Saugerties, NY – A Connemara pony named Erin Meadows Oke Doke showed up the big horses in Intermediate competition at the 2013 Centerline Events at HITS on the Hudson. Oke Doke earned the Reserve Championship in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I by winning Friday’s ECRC FEI Intermediate 1 competition with a score of 67.039 percent and taking sixth in Saturday’s second round. The 14-hand pony (by Loughrea's Oisin out of Erin Meadows Celtic Treasure x Hideaway's Sebastian) and bred by Sandra Ferguson of Ontario Canada, was the only little guy in a field of two dozen challengers for the Intermediate I East Coast Rider’s Cup. “He’s really a poster child for ponies,” said his rider, Jovanna Stepan, of Rhinebeck, New York. The 12-year-old Oke Doke is owned by Tanya Murray, also of Rhinebeck, and she bought him two years ago from a family in Toronto, Canada after seeing a sales ad on DressageDaily. However according to the FEI rules, in spite of his ability and talent, he is currently is not allowed in CDI Classes.
“We’re still in touch with the Dunlop family, his previous owners who are part of his cheering squad,” Stepan said. “We fell in love with him the moment we saw the video.” She said at the time a pony seemed an ideal match for Murray, who is only five feet tall and was looking to get back into riding after a hiatus of having five children. Stepan is five-feet, six-inches but said Oke Doke still fits her well. “When you see him in the stall he looks like a pony but then people see him go and they say, ‘oh my gosh.’ He’s the smartest horse I’ve ever worked with.”
Murray rides the pony three days a week and Stepan trains him the other days. She’s already begun working on his passage and piaffe. “He has covered so much ground in two years,” Stepan said.
Oke Doke did his first Prix St. George in May and then two weeks ago did his first Intermediate I. There is no doubt in Stepan’s mind that he is destined for Grand Prix competition, but unless the FEI changes its rules, Oke Doke will never get the chance to challenge the big boys in CDI competition.
Oke Doke is blocked from competing in regular CDI competition because he is a pony. There are separate pony CDIs for young riders but that doesn’t fit Oke Doke and Stepan. “It’s part of the old CDI rules when ponies were meant for children,” Stepan said. “So I’m sitting here throwing rocks at the glass ceiling.” Stepan plans to compete Oke Doke next month at the New England Dressage Association’s Fall Festival but she’d also love to take him to Devon but those are CDI classes and Oke Doke is not allowed.
Stepan is an ambassador for Just World International (www.justworldinternational.org), a rider-supported organization that works to improve lives in the developing world, and now she’s taken on the role of being an ambassador for ponies. “I had never really trained a pony to this point and had never advised anyone to buy a pony before. But they are amazing. They stay sound, they live forever and many of them have the best character.”
Her goal is to keep moving Oke Doke up the levels and challenging the big horses in FEI competition with the hope that she can build support for opening CDIs to ponies. Over the past two years, Stepan and Oke Doke have spent time training with Emily Gershberg, Lars Petersen, Michael Barisone and well-known pony proponent Lendon Gray and all of them have been amazed by his talent. Stepan is confident that Oke Doke could hold his ground against the bigger horses in a CDI if given the chance. “It’s time we revisit the CDI rules," she said.