Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 10
When you hear the name Caroline Passarelli, you think ponies.
More than that, you think ponies with blue ribbons on their bridles—Passarelli has become the “it” pony jockey in recent years, piloting mount after mount to the top of classes and divisions, but she never quite made it to the very top. Not the pinnacle of pony sport—a champion tricolor finish at the U.S. Pony Finals. Passarelli has received a few reserve championships, but never that top spot—until Wednesday. Passarelli broke her bridesmaid habit in smashing fashion with a landslide victory in the small green pony division aboard So Enchanted.
“It’s amazing,” Passarelli, 14, said. “I knew the pony was capable, I just didn’t want to let that get to my head. She’s really truly impeccable, and to have a pony like this, I think it’s rare to find one that excels so well in the model, hack, jump.”
Excels, indeed. So Enchanted (whose barn name is Lex, a nod to the city she was bred in and the home of U.S. Pony Finals—Lexington, Ky.) made a perfectly clean sweep of the small green pony division, winning the model, the hack and the over fences round to finish over 56 points above the reserve champion, Picturesque Bow Tie ridden by Casey Oliver.
“She’s incredibly brave, and looking back to where we started a couple of months ago this summer, you would not think that she would be where she is today,” Passarelli said. “She’s wonderful.”
Passarelli only just started working with the green pony, bred and owned by sisters Michailia and Jessica Zandri, in the beginning of June. The Zandris live in Ontario, but they knew the U.S. show pony scene well enough to know Passarelli was the jock they wanted for their talented chestnut pony. They reached out to her over Instagram to ask if she’d be interested in riding Lex, and after speaking with Passarelli’s trainer, Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm (Katonah, N.Y.), they hauled her all the way from Canada for a trial.
“The owners called me and they said, ‘We have this pony and we heard that Caroline’s the rider for the pony, and we want to win Pony Finals,’ ” Griffith said. “And I said ‘OK.’
“Their goals was to win Pony Finals,” Griffith continued. “And they said that I was the only trainer that said ‘Let’s win Pony Finals.’ Everyone else they approached said, ‘Let’s try and get a ribbon.’ I said, ‘Let’s try and win it.’ ”
The Zandris wanted to win, and knew they had the pony to do it—Lex is a competitor through and though, which became clear to Griffith and Passarelli as they began working with her.
“She can definitely be your typical chestnut mare, but she wants so hard to be good,” Passarelli said. “She really tries hard to please everybody. She has a great personality, which I love. She’s not dull at all, and she really lets you know that she wants to win and that she can.”
The mare had the raw talent and the right jock to get the job done, but it took a couple months of practice to smooth out their rounds together and produce the polished finished product onlookers saw in the ring at pony finals.
“We got her in the beginning of June and she was extremely green,” Passarelli said. “We started going back to the basics of flatwork and just getting her to really accept the bit and relax. She was kind of worked up over everything, but soon she just started to get it. Every lesson you would see her getting better and better.”
Step by step, ride by ride, Passarelli and Lex kept on climbing until they arrived at Pony Finals and found themselves in a league of their own. If you’re going to break what Passarelli jokingly called her championship curse, what better way to do it than with an absolutely dominating clean sweep.
“It’s amazing, it’s incredible. It took a few years but this was an incredible pony to do it on,” Passarelli said. “I’m so thankful for the Zandris for allowing me to show this pony, and to Patricia and everyone else at Heritage Farm for helping me with everything and continuing to do so.”
Find more photos from the small green pony hunters here.
See full results for the division here.
Want more Pony Finals? This morning Mimi Gochman was crowned the champion of the large pony hunters, or read about Riley Hogan who made her way to Kentucky via the hunt field.
Check back with the Chronicle for more Pony Finals coverage!