When she’s not competing in the pony hunters, 16-year-old Eddyn Molden can be found in the livestock show ring exhibiting cattle, sheep and even pigs through 4-H and her involvement with the Future Farmers of America.
The high school junior cares for all of those animals on her family’s farm in Middleton, Virginia, along with her current mount, Reidell Pumpkin Spice, who she piloted to the overall grand champion title at the Kim K. Smith/USHJA Young Hunter Pony Championships in Lexington, Virginia, on Aug. 28.
“Tucker,” a 6-year-old Welsh cross gelding (Rollingwoods Raisin Ruckus—Northwind Face The Nation, Llanarth Senator) owned by Kristin Wells and bred by Rose Reid, was champion in the 6- to 7-year-old 2’3” and 2’6” divisions at the championships, while Molden was named Best Child Rider.
The win was a product of an intensive, cooperative effort between Molden, trainer Carol Eichner and Tucker, who a little over a year ago was a green pony just walking and trotting under saddle.
Tucker has lived with Molden and her family’s assortment of animals, including a peacock named Howard, since 2021.
“Howard’s pretty sweet. He sits on the fence in the barn and watches over all the horses,” Molden said.
Molden’s older sister was the first to get into showing livestock, and Eddyn followed her lead. She’s since exhibited sheep, pigs and cattle and is currently waiting for her steer project animal. She’s an officer for her high school’s FFA program and feels that living on a farm has given her an edge in training horses.
“Working with the animals on the ground, it gives you a better understanding of how their mind works,” she said. “Having the livestock has given me an immense work ethic.”
That work ethic is what first impressed Eichner when she saw the then 10-year-old at local shows. She recognized that Molden didn’t have the finances to buy her own show pony and took her on as a working student.
“She does all the work herself,” Eichner said. “We’d see her at the shows, on a pony that wasn’t easy. She worked so hard, and everybody adored her.”
Eichner found Molden her first pony hunter, Longacre Maybelle, who helped her develop her eye for a fence but ultimately was better suited to being a foxhunter. Eichner also connected Molden to ponies who needed a catch rider in the show ring, helping her student gain experience on a variety of mounts.
In 2019, with Eichner’s encouragement, Molden applied for and won a Gochman Grant for USEF Pony Finals. The grant is awarded each year to three first-time participants who otherwise would not have the resources to attend, and it provides financial support to selected riders, plus access to professional training, clinics and other educational opportunities during Pony Finals week.
“That opened so many doors for me,” Molden said.
Most notably, it led to connections with owners and trainers, which has resulted in a steady opportunity for catch riding.
“I think it’s the lack of finances. If I want to get to the top, I have to work 10 times harder,” Molden said. “I’m very lucky to have met the people that I’ve met and had the opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve had to work harder for it; I’ve definitely ridden some naughty ponies along the way, but that’s why I get talented horses to ride now.”
In 2020, Molden started learning more about training a green pony when she took over the ride on Eichner’s pony Wynnbrook Rose Point, who was less experienced and didn’t yet know lead changes. They went on to qualify for Pony Finals the same year but didn’t go when the competition was cancelled because of COVID-19. She has ridden in Pony Finals every year since, most notably finishing seventh overall in the small greens aboard Blush in 2021.
Last year, when Molden found herself between mounts, Eichner put word out that she had a dedicated student who was gifted with young ponies. Her Facebook post caught the eye of Wells, of Biglerville, Pennsylvania, who had purchased Tucker as a 2-year-old from Canada.
“I reached out to Carol and said I have this pony, he’s pretty rough around the edges, but he’s got something if she wants to take this on,” Wells said.
True to her description, Tucker arrived to Eichner’s EverReady Farm in Aldie, Virginia, in May 2021 talented but very green and a bit opinionated.
“He could basically trot under saddle, and that was about it, and he let you know that was all he wanted to do. He was quite the sass pants when we first got him,” Molden said. “He did not like to canter in a circle because he was lazy. If you let him halt, he would halt for 10 minutes.”
Malden’s natural ability helped the pony progress, Eichner said.
“It’s the subtleties,” she said. “With a green pony in particular, they need to be supported, but there’s a balance, and she looks at each pony and what each particular pony needs. She is more patient than a lot of kids and has had to work hard.”
Tucker spent four weeks at Eichner’s barn before he moved to Molden’s family farm. There, amongst the farm animals and supervised by Howard the peacock, she worked to form a relationship with the pony on the ground and under saddle. While he wasn’t initially overly affectionate, he started to come around. Under saddle, she interspersed fun bareback adventures with work focused on his canter, doing circles, serpentines and transitions. But it was when they started over fences that Tucker came alive.
“He loves to jump,” she said. “He now understands that he has to work, and he enjoys his partnership.”
Leading up to the Young Hunter Pony Championships, the pair were champions in the baby greens at Swan Lake (Pennsylvania). Molden said he’s always better in the show ring than at home.
“I think he just knows it’s time to do his job and do it well,” she said. “We schooled Saturday night, and he was amazing. I felt good, but I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. My plan was just to put in some solid rounds.”
She was a bit worried about the number of people in the stands with a line right in front of them, especially since Tucker tends to drift. “But he didn’t bat an eye; that was probably the best line he jumped,” she said.
Eichner watched from the sidelines as her student adjusted the pony’s stride perfectly from one class to the next. “I was really impressed that in the 2’3” he was able to compress, and then when he did the 2’6” he was so hoppy. He has a big stride, and he jumped around in a regular stride with no problem,” she said.
Molden picked up two catch rides for the show as well, but her ride on Tucker was the highlight of the weekend. “Winning with him was definitely the cherry on top of the show,” she said. “That was definitely a very rewarding moment for me.”
She’s looking ahead to college and hopes to ride there, but for now she’s focusing on high school and riding with Eichner, who said she is thrilled to have been able to help her during her pony career.
“Eddyn’s put in the time and effort, and for me as a trainer, I have a very small program, but what really brings me satisfaction is finding a kid like that, with the natural talent and work ethic,” she said.