Lexington, KY - August 11, 2012 - It was the crowning of the champions today at the Kentucky Horse Park as the 2012 US Pony Finals and US National Pony Hunter Champions completed their fifth day of competition. It was the Large Pony Hunter Over Fences that dawned on the Walnut Arena early this morning, and Meredith Darst aboard For The Laughter stole the show with their fantastic round, capturing the Overall Large Pony Hunter Championship for the second consecutive year.
As the US National Hunter Pony Championships presented by Sallee Horse Vans came to a conclusion, the Grand Pony Championship title was presented to Madeline Schaefer and Hi Lite for their efforts in the Small Pony Hunter division.
Earlier in the week, Madeline Schaefer of Westminster, MD, and Hi Lite had an incredible performance in the Small Pony Hunter division. They were third in the rankings heading into the over fences phase, but with a beautiful trip, they scored the blue ribbon and were eventually presented with the Overall Small Pony Hunter Championship. Their phenomenal scores of 88, 90 and 88 gave them overall total of 1047.20 points. The pair was also awarded the International Jumping Derby Perpetual Trophy as Overall Grand Hunter Pony Champion.
"I wasn't expecting to win the Grand Pony Championship, but after yesterday, and seeing how well Hi Lite did in the different phases, we were hoping it could happen," Schaefer said. "This was the first time I had ever earned a championship at Pony Finals, and in a way I thought we had a bit of a Pony Finals curse, but this year everything changed!"
Schaefer added, "Hi Lite was fantastic, he really proved himself out there. He is one of those ponies where you need to do very little at home, but when he enters the ring he knows his job."
The Large Pony Hunters took center stage in the Walnut Ring, with the last competitors hoping to catch the judges' eyes over fences. Darst and For The Laughter, owned by Dr. Betsee Parker of Middleburg, VA, earned the top call in yesterday's model, and entered the ring today as the leader. It was Beau Rivage with Daisy Farish in the irons who posted the target scores of 86, 87 and 86 points; however, Darst entered the ring with the blue in mind. She piloted For The Laughter to the beautiful scores of 87, 89 and 87 to rise to the top of the leaderboard and score the Overall Large Pony Hunter Championship tricolor. This is For The Laughter's fourth consecutive year winning the prestigious championship title, and the second year with Darst in the saddle.
"I haven't ridden For The Laughter since Devon, he has been able to relax and freshen up for Pony Finals," Darst explained. "He is becoming more and more used to what we expect of him, he knows his job."
Darst added, "The course was pretty straightforward, but I definitely did go in with a plan. I wanted to open up the course with a more direct approach, and depending on how the course went I was deciding whether or not I would add a stride in the last line. I think this was a great show, this is my last year, and I have had a lot of fun."
Farish and Beau Rivage were awarded the second place ribbon, while Lucy Deslauriers picked up the third place with Center Field, owned by GC Ponies of Southern Pines, NC . It was 14-year-old Ali Tritschler aboard Dreamland, owned by Linda Evans of South Hadley, MA, who posted scores of 80, 82.50 and 82.20 points to take the seventh place finish over fences. Combined with her scores in the previous phases, Tritschler and Dreamland were honored with the Overall Large Pony Hunter Reserve Championship.
"He's really lazy, like he'll just trot everywhere. I really have to keep a tight leg on him. I ride with spurs on. But he'll jump from anywhere and he doesn't spook at all. We didn't ride him or lunge him till today actually. He definitely behaves and listens to whatever you say," Tritschler elaborated. " I ended up second in the rankings, and I have never had to enter so late in the jumping phase. My nerves were really eating away at me, which is weird, I usually don't get nervous. This is so exciting though, and he is a great pony!"
Following the Large Pony Hunter presentations was the Model Championship and the Under Saddle Championship classes where the top three finishers from each division were invited to demonstrate their talented mounts again. Lili Hymowitz and Cloe Hymowitz both showed Enjoy The Laughter, owned by Rose Hill Farm of Bridgehampton, NY, in the model and the under saddle, respectively. Enjoy The Laughter proved to be a dominating force, earning the Overall Model Championship, as well as the Under Saddle Championship.
"I think that he was able to do so well today in the model and under saddle for the same reason he stood out and did so well in the division model," Hymowitz explained. "He is really pretty to look at, and he is built like a horse. He really draws attention for his conformation, and he is always happy to be where he is-his ears never go back."
"I am so excited that we were able to go in and succeed throughout all of the divisions," Hymowitz smiled. "My other pony won two years ago, and it is so nice to hold another championship. It felt so good for both Cloe and me to have that experience."
Today's other prestigious awards included the High Scoring registered Purebred Welsh and the High Scoring registered Half Welsh in the Regular Pony Hunter divisions. It was Heart To Forget, ridden and owned by Rachael Paradise taking the High Score Purebred Welsh, and the High Score Half Welsh was claimed by Roxbury, ridden by Yasmin Rizvi and owned by Peacock Ridge LLC.
This evening, participants gathered at the renowned Alltech Arena for the Awards Ceremony where the week's top finishers were honored once again. The awards included the newly donated Mindy Darst Perpetual Trophy, which went to Meredith Darst. The trophy is awarded to the child that all judges decide is most likely to become a top professional rider based on fitness and athletic ability of the rider, the compassion and communication between the rider and the pony, and the understanding of track, pace, and ability to create a beautiful jump. Also featured was theHighest Scoring Regular Pony Hunter Pony Auction Graduate, Entourage. The Buttons N' Bows Sportsmanship Trophy went to Aberle Rodgers, while Patricia Griffith received the Emerson Burr Perpetual Trophy, which is awarded to the trainer of the Overall Grand Hunter Pony Champion and was donated by the 2000 Hunter Pony Committee. The High Score State Team was Team Connecticut and they received the International Challenge Trophy.
The 2012 US Pony Finals will come to a close tomorrow following the Equisport Insurance/US Pony Medal. The nation's top pony riders will gather in the Alltech Arena tomorrow morning at seven to vie for the coveted winning title.
For more information on the 2012 US Pony Finals please visit www.usef.org.
Photo Credit: Madeline Schaefer and Hi Lite win the Grand Pony Hunter Championship at 2012 US Pony Finals. Photo By: Ashley N. Williams/PMG.