Lexington, KY - The Alltech Arena was alive with action as the morning fog began to settle over the Kentucky Horse Park. It was the conclusion of the US Pony Hunter Championships presented by Sallee Horse Vansand the EquiSport Insurance/US Pony Medal Finals that brought the 2012 US Pony Finals to a bittersweet finale. It was Lucy Deslauriers and Center Field who rode to the top of the leaderboard and garnered the championship prize with two solid rounds and a fantastic final test.
The top 25 riders returned for the second round including 15 medium ponies, five small ponies, and five large ponies. Today's courses were designed by Bobby Murphy and consisted of an in-and-out, short lines, rollbacks, a halt, and a trot jump, all set in the format of a serpentine with twists and turns to test pony and rider alike. The four top riders of the second round were welcomed back into the ring for a test phase, where they were asked to take the first vertical at a canter and then come to a halt. They immediately picked up the counter canter and took the second obstacle at the far end ofthe ring, continuing into a left rollback over a white vertical. This was where pace became the name of the game. Riders spurred on their mounts with an open hand gallop, taking the final natural oxer, and returning to the sitting trot as they exited the ring.
Ava Stearns was at the top of the order for today's first round, holding a steady lead throughout all three sections, small, medium and large. Although she laid down a beautiful second round, she eventually earned the third place ribbon after her turn in the test. Samantha Cohen of New York, NY, also posted striking rounds, returning for the second round as the subsequent combination in the order, her test proved good enough for the fourth place honors.
The true nail biter came down to Daisy Farish of Versailles, KY, and Lucy Deslauriers of New York, NY. Both girls had astounding trips; however, it was Lucy who emerged on the top, moving from the ninth position into the top call. Farish emerged the reserve champion, graciously accepting her silver medal aboard Denmark. "I was a little nervous but I knew that he was going to be good, he's the best," Farish explained. "I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to ride him, the owner was very generous. I think we made a great team-I love him."
Farish continued, "I followed the plan in the test, and in the second round, but during the first round I made a few changes to the plan. I was really happy with my second round, it was a great way to end Pony Finals."
Deslauriers and Center Field proved unstoppable as they executed a seemingly flawless second round and test phase. Deslauriers also rode to the third place last year aboard Macy Gray, and this year she took the US Pony Finals by storm with the third place finish overall, also aboard Center Field.
"I thought the course was really good, and it was really fun," Deslauriers smiled. "I really like these types of rounds where there were lots of turns, it's challenging but fun. This is my last year doing Pony Finals, and I am really happy with how it all went, especially since I have only been coming for two years."
"The second trip I was a bit nervous just because I wanted to do really well, but I knew my pony was good, so I just went in and did what my trainer told me," Deslauriers continued. "I was nervous because the others put in pretty good testing trips, too. I just knew I had to go in and lay down the best trip I could."
Deslauriers has been riding Center Field since Fall 2011, deciding to purchase him shortly after the Indoor Circuit. So far, they have been a match made in heaven. Trainer Krista Freundlich commented on Deslauriers, "I think she is a great student. She really listens and wants to listen. She tries hard. She's been doing children's jumpers since February, and I think that has given her more confidence and timing on different courses and through turns. She's a great kid, good attitude; she's done a great job."
It was apparent that the judges had nothing but confidence in their final decision after the test phase. The top 10 riders were asked to stand in the center of the ring, and as the names were called for the pinning, Deslauriers admitted that she felt her nerves creeping up on her.
Deslauriers gave advice for future competitors, "I have had a fantastic time at Pony Finals, but the important thing to remember is that we are all here to have fun. Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves, but don't let it get to you. There are a lot of people who compete, but go in and do it like anything else. Just have fun and do the best you can."
Today marked the conclusion of 2012 US Pony Finals. Next week's competition will begin on Wednesday at the Kentucky Horse Park for the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. This exciting event will feature the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, the $5,000 Hallway Feeds National Hunter Derby, the $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic, and the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix.
USEF Network will post results and videos from the US Pony Finals daily at http://usefnetwork.com/featured/2012USEFPonyFinals/
Find out more about the Pony Finals at www.usef.org.
Photo: Lucy Deslauriers won the Gold Medal at the 2012 EquiSport Insurance/US Pony Medal Finals with Center Field. (Kendall Bierer/PMG)