She rides her old friend Madison to her first major grand prix victory.
Alexa Weeks grew up riding ponies at shows at Old Salem Farm, so it’s only appropriate that she scored her biggest grand prix win so far there as well.
Weeks rode Madison to the top of the $75,000 Empire State Grand Prix during the Old Salem Farm May II show, May 12-17, in North Salem, N.Y. A blazingly fast jump-off ride relegated speedsters McLain Ward and Darragh Kerins to second and third places, respectively.
“When I saw Darragh ride and McLain ride, I thought that was the fastest the class could get,” said Weeks. “Darragh rode perfectly, and everything came up so fast for him, and then McLain managed to beat that time by just a little bit. I didn’t think that you could go much faster. I went in thinking I was just going to do my best and go as fast as I could and hopefully leave the jumps up.”
Madison, a game and handy little bay mare, helped Weeks do just what she thought was impossible, shaving almost a full second off of Ward’s time.
“She is just such a fast, careful, competitive horse,” said Weeks. “She takes direction and just does her thing; that is what makes her such a great horse. She just has that little edge,” Weeks added. “My turn to the Komen fence was one of those things where it will either work or it won’t, and you don’t know until you leave the ground. A normal horse probably could not have done that turn, but she is just so amazing, I never felt her hesitate.”
Madison, 13, has been in the Weeks family for seven years, but Weeks just took over the ride this year. Kent Farrington rode Madison from 2003 to 2006, earning two AGA Horse of the Year awards, winning numerous big classes and representing the United States at the 2006 FEI World Cup Finals (Malaysia), where they won the $56,342 Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix. Joe Fargis showed Madison in 2008.
“I’ve never jumped a course where I felt her hesitate or felt that she couldn’t do it or wouldn’t do it. That’s what makes my job so easy. She is so confident and experienced that she makes everything easy,” Weeks said. “She felt so fresh, and the surface in the ring was so perfect you just skimmed over it. They really did a fabulous job here with the new rings. That’s why the class was so fast.
“Madison has been in my life for a long time, but we have not really been together that long,” she added. “This is definitely our biggest career win together. I can tell you I was really shocked.”
Weeks credited Farrington for making Madison into the star she is.
“When Madison first came to our barn she had a very difficult character and mouth. I rode her a little bit in the early days, and although she won a class at almost every show we took her to, she was pretty ragged and in desperate need of some thorough flatwork,” she said.
When Weeks got Madison back from Farrington, she was like a different horse.
“He definitely put in the hours that make her the easy ride she is today,” said Weeks. “Kent’s ride helped her jump courses that she may not have jumped for anyone else. And that certainly paved the way for me to be able to do what I’m doing with her today.”
Weeks said Madison’s achievements have been astounding to her family as the mare was originally purchased as a children’s jumper for her sister Whitney to ride. She said no one could have ever predicted that Madison would go on to launch Farrington’s career and her grand prix debut.
“We had a few offers to sell her along the way, but she will always be a part of our family and call [the Weeks’] Sasco Creek Farm her home,” she noted.
Weeks calls Southport, Conn., home, but she spends a lot of time on the road with her fiancé, Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa. Rather than heading to Europe for the summer, they chose to stay in the United States for the spring and show at Spruce Meadows (Alta.).
“I think it was definitely the right choice for Madison and a great chance to spend some time with my family and friends at home in Connecticut,” Weeks said.
Socialite Makes Headlines
Brooke Baldwin-DeGrazia did a little hometown winning of her own at Old Salem. She traveled just down the road from her home base farm in North Salem to take the regular working hunter title on Socialite and the second year green tricolor on Carlos.
“It was a good send-off for Devon [Pa.],” Baldwin-DeGrazia said.
Baldwin-DeGrazia has been showing Socialite, a chestnut mare who defies the stereotype, for two years in the regular working division. “She’s a lovely chestnut mare. She’s a big, sweet girl who loves her job. She tries her best always,” said Baldwin-DeGrazia.
Socialite, 14, also shows in the amateur-owner division with her owner, Lannie Lipson. Baldwin-DeGrazia found her four years ago for Lipson in Ralph Caristo’s barn.
“A friend of mine had been riding her in Florida and told me about her. She was a match for Lannie right from the start,” she said.
Carlos, the second year green cham-pion, also has a future in the amateur divisions with his owner, Julie Frank. Baldwin-DeGrazia showed him in the first year green division in 2007, but Carlos, 8, took most of 2008 off to recuperate from an injury.
“He’s been in the barn since he was a baby. He’s a real trier and a fantastic jumper. He’s just a good egg,” Baldwin-DeGrazia said.
Showing at Old Salem is second nature to Baldwin-DeGrazia. She doesn’t move to Florida for the winter, preferring to stay in New York with the majority of her students, and shows at Old Salem frequently.
Baldwin-DeGrazia runs her training business out of a 150-acre farm just a few miles from Old Salem. “We have 40 horses in the show barn and a small barn for retirement horses. We have goats and sheep and chickens and a donkey—all of it,” she said.
Toffolon Is Tops
Allison Toffolon, 13, was on a roll at Old Salem. She rode Hearts Desire to the me-dium pony championship both weeks and won the pony hunter classic in the second week. She and Braveheart topped the large pony hunter division and won the classic the first week. And she and Land’s End Eros laid claim to the small pony tricolor the second week.
She also picked up the best child rider on a pony title both weeks.
Toffolon spotted Land’s End Eros years ago. “I fell in love with him when I saw him showing as a green pony at Pony Finals,” she said. “I was 7 or 8, watching my sister ride. When my trainer told me he was available, we bought him right away.”
Three years ago, Toffolon took over the reins on “Eros,” and they’ve become formidable competitors in the small pony division.
“Right from the beginning, he was one of the hardest ponies I’ve ridden,” Toffolon said. “He was only about 6 when I got him. He made me a better rider because he was so challenging. I was just 9 or 10 when I got him and just starting in the pony hunters, so I’ve grown and we’ve gotten better together. It was a struggle for me, but ever since last summer, we’ve been a great team and he’s won so much. Now he’s an amazing pony.”
She hasn’t had as much time to get to know Hearts Desire. She just started riding her this winter during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.).
“She’s the most amazing mover. She’s a little different than my other ponies. She jumps pretty high for her height, and it’s a little on the harder side, but not bad,” Toffolon said.
She’s leasing Heart’s Desire from Kara Chad. Braveheart is Toffolon’s first large pony. She started riding him last summer.
Toffolon, Bronxville, N.Y., doesn’t have much time for other activities, but “I try to fit in some lacrosse and acting, and I sing in the chorus,” she said.