Lexington, KY. - The "hurry up and wait motto" is all too familiar to people who frequently horse show. Waiting around all day to compete when you're currently in the lead from the first day can make even the most laid-back people nervous. Top off the building anxiety with the pressure of riding around in the Walnut Arena with everyone eagerly watching your every move. For Claire Campbell, sitting around all day to go did not seem to faze her in the slightest.
"I showed my Medium Green and then we went back to the hotel, and I took a little nap," Campbell revealed. "I thought I was going to be way more nervous than I was. Standing at the ramp, I really wasn't nervous."
But that doesn't mean she wasn't ecstatic over her victory - it just hadn't processed in her head yet. "I don't think it's sunken in yet, but it's amazing," Campbell said. "He was such a good boy. He was perfect today."
Perhaps Campbell's confidence came from knowing her mount so well. "Pleasure," as he is affectionately called in the barn, has been with Campbell for six years now.
"Pleasure is great. He is so sweet, and he loves his treats. He nickers at everyone when they walk by," Campbell said. "He's always quiet, and he never spooks. I don't think I've ever fallen off of him -- knock on wood. He has a big stride, and he's a really nice mover."
Campbell and her own Roll Call were the last team out of a field of over 120 entries to give the course a go and ended up placing third over-fences. On Wednesday, she was second in both the model and the under-saddle phase. Campbell, of Cochranville, Pennsylvania, trains with Stacey Schaefer at Shadow Ridge Farm. The 13-year-old rider treks from her hometown in Pennsylvania to Westminster, Maryland, so she can train a few times a week.
It's a family affair for the Campbells, as Claire's younger sister, Rose, also competes with the team at Shadow Ridge Farm in the medium pony division. "Claire is a hard worker, and the family has put a lot of time and effort into this," trainer Stacey Schaefer said. "They live two hours away, and they come to see me a lot. We are like a unit, for sure. We're really close.
"They met me because they bought Roll Call from me, and I gave them another pony and they decided that they wanted to come to Florida the next winter," she continued. "They came, and they never left. It's been a great time."
Kyla Sullivan collected the reserve championship with A Dream Come True, owned by DK-USA Sporthorse LLC. Sullivan trains with Jill and Sydney Shulman at Back Country Farm located in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Sullivan was also able to keep her nerves in check, despite having shown her pony a mere two times. This year marked her fourth time at U.S. Pony Finals, but today was the first time the 12-year-old captured a tricolor ribbon.
"We got him two weeks before we left," Sydney Shulman explained. "So we've had him for three weeks. We took him to HITS and she showed him, and she showed him last week once, and then we were deciding between our two: Secret Love, that we own, and A Dream Come True. It kind of just fell into place that she should show Snowball."
Sullivan and Snowball earned 12th place over-fences. Olivia Sweetnam, daughter of top Grand Prix rider Shane Sweetnam, and Love Bug rode to the top in the over-fences section. The dynamic duo made everyone in the crowd smile when they nailed every aspect of the course.
Sydney Shulman acknowledged her mother's expertise in helping make today such a positive experience. "I'm thrilled. My mom, Jill, really works hard with the ponies. She rides them and she picks them," she smiled. "She always picks good ones. My mom was so excited for them today. Kyla nailed it."
Sullivan was just as thrilled about her victory as her trainers were. She exclaimed, "It feels really exciting to be reserve champion. I like showing at Pony Finals because I have a lot of friends here, and the ring is very big and fun to ride in."
Sullivan is also set to compete a Large Green and a Medium Green pony this week at U.S. Pony Finals. Rounding out the division were the third place overall finishers, Mimi Gochman and Dr. Betsee Parker's Love Me Tender.
Competition will resume tomorrow at 7 a.m. in the Walnut Arena, beginning with the Medium Pony model.
For more information about the 2016 U.S. Pony Finals, please visit their website