Lexington, KY- A little on-again, off-again sprinkling of rain at the Kentucky Horse Park did not interfere with Natalie Jayne's impressive ride on Woodlands Stevie Ray in the Medium Pony Hunter division at this year's U.S. Pony Finals.
Saturday's over-fences section saw 167 of the best medium ponies in the country jump around the Walnut Arena, but it was Jayne and "Stevie" who walked away with the blue ribbon. In the under-saddle phase, the pair came in 21st out of a large class. Stevie is owned by Hannah Bernstein.
The 12-year-old rider from Elgin, Illinois trains with her mother, Lynn Jayne, at their Our Day Farm. She is also trained by Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm and Kristen Carollo of Courtyard Farm.
Jayne got the catch ride on Stevie when his current leaser, Emily Aitken, had to decide between him or her other medium pony, Cleverist. Aitken chose the latter, and that meant that Jayne only had a short amount of time to figure out how to ride the 12-year-old gelding, who was also champion last year at U.S. Pony Finals in the same division with Alexa Aureliano. Luckily, the pair clicked right away.
"He rides a lot like a horse. He's my kind of ride," Jayne acknowledged. "I practiced a lot this week and jumped around the course, but he's pretty easy to get used to."
Perhaps some of Jayne's innate talent in riding comes from her passion for all animals, especially horses and ponies. This affinity began at a very young age. "I've always liked being around animals, so it's nice to be able to interact with them," she said. "I started riding since I was born, basically. I'd stand on the pommel of the saddle and my mom would walk around and cool out her horses. So I've been riding forever."
While warming up, Jayne's trainers emphasized getting Stevie moving forward off of her leg before beginning the course. "They said just to make sure I got him going before the first jump - he's lazy. And, to make sure he didn't swap off to the right lead," Jayne said.
Natalie's mother, Lynn said that her calm disposition that can easily adjust to different types of ponies is what sets her apart from the rest. "She's very easy going and nothing really gets to her," noted Lynn. "Last year, when she was in the Pony Medal, that was a catch ride who she'd never ridden before. She is just one with the horse and it's easy for her to adapt."
Natalie has also accumulated many top wins on horses recently. In addition to her Small Junior Hunter, Outlook, with whom she most recently won a class at Junior Hunter Finals, she also has a jumper. She is looking forward to showing at Pessoa Medal Finals and ASPCA Maclay Regionals in the fall.
The Woodlands Pony Farm's Kay Randoph was elated when she found out that the pony she had bred ended up in the winner's circle at U.S. Pony Finals for the second year in a row. The farm is located in Brodnax, Virginia. "I'm super proud of him and I'm so happy to come out and see him all braided up," she said, beaming.
"We have a big farm and they're all pretty much just born in a paddock. They live a good life. Then, when their attitude is good we'll get them ready. We try to get them at least green broke," Randoph said.
Stevie is a Welsh Pony cross by Woodlands Velvet Rain, out of Woodlands Fire-n-Ice. The ponies that Randoph has bred over the years are all special, and usually she finds out that most of the ponies she has raised and sold have qualified for U.S. Pony Finals.
"I think on average we would have like 16 to 18 ponies that will qualify each year," said Randoph. "They can be any age, from five year olds on up... We've had some come here in their 20s."
Capturing the reserve championship prize was Hunter Champey and Annabelle Sanchez's News Flash. Together, they were thirteenth over-fences and second in the hack. During Thursday's model phase, the judges gave News Flash a tenth place ribbon in a large crowd of ponies.
"I just kept calm and rode. My day was going great; I knew I just had to go in and keep a nice, easy canter," Champey said. "My twin sister rode News Flash last year, and we just switched this year," Champey stated. "The owner keeps texting my older sister asking about the pony. He's just a great pony. His owner is going to be very excited, I already know."
The 2016 U.S. Pony Finals will wrap up on Sunday with the Pony Medal.
Find out more information about the US Pony Finals presented by Collecting Gaits Farm at www.ponyfinals.org.