Thursday, Jul. 25, 2024

Walk Away Runs Off With State College Derby Win

Junior rider Abby O’Mara wins it all at the State College Classic.
 
As if the junior hunter ring isn’t competitive enough, the O’Mara sisters have to add a bit of sibling rivalry to the mix.

Usually Abby, 16, and Meg, 15, compete in separate age divisions of junior hunters, but in the $15,000 The Chronicle of the Horse USHJA International Hunter Derby, they went head-to-head. Older sister Abby prevailed for the win in the class, held during the State College Classic on June 24-28 in Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa.

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Junior rider Abby O’Mara wins it all at the State College Classic.
 
As if the junior hunter ring isn’t competitive enough, the O’Mara sisters have to add a bit of sibling rivalry to the mix.

Usually Abby, 16, and Meg, 15, compete in separate age divisions of junior hunters, but in the $15,000 The Chronicle of the Horse USHJA International Hunter Derby, they went head-to-head. Older sister Abby prevailed for the win in the class, held during the State College Classic on June 24-28 in Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa.

Abby rode Walk Away to the top score in just her second horse show on the elegant chestnut gelding. She also guided Terrapin Station to third place. Meg collected eighth place aboard Serenade.

“They’re very supportive of each other, but neither one likes to be beat by the other,” said Mary Babick, who trains the sisters. “The focus in our barn is on sportsmanship, and the girls know that. They’re great supporters of each other, and they’re always cheering each other on.”

When the time came for the derby, the girls just wanted to enjoy themselves. “We thought it would be fun to try it,” Abby said.

After Round 1, Abby was in third and fourth on Walk Away and Terrapin Station, while Meg was in 11th on Serenade. Impressive handy rounds moved both girls up the standings, and Walk away and Abby into first.

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“Both Abby and Meg, when we walked the course, they were a little surprised by what some of the jumps looked like,” Babick said. “I told them to go in, not make a big deal out of it, and have fun. I told them that the horses would love those jumps, and they did.”

Kerry Kocher designed a classic derby course with 3’9″ options and a variety of natural fences, including a coop and an in-and-out of brush fences. There was also a truly vertical 3’6″ white gate with no ground line.

“It wasn’t as tricky as some of the derby courses I’ve seen. The jumps were beautiful old-style hunt jumps,” Babick said. “It was just hard enough that you did have to ride, but you had to be able to ride off your eye.”

Abby’s win aboard Walk Away was all the more impressive since she’s only shown the horse once before. She began leasing Walk Away from Don Stewart Jr. after the Devon Horse Show (Pa.). She showed him once at HITS-On-The-Hudson (N.Y.) in June before traveling to State College.

“I didn’t know him too well,” Abby said. “He’s a little tricky. He’s only 7, and he’s built really downhill. It was hard to get used to, but he’s fun. He’s a very traditional type hunter. I didn’t do too many of the inside turns [in the handy round] with him. The jumps were a little bigger, and he has a great jump when he gets to jump high, so the 3’9″ options helped show off his jump. He was great; he didn’t look at anything.”

Stewart called Babick a few weeks after they’d taken Walk Away home and gave her a few hints about how to train the horse. “Don gave me great instructions, and I did what I was told and it worked out great,” Babick said.

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Walk Away has also benefited from flatwork with farm rider Carolina Vargas, who has a background in dressage.
Babick laughed and said that they’d entered Walk Away in the derby at State College to give Abby a chance to get in the ring and feel comfortable so she’d have a better shot at doing well on Terrapin Station.

“It’s always possible to win, and Abby definitely has horses she can win on, but honestly, I didn’t actually think we would win because we were just doing it for the fun of it and to experience it,” Babick said.

But Abby had different ideas, using Walk Away’s jump to her advantage.

“There were a lot of bending lines, and the course was long. At the end, you had to get off and lead your horse over a log. With Walk Away, I tried to make it neat and turn and keep going. I tried to get off as close to the log as I could and look handy,” Abby said.

Since she knows Terrapin Station, or “Patrick,” much better, Abby dared some inside turns with him to help them move up to third.

“Abby is very confident,” Babick said. “She really enjoys a challenge, and as long as she doesn’t go out and try too hard, she’s great. Since we were doing it just for the fun of doing it, she really let her natural instincts take over, and they worked great for her.”

Riding is a true family affair for the O’Maras. Abby and Meg’s older sister, Casey, is in her first year at college, but she still rides and shows. And younger brother T.J., 11, has taken up the reins as well. The family keeps all 14 of their horses at their farm in Rumson, N.J., just down the road from their house.

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