Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Pyfer Clearly Wins The Individual Jumper Title

The 10-year-old travels from California to jump three perfect rounds.

As hundreds of young riders descended on the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington this year for the USEF Pony Finals, the youngest competitors tended to flock to the small pony hunter ring—but not Jessica Pyfer. This tiny 10-year-old made her first trek to Kentucky from Pasadena, Calif., to take a turn around the jumper arena, and on Aug. 16 she topped her teenage competitors to take gold in the Adequan/USEF Pony Jumper Championship aboard Socha.
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The 10-year-old travels from California to jump three perfect rounds.

As hundreds of young riders descended on the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington this year for the USEF Pony Finals, the youngest competitors tended to flock to the small pony hunter ring—but not Jessica Pyfer. This tiny 10-year-old made her first trek to Kentucky from Pasadena, Calif., to take a turn around the jumper arena, and on Aug. 16 she topped her teenage competitors to take gold in the Adequan/USEF Pony Jumper Championship aboard Socha.

Pyfer had a little extra help on her way to the gold from veteran grand prix rider Aaron Vale, who
picked up coaching duties for the weekend. Back in California, Pyfer normally trains with Max Dolger and her mother Sherri Pyfer.

“She came out here in great shape. I really didn’t do anything special,” said Vale, Ocala, Fla. “We just worked out some of the kinks. Jess is a tough rider, even if she is on the small side, and she’s got an awfully nice pony.”

Pyfer has plenty of opportunities to practice on her family’s green mounts back home, but Socha is her only partner in the show ring.

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“We have a very good relationship, and I know him well—I’ve had him since I was 3,” said Pyfer of the Quarter Horse-Paint. “All I needed to do was go slow and not knock down rails.”

Her strategy paid off on the final day. Course designer Richard Jeffery built a tougher track and raised the fences a hole or two, and two tricky combinations backed off more than a few bold ponies. As competitors started going for broke in their efforts for a step on the podium, rails started hitting the dirt—and a few riders too.

Pyfer and Socha picked up a steady canter and never changed their rhythm as they clocked around the course, finishing as the only triple clear. The 10 riders tied with 4 faults jumped off for the silver and bronze medals, and in the end, Cara Dodson found the shortest track to take silver aboard The Waterboy, who won the title in 2006, and Gillian King and Crum Creek earned bronze.

The judges honored Elizabeth Solomon, who finished the competition 17th aboard Hip-Hop, with the Pony Jumper Style Award.

The riders from Zone 7 hardly felt confident heading into the Adequan/USEF Pony Team Jumper Championship, Aug. 16. None of the four competitors had been to the event before, and their zone team had never fared well in the past.

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But the Zone 7 squad outrode nine other teams to finish with just 4 faults over two rounds of competition.
 
Breezy Sambola, 11, Covington, La., anchored Zone 7 with two lightning-quick clear rounds aboard her bouncy pinto, Wonder Woman, whom she started riding shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the region.

“My pony is really strong, and she doesn’t like to jump the first jump, but after that she’s good,” she said.
 
None of the riders knew each other coming into the competition, and the team experience presented a fresh challenge for the freshmen contenders, including the only boy on the team, Jacob Roberson, 14, of Ruston, La., who rode American Hero.

“I was freaking out because I didn’t want to mess up and have it be all my fault,” added Kayla Briel, 15, of Coppell, Texas, who rode Skys The Limit.

Before the riders cleared a single jump, though, they had plenty of hurdles to overcome. Gabrielle Ploth,
13, Conroe, Texas, skipped last year’s competition after suffering a stroke, but this year she competed aboard High Voltage. Sambola’s mother was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and Briel’s mount battled his own health issues, only to show up in Kentucky lame, trotting sound just in time for the championship thanks to the veterinarians at nearby Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

“I’ve been pushing the pony jumpers down in Texas, and it’s so exciting to have the riders come up here and do well,” said Chef d’Equipe Kim Brunson. “This is the first year for all these kids here in the jumpers,
and this is the first year Zone 7 has won gold. I keep telling everyone that there’s the East Coast and the West Coast, and Zone 7 is going to be the third coast.”

Mollie Bailey

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