Lexington, KY - Another cool summer day greeted exhibitors for the 2011 United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Pony Finals at the beautiful Kentucky Horse Park. The Large Pony Hunters took center stage in the Walnut Ring this morning as they completed their Model and Under Saddle phases, where Meredith Darst and For the Laughter took home both blue ribbons. The Small Pony Hunter Over Fences were next, and at the end of the day Daisy Farish and Ballou earned the Overall Small Pony Hunter Grand Championship with their consistency throughout the division. Finally, in the Covered Arena, riders participated in the USEF National Pony Jumper Team Championship.
"Third time is the charm," proved to be the lucky phrase for today's winning combination in the Small Pony Hunters. This is Daisy Farish's third year competing at Pony Finals and it proved to be the best. Farish and Ballou, owned by Victoria Colvin of Loxahatchee, FL, took home the Overall Small Pony Hunter Championship, presented by Sallee Horse Vans, and the Professional Horseman's Association of America Perpetual Trophy. The duo was ranked eighth going into today's Over Fences phase, and with scores of 84.7, 83.25, and 87 they scored the third-place award, jumping to the top of the leaderboard and earning the coveted title.
"I have been riding Ballou for about three years," explained 10-year-old Farish, who trains with Scott Stewart. "He jumps really well and he is very easy to find the distance on, he's very smooth. I rode him at Pony Finals before, but we weren't as good as this year. We have been coming to Pony Finals for about three years and I felt ready this year. I chose to show Ballou because I have ridden him for a long time and have a good relationship with him. Ballou has shown a lot, so it helps me to stay confident. He also has a really sweet barn personality; he is very sweet and he loves apples."
The winner of today's Small Pony Hunter Over Fences phase was also the division's reserve champion. Bergen Sanderford and First Edition, owned by Katie Dinan LLC of New York, NY, received scores of 87, 85.25, and 85.25 to take home the blue ribbon prize as well as the Overall Small Pony Hunter Reserve Grand Champion title. The second-place finisher during the Over Fences was last year's champion mount, Elation, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker of Middleburg, VA, who was ridden by McKayla Langmeier. The pair earned scores of 86, 83, and 86 for their beautiful round.
Earlier in the day, the Large Pony Hunter Model and Under Saddle were the main highlight in the Walnut Ring. Meredith Darst and For The Laughter, owned by Dr. Betsee Park of Middleburg, VA, earned the top call in both phases to take home the winning prize. In 2009 and 2010, For The Laughter earned the Overall Pony Hunter Grand Championship with Victoria Colvin. Darst has already earned two championship awards during the 2011 USEF Pony Finals, so this new horse and rider combination seem to be the perfect fit.
"I feel happy about winning both the model and under saddle," said Darst. "I began riding For The Laughter at the beginning of WEF. I think I am more excited about the fact that the pony has won it all, it makes me feel more confident. I am excited about tomorrow's over fences classes; I like pressure, it makes me do better. Naturally I do better under pressure, it gives me something to go for. For The Laughter always does well over fences, too. I know that as long as I stay confident there is nothing to worry about."
The second-place prize in the Large Pony Hunter Model was presented to Laura Baginski and Mapleside Denzel, owned by Nancy Baginski of Wildwood, MD, while Won Up and Kate Ross of New York, NY, received the third-place honors. In the Large Pony Hunter Under Saddle, it was Kirklen Petersen and Chakko, owned by Lynn Colston of Glyndon, MD, that placed second, while Jorden Ayers of Knoxville, TN, and Eddie Bauer took home the third place-award during today's competition.
The final event of the day was the USEF National Pony Jumper Team Championship in the Covered Arena. At the end of the night, it was the team from Region 7 that claimed the Gold Medal award and the USEF National Pony Jumper Team Championship. The group included Brianna Butler of Leawood, KS, and her mount Al Capony; Claire Salopek of Lafayatte, LA, riding Sir Lance-A-Lot; Kaitlin Miller-Roberts of Dallas, TX, with her mount Game On; and Sarah Walker also from Dallas, TX, aboard La-Ti-Da. With Salopek completing double-clear rounds and only four faults scored for Butler, Miller-Roberts, and Walker, the team had a total 12-fault score to catch their victory. Following the competition, the riders were awarded the Willow Grove Farm Perpetual Trophy, donated by William J. Moroney in honor of his parents, Edward and Lorraine Moroney.
"I had a lot of fun. I had a rail at the skinny, but La-Ti-Da was really quick and pulled through. It feels so good to win," said Walker.
Salopek added, "Sir Lance-A-Lot went really well and it feels great to win. I am so glad I was able to have clear rounds. To be able to contribute to my team's result feels great."
The Silver Medal went to the team from Region 2 who also had a total of 12 faults, but a slower time determined the difference. The team featured Elizabeth Shaffer of Layton, NJ, aboard Styled With Perfection; Noah Buehler of Wall, NJ, with Porsche; Amanda Shaffer also from Layton, NJ, riding Little Miss Sunshine; and Brooke Gunther of Chester Springs, PA, aboard Fire Van Battenbroek. With a 16-fault total, the Bronze Medal was awarded to the team from Region 4. The riders included Lindsey Toothman of Carrollton, GA, aboard Jean Claude; Caroline Hudon of Auburn, AL, with National Treasure; Peter Droogmans of Palmetto, GA, riding Sky Miles; and Julia Curtis of Villa Rica, GA, with The Waterboy.
Nicole Kehrli and Northwind's Opus managed to retain the lead in the Individual Competition after completing two clear rounds. Claire Salopek was close on her heels after completing two fault-free efforts aboard Sir Lance-A-Lot. Brooke Gunther and her mount Fire Van Battenbroek earned the third-place position also ending with two fault-free efforts. The Gold Medal winner will be determined tomorrow evening during the Individual Pony Jumper Final.
The 2011 USEF Pony Finals will continue tomorrow with the Large Pony Hunter Over Fences, naming the 2011 Overall Large Pony Hunter Grand Champion, as well as the 2011 Over Pony Hunter Champion. The Pony Jumpers Individual Finals will wrap up the day in the Covered Arena, and on Sunday riders will compete in the Equisport Insurance/USEF Pony Medal Finals.
For extensive coverage of the 2011 USEF Pony Finals, including photos and videos, visit http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2011PonyFinals/.
Photos: Daisy Farish and Ballou (Photo: Shawn McMillen); Meredith Darst and For The Laughter (Photo: Shawn McMillen); Region 7 claimed the Gold Medal award and the USEF National Pony Jumper Team Championship (Photo: Shawn McMillen)