Lexington, KY — There is a lot that goes into the makings of a champion pony. Just ask Ohio’s Meredith “Maddy” Darst. She would know. And to prove it, two of her mounts—Rock the Boat and Brownland’s Mr. Mac—jumped their way through the over fences phase of the 2009 United States Equestrian Federation Pony Finals National Championships to take the Medium Green Hunter Pony and the Small Green Hunter Pony champion titles. In addition to that, the five-year-old Brownland’s Mr. Mac (or Starburst as he is known in the barn) was crowned the 2009 USEF Overall Green Grand Hunter Pony Champion on a dominating score of 1,060.
The 12-year-old rider put her all into the training and preparation of the overall champion according to her mother, and famed trainer at Lochmoor Stables, Mindy Darst. If ever there was a proud parent, this would certainly be true as evidenced by happy tears and earnest words of praise for her daughter’s accomplishments.
“When Starburst was three, we got a call from Kim Burnett-Mitchell who said she wanted Maddy to train him,” said Mindy. The grey/roan Welsh gelding that stands 12.1-hands was graceful and confident across the course laid out in today’s deciding competition. Bred at Brownland Farm in Franklin, TN, by the Anderton Family, this pony was picture perfect and walked away with the Brownland Farm Green Hunter Pony Championship Perpetual Trophy.
“I am thrilled and happy for both ponies,” said Maddy. “I’m just so excited. And I’m really happy because I wanted to win this for Sissy Anderton.” She expressed just how big a deal it was to win at the USEF Pony Finals, especially after having won so many champion and reserve champion titles this year with the pony. For her, the only one to have ever ridden the pony, it seemed to be the ultimate prize.
“She did all the work herself,” continued Mindy. “I just couldn’t possibly be any prouder of her.”
And, of course, there were two wins for the young rider as she also took the title in the Medium Green Hunter Pony division. Chopper, as Rock the Boat is known, made his way from All Seasons Farm, and according to the Darsts, this win was six years in the making. The 13.1-hand bay gelding only began showing in the small ponies this past winter.
“He was so green,” laughed Mindy. “He wasn’t really changing leads, but under the hands of Tom Wright, that changed.”
It was hard to imagine the pony doing anything but textbook work by the sights of him in action at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Walnut Arena. He racked up an impressive score of 1,043, 16 points ahead of the reserve champion pony, Let’s Play Two, piloted by Madeline Placey in the Medium Green Pony division. In the Small Green Hunter Pony competition, it was Ashton Alexander aboard Gracefully Yours who trailed on a score of 1,025, 35 points off the leader and eventual overall champion.
Speaking of Gracefully Yours, the 12.1-hand Welsh-cross grey mare owned by Devin Seek was the winner of the Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America’s High Scoring Pony at this year’s Finals.
In the Large Green Pony Hunter division, the 14.1-hand chestnut gelding named Cassius Clay was the victor. Ridden by co-owner Dana Rizzo of Wall Township, NJ, the pony fought the tightest competition of the day and overtook the closest competitor on a final score of 986.
“Today, it was nerve-wrecking,” said Rizzo. “My trainer, Nona Garson, who co-owns the pony, helped me out so much. She really told me what I needed to know.”
The five-year-old pony was purchased and imported to the States from Germany by Garson according to Rizzo. The young pony rider was confident in that she could not have given more in the competition, nor could have the pony. “He tried so hard, and he was just awesome.”
After the jumps were cleared and the ring was dragged, the Small Regular Hunter Pony division took to their work in the under saddle and model phase of competition. Originally scheduled for Friday, the decision was made to move up the division to Thursday to better accommodate all the pony-and-rider combinations as the increased number of entries called for it.
In the Covered Arena, the Jumper Individual competition started with its first of two phases to determine the Team championship on Thursday and those pony-and-rider combinations that will continue on in Saturday’s final quest for the Individual championship title.
The ultimate pony prize—the Equisport Insurance/USEF Pony Medal Championship—will be determined on Sunday as the pony hunters return to the ring for last round. The top 25 riders qualifying after the morning round will face-off in an exciting last chance at claiming their victory.
For more information about the USEF Pony Finals, please contact Marion Maybank, USEF’s Director of Hunter Disciplines at (859) 225-2033 or email@example.com.
To learn more about the USEF Pony Finals, visit www.clubequestrian.com/coverage/pony_finals_2009.aspx.
Attached photo: Pony rider Meredith “Maddy” Darst and the 2009 USEF Overall Green Grand Hunter Pony Champion Brownland’s Mr. Mac. Photo credit: USEF Archive/Randi Muster