re used to actually riding all the other ponies,” Keenan said.

Though she’s spent plenty of time accepting those blues, 11-year-old Keenan, who trains with Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm, doesn’t take her wins for granted. Along the way she’s figured out how to keep her nerves—and her expectations—in check.

“Right before I go in I have to remember to breathe,” she said. “But this year I was just worried about doing my best, and whatever I got, I got. It’s my last year [on ponies], and there’s nothing I have to prove. I went into the stake with Beau Rivage and chipped at the first fence. It happens.”

No one was more thrilled to see Vanity Fair earn the grand pony title than Parker. Not only did she get to watch her pony take the championship, but she also cheered on her second entry, Liseter Clever Star (Liseter Clever Jasper—Clever Caution), to third and fifth over fences as well with Shawn Casady.

Since an old injury keeps Parker out of the saddle, last fall she decided to embrace a new challenge: scouting out top ponies and matching them with good riders.

“My test for myself was I wanted to buy two larges that were extremely different,” said Parker. “ ‘Brucie’ is a Welsh with long, classic bloodlines, and Cocoa is a Dutch-bred warmblood of unknown breeding. Both of them are different athletes, and both riders ride differently, yet they arrive at the same goal. I liked that.”

Zone 4 Can’t Be Beaten

Taylor Land not only anchored her Zone 4 team’s gold medal in the Adequan/USEF Prix des States Team Junior Jumper Championship, logging the only double-clear performance, but she also put in yet another clear round to earn the individual gold.

“Going into the [second round of the team competition], I had looked at the chart and knew exactly what I needed to do to win,” said Land. “When I cleared that second-to-last jump, I breathed a big sigh of relief. It’s different in team competition: all of the sudden you’re thinking about everyone else—not just yourself.”

Her teammates Reed Kessler on Flight, Julianna Fischer on Lola and Ann Marie Walker on Radio Flyer each contributed a clear round to the team’s effort.

The squad from the Southeast bested last year’s winners, Zone 10, who rallied in the second round and posted three clear rounds to finish on their first round score of 12 faults for silver. Zone 2 took bronze with 20 faults.

Zone 4 took control early in the class, with Kessler, Land and Walker putting in faultless efforts. Fischer came back from a 12-fault first round she described as “anxious” to post a crucial second-round clear.

“My horse hasn’t shown much this season,” said Fischer, who trains with her mother Pat Fischer in Wellington, Fla. “I was really happy with how she improved through the class.”

Kessler, 14, sprung up to the high junior jumper ring from the small pony arena just this spring, spending the summer training in Europe with her jumper trainer and godmother Katie Prudent.

“It was so much fun to learn how everything is over there and work very hard all summer,” said Kessler, Wellington, Fla. “I didn’t see my stirrups very much!”

Kessler, who trains with Andre Dignelli of Heritage Farm stateside, warmed up for her jumper class by schooling her old small pony before his class.

The riders from Zone 4 embraced the spirit of team competition, banding together to make signs, paint their faces and nails matching blue-and-orange and order matching Zone 4 collars for their shirts.

Walker, 17, who rides with Holly Shepherd, has looked forward to this class since she rode in it last year.

TNT Explodes To The Top

This might have been Abbie Ross’ first appearance at the NAL Pony Jumper Final, but she’s well acquainted with the competition.


“I’ve been watching my sister [Lillie] ride her through the years, and I’m really excited to be riding her now,” Abbie said.

Abbie wasted no time, scoring a big win as she and TNT were the best of a three-pony jump-off to top the class.

“I was nervous. This is the biggest thing I’ve done. I just wanted to go out there and go double clean,” said Abbie, 12.

TNT is a veteran of the pony jumper division, having won the 2001 NAL Final with Eric Sassmannshausen. Abbie took over the ride from Lillie a year ago.

“She’s really fast, but I can control her pretty well. She’s a fast pony, but she can still turn,” said Abbie. “I was nervous because I’d seen all these people ride at Pony Finals, and I know they’re all good competitors.”
Molly Sorge

“It’s so much more fun riding on a team,” said Walker, Mobile, Ala. “It’s not normally a team sport, but it’s great to get to share this with other people and cheer each other on. It’s a fantastic experience.”

Zone 4 Chef d’Equipe Wendy Peralta credited the camaraderie among her charges and their exceptional training with keeping her job easy. “They’re extremely well-prepared and ready to go, and they come with a good attitude,” she said. “I just have to keep them organized.”

All Land, 16, had to do in the individual competition to win the next night was go clear, and that’s just what she did.
“I was nervous when I watched the first few go, but once I got on, I kept telling myself whatever happens, happens. It would have been a great experience no matter what,” she said.

Land, the daughter of former grand prix rider Jay Land, bought Canaille, a 12-year-old Zangersheide, two years ago from Margie Engle.

“She was basically my first junior jumper, so I’ve come all the way from the lows to this with her. I know her really well, and we trust each other,” she said.

Molly Sorge and Mollie Bailey

A Bit Of Gold Shines In NAL

Most riders put the rest of their life on hold for their first trip to the Pennsylvania National, but not Megan Brodbeck. She squeezed in an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association show at her new alma mater Pennsylvania State University the day before she drove to Harrisburg and won the NAL Children’s Hunter Final aboard her A Bit Of Gold. Brodbeck’s barnmate and longtime friend Kristina Sprenkle took second with Eden.

“I hate going first, so coming in third-to-last was really good for me,” said Brodbeck. “I was a nervous wreck, but he’s such a great guy he just took care of me. And after the first few jumps I got my nerves back.”

Brodbeck, Spring Grove, Pa., came back second after scoring an 84 her first round, and she moved into the lead after another stellar trip.

Brodbeck has been riding A Bit Of Gold (All The Gold—A Bit Of Thom) in the children’s division for the past two years with trainer Chris Gemmill, but this was the first year she joined the NAL and set her sights on the final. Her Hanoverian-Thoroughbred stayed at trainer Gemmill’s barn 81 miles away when she packed her bags for college this fall, and the 18-year-old has driven home every weekend to prepare for the final.

“He’s been amazing for our family,” said Brodbeck of her chestnut gelding. “He’s just a bundle of joy. He loves to compete. We’re really attached to him, and we feel like he loves us back.”

Unlike Brodbeck, Stephanie Dubois-Emond spent three years competing in the NAL classes leading up to her win in the NAL Children’s Jumper Final. She took the blue aboard Rebecca Reisburg’s Carrera Z.

First to go in the seven-horse jump-off, Dubois-Emond left all the jumps up and set a smart pace of 34.17 seconds that no one else could catch. Jacquelyn Shearer came closest, stopping the clock at 39.99 to take second.

Dubois-Emond, Gurnee, Ill., rode three mounts in this year’s NAL Final, finishing sixth with Lance Williamson’s Rebound. “I knew we were going to go fast in the jump-off,” said Dubois-Emond.

She got the ride on Carrera Z two months ago to keep him sharp for Reisburg, but the bay gelding already had all the makings of a winner. Carrera Z—who is by Calvin Z and out of Beezie Madden’s grand prix partner Jalonie K—competed successfully for years in the low juniors with Kristen Vanderveen, but Dubois-Emond still had her work cut out for her.

“With Carrera Z, every jump is a problem,” she said. ”He likes to stop. He really likes to be at the base of the jump, so I need to get him there every time, then there’s no problem.” 

Mollie Bailey




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