This pony rider with a varied background tops the test.
Valerie van der Linden has a pony at home, but she doesn’t spend much time schooling lead changes and jumping on him.
Instead, van der Linden, 11, practices braiding Snickers, tries out some vaulting moves on him and rides him in parades. Sometimes she and her family get up a game of mounted soccer, kicking a big ball around on horseback.
But it’s not all fun and games for van der Linden—she can put on show clothes and equitate with the best of them. In fact, she rode Glenshire Farm’s Count The Stars to the top of the NorCal Pony Medal Final at the NorCal Medal Finals, Oct. 7-11 in Sacramento, Calif.
“It was such a nice feeling to know that I did my best. When they called the second-placed person, and I realized I’d won, I hugged Clemmie, and I started crying,” van der Linden said.
This was van der Linden’s first time competing in the NorCal Medal Finals.
“My goal was really to make it to the work-off,” she said. She’d placed seventh in the first round, but then won Round 2 and topped the work-off for the blue.
“I had a lot of fun in the work-off,” van der Linden said. “To the first fence, for the first time, I counted out my strides for my distance to it, and I saw it. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s right there.’ It was perfect.
“The rest was good, but walking out of the ring was hard,” she added. “She’s the kind of pony that has a lot of energy. Out of the arena, I guess the judges could see that I was working hard to get her to walk. I had to hold her back.”
Van der Linden has had the ride on Count The Stars, or “Clemmie,” for 11⁄2 years.
“She really likes doing things her way,” van der Linden said of Clemmie, whom she also shows in the medium pony hunters. “She’s fun to ride. She’s very fancy and a good mover. Since I’ve been riding her, my riding has gotten more organized and accurate.”
Van der Linden’s mother, Tiffany, showed and does some training, and she put her daughter on a pony at age 2. Valerie grew up with ponies and horses in the back yard of their Auburn, Calif., farm.
When it was time for her to begin showing in 2007, Valerie’s mother sent her to ride with Mary and Amy Ball at Glenshire Farm.
“My mom trained Amy, and now Amy’s training me,” Valerie said.
Valerie, who also ice skates and plays volleyball, started out in the short stirrup division and worked her way up to the pony hunters and jumpers. She rode Glenshire Farm’s Nimbus 2000 in the pony jumper division this summer.
At home, Valerie and Tiffany have Haflingers. Valerie doesn’t show Snickers— she just has fun on him.
“I ride him in parades. We do the county fairs and Christmas and Fourth of July parades in Auburn. At the last parade, the Fourth of July parade, I stood up on him for almost the whole parade,” she said.
Winning the NorCal Medal Final was a fitting end to Grace McLaughlin’s three-foot equitation career.
“This was a goal for me,” McLaughlin said. “Last year, I was seventh, and the top six worked off, and I was really close. I did well, but I really wanted to make it to the work-off, so it was exciting when I did.”
McLaughlin topped Round 1 then held the lead throughout the second round and the work-off.
“The girl who was second [Alexandra Ladove] had me nervous,” McLaughlin said. “She was second in both rounds, and she was good—she was right behind me. She did a fantastic job. She was breathing down my neck!”
McLaughlin, 16, rode Santo to the blue. She bought the lanky gray last summer as a horse to take her to the 3’6″.
“He used to be a jumper, but I think he also had some dressage training, because he’s so broke on the flat,” she said. “When he jumps, he uses his whole body, and he’s so round. I don’t know how I stay on him. I’m tall and have long legs, so I can stay with him most of the time.”
McLaughlin said Santo is generally straightforward to ride but can be spooky at times.
“There was a bounce of straw bales in the first round, and he wasn’t thrilled about that, but he was a good boy and went over it,” she said. “He’s a blast to ride. He’s got a huge stride, so I can make different choices in the lines. The courses were great—all the turns were pretty intuitive and flowing. There were a lot of bending lines and options where I could take advantage of his huge stride.”
After this win, McLaughlin plans to show Santo in the 3’6” equitation classes. She’s already started in the junior hunters on him.
“I found out that Santo’s old owner had qualified for the USEF junior hunter finals—I got the letter in the mail, since I owned him this summer,” she said. “So, I figured, why not? And we went and did it. I’d just done two shows at 3’6″. I got third in the classic round. It was really challenging.”
McLaughlin, of Sacramento, Calif., has another junior hunter, Olympic. She rides with Beverly Jovais at Chestnut Hill. When McLaughlin first started riding with Jovais 10 years ago, she’d had a start in the crossrails division.
“Beverly put me on a schoolhorse and had me jump a few crossrails,” McLaughlin recalled. “Then she put the jump up to a vertical. I stopped and told her, ‘I don’t jump verticals.’ We always have a good laugh about that, since I quickly got over my refusal to jump anything but a crossrail.”
McLaughlin hopes to qualify Olympic and Santo for the USEF junior hunter finals next year and dreams of qualifying for the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals and the ASPCA Maclay Finals.
“I think I have a good attitude in general about riding,” she said. “I’m not very competitive at all. In any sport like riding, where it’s judged, you can’t take the results personally. Sometimes you’re just out-ridden. So I just try to make goals with my trainer and achieve my personal best. It helps keep you sane, because showing’s a crazy world sometimes.”
Winning the NorCal Senior Medal Final definitely wasn’t a goal for Jan Humphrey. Her sister, grand prix rider Jill Humphrey, had a horse that needed to show, and Jan got the ride.
“I actually did the qualifier on Friday—I hadn’t even tried to qualify before that—and I won the qualifier. I ended up doing the finals on Saturday and Sunday and won that as well, so it was quite random how the whole thing ended up happening,” Jan said.
Jill imported Gaston from the Czech Republic at the end of September.
“He was beautiful, and it was the first horse she’d imported all on her own—her first investment project. She said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try him in the NorCal Medal and show him in some equitation this weekend to help me sell him?’ ” Jan said.
“It was only his second show in America,” she added. “He didn’t quite get the 6 a.m. wake-up call for the hacking and schooling for the medal finals. He was like, ‘Why am I up before the sun comes up? This is not OK.’ ”
Jan said Jill was “too nervous” to help her with Gaston, so Hope and Ned Glynn ended up training the pair for the weekend.
Jan owns a jumper, Carthageno, and was circuit champion in the high amateur-owner jumpers at the HITS Thermal Winter Circuit (Calif.). She enjoyed the opportunity to do something different, though.
“It’s definitely fun doing equitation on a nice horse,” she said. “It was great to go in there on a horse who knew what he was doing and not have any pressure, because it wasn’t really a goal I had set. I wasn’t nervous going in—I could just go in and ride and have fun with it.”
Gaston, 8, will likely move to a new home after the NorCal Medal Finals, and Jan said she’ll be sad to see him leave the barn.
“He’s completely broke, and he’s so honest with his lead changes that it was actually hard for him to learn to counter-canter,” she said. “When that came up in the work-off we were a bit worried, but he held it like a champ there.”
Jan, 21, is just finishing her final semester at the University of California-Davis, where she majors in physical anthropology. She rides as an amateur but plans to turn professional soon.
“I’ve been looking at moving to Europe in January and riding there for a bit, just seeing some different aspects of the horse industry,” she said. “It’s definitely where I want to be and what I want to do. Now that I know that this is where I want to be, I’ll do whatever I can to get to the top and be the best that I can be.”
Jan enjoys a close relationship with her sister, and her experience at medal finals without Jill’s coaching was a change from their usual arrangement at shows.
“I live on the ranch with Jill and Rudy [Leone], so we’re always together,” she said. “It’s great being able to still ride and show with Jill. We helped each other and trained each other when we were growing up. We didn’t really have an at-home trainer. We’d meet with a trainer at the horse shows, but at home we’d tell each other what looked right on each horse and went off of each other to learn and grow. It’s been nice to continue on and start doing grand prix together and to watch her and learn from her.”