Sydney Shulman could feel the palpable tension in the air as she entered the indoor arena to jump off for the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Pony Jumper Individual Championship at USEF Pony Finals, Aug. 5-9, in Lexington, Ky.
Last to go, a single rail could have cost her the gold, but the rising ninth-grader rides best under pressure, and she rose to the occasion to put in her fifth clear round of the week aboard Set Sail. Shulman’s clear, steady go bumped the fastest four-faulters, Carly Attanasio and Rascal, to the silver medal position. Bella Cramer took the bronze with Good Fortune.
This was Schulman’s first jumper victory at Pony Finals, though she’s a familiar face at the hunter award ceremonies. She trains with her mother Jill at their Back Country Farm in Greenwich, Conn., and also gets occasional help from Frank Madden at shows.
“We have 18 horses and ponies at home, and I get up early before school to feed them,” she said. “I try to ride five or six horses a day after school.”
That may seem like a lot of riding for a full-time student, but her mother stressed that Sydney doesn’t take her studies lightly.
“It helps to have the horses at home. She can come home, ride, do schoolwork, then ride some more,” Jill explained. “Winning is great, but she really loves the whole scope of it. She feeds them, plays with them, tucks them in at night and tries to sneak them into our kitchen!”
Sydney has been developing her partnership with Set Sail for four years, taking him patiently from the level 0 jumpers to the pony jumpers. The 9-year-old jack-of-all-trades pulled double duty at Pony Finals, also carrying Shulman around the Pony Medal courses. He had qualified to compete as a large pony hunter as well.
“He’s really good at adjusting,” explained Sydney. “He used to just jump clear, but now he’s very fast and competitive.”
“He’s just such a good boy,” Jill said fondly. “Whatever bridle you put on him, he knows what to do in the ring. I really wish I could take the credit, but I can’t.”
Sydney is nearly as versatile as her pony. In addition to riding hunter ponies for her mother and starting youngsters for neighboring pony breeder Robin Greenwood, she shows horses in the jumpers and equitation. With such a depth of experience across divisions, it’s easy for Sydney to help Set Sail step into any show ring with a chance to win.
“They don’t have many jumper shows where we live, so I take him in the hunters to prepare for [the winter Florida circuit],” she explained.
The Shulmans make the trek south every year despite leading a busy life in Connecticut. Ever resourceful, Jill has found a way to enable Sydney to show all year long without taking her out of school.
“I have three other kids, so it’s a juggling act,” said Jill. “We go for Christmas break as a family and any other weekends we can. We only send a few ponies down; the green ones stay at home.”
Jill also credits Madden for much of Sydney’s success. It was sometimes hard for Jill to fill the roles of mother and trainer at the same time, so she turned to him for help.
“I approached him at Pony Finals several years ago, and it’s just been a great relationship,” she said. “He’s a great team player. He truly involves me, because I train her most of the time. We only cross paths at certain shows, but when we do, it’s fun.”
Zone 8 Takes The Cake
Georgia Griffis wasn’t close with the other three members of her Zone 8 pony jumper team or coach Kathy Johnson when she arrived in Kentucky, but that didn’t stop her from helping lead the team to the USEF National Pony Jumper Team Championship. The Denver, Colo., rider joined Madeline Thatcher on Bally Mac, Amelia Drumm on Rosebelle and Megan MacPherson on Color Me Ziggy, led by Johnson.
Despite having just started riding pony jumpers a year ago, Griffis wasn’t surprised that her team came out on top.
“I knew we were a strong team coming in,” said Griffis.
Griffis was the strongest link in the chain aboard Pikatchu. Carrying no faults and a fast time from the first round, she was poised to compete for the gold medal heading into the competition for the individual championship on Saturday night.
Griffis was forced to content herself with one gold medal, however, when she heard her ankle pop over the final jump of the team competition. Despite her hope to compete the next day, the injury proved too severe for her to ride.
Thatcher also contributed a pair of clears to help boost the team from the mountain states to gold. Despite hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah, she trains with Alex and Maggie Jayne in Chicago, Ill.
Thatcher’s mount, Bally Mac, is no stranger to the jumper ring. Her sister, Kelsey, campaigned the 10-year-old Connemara gelding before passing him on to Madeline 11⁄2 years ago. The pair showed at Pony Finals last year but didn’t place.
Drumm trains with Johnson in Phoenix, Ariz., and has been riding Rosebelle in the pony jumpers for two years. MacPherson and Color Me Ziggy of Denver, Colo. rounded out the team with a clear second round.
Johnson knows Drumm well, but enjoyed getting to know her teammates throughout the week.
“They all worked very well together and had a fun time,” Johnson said. “They were great to work with.”
Midway through the competition, a fire alarm interrupted Talie Lynch’s second round aboard Mystic Rainbow. The Zone 3 rider regained her concentration to finish in good style despite the blaring, but the competition paused for 10 minutes until the fire alarm could be turned off. The rest of the evening continued without a hitch, however, and the Zone 8 team finished faultlessly to easily clinch the gold.