The Los Angeles National Preview (November 4-8) hosts the Los Angeles Hunter Jumper Association’s Medal Finals for Junior, Senior, and Pony Riders. In addition, the West Coast Pony Finals, one of the largest gatherings of ponies outside of the USEF Pony Finals, is in its night year of championships for both hunter and jumper ponies.
"Many West Coast riders can't make the trek to Kentucky for the National Championship, so we started this event in 2000. It has grown into one of the largest pony events outside of the USEF Pony Finals. Usually over 50 ponies attend," explained Larry Langer of the impetus for the West Coast Pony Finals. The National Preview is the last major show on the West Coast with "A" rated pony sections.
Skylar Nelson (Archie Cox, trainer) pulled off major wins in both the West Coast Pony Finals and the LAHJA Pony Finals, with Sydney Hutchins (Elvenstar, trainer) on her heels in both championships. Both girls ride in the Medium Pony section.
Nelson and Hutchins faced off in the LAHJA Pony Finals along with two other riders in the work off of the top four riders. Hutchins rode an accurate test, and Nelson, who already had the lead, was polished and stylish. Alice Kuhns (Nancy Frost, trainer) was third, and Maggie Bass (Stephanie Haney, trainer) rounded out the top four.
The West Coast Pony Finals Hunter Championship got underway, and Nelson found herself again leading the victory gallop on the venerable Macy Gray. Hutchins finished in second aboard her Glenhaven Jester. "It was really nerve-wracking to go back in the ring for the second round," said 13 year old Nelson. "But when everyone started cheering after I won, it was the best feeling." Macy Gray has proven equally adept in both the hunters and the equitation.
Mitch Endicott piloted Strawberry Swirl the Small Pony Championship and Grace Gerber rode her Just Because to the Large Pony Championship.
When it came time to award the Grand Championship to the highest overall scoring pony, Skylar Nelson made it three for three in a day that turned spectacular for the young rider. And Hutchins was the reserve grand champion.
For Nelson, she balances school with her two passions, riding and acting. Skylar says there are similarities between riding and acting. "When you go into the horse world, you don’t have a lot of friends, but then as you gain friends you gain confidence, and it’s the same thing with acting. When you first get in front of the camera, you get butterflies and nervous, but it eases up when you get going with the flow. It’s the same thing with riding. I start smiling in the middle of the round."
Nelson found the National Preview a great way to wrap up the year. "It was a wonderful experience," she said of the National Preview. "All the kids were so fun to hang out with. It was a really fun show to go to." Sydney Hutchins who shows as ten is already getting too tall for her medium ponies, but she had a great time in both the LAHJA Pony Medal Final and the West Coast Pony Finals. "He’s a really good boy," she says of her pony. "He’s done a lot for me this year." As for her reserve championships she commented, "It felt so good and made me feel so proud. He really worked hard for me." Hutchins said she loved showing at the National Preview.
In the West Coast Pony Finals Jumper Championships, Jessica Pyfer showed why she earned the gold medal last year at the 2008 USEF Pony Finals. She piloted Sasha to the win in the West Coast Pony Finals Jumper Championship. She regularly shows in the Children’s Jumpers to prepare for the more challenging courses.
For three evenings in a row, all attention focused on the LAHJA Junior and Senior finalists. Theo Boris took the lead among the juniors and never looked back. He rides with poise that belies his riding age of 15. The judges created a demanding work off test for the top four riders that required them to plan and demonstrate a variety of skills. In addition to Boris, Jocelyn Neff, Kilian McGrath, and Morgan Geller joined the work off.
The work-off for the Junior Finals might have been intimidating to some, with a counter canter between the first and second fence, a roll-back to a line and collections and lengthening of the sitting trot, but none of that tripped up any of the four riders. Neff set the tone with a brilliant work off that included a flying change to the counter canter. Her bold, accurate riding paid off as she moved up from fourth to second. Boris was a bit more conservative, opting to change to the counter canter via a simple change of lead. "They didn’t specify how it had to be done, so I figured at that point it was best to be consistent," he explained. Knowing that his horse does not consistently land on the counter lead, he chose to be.
Presented with the perpetual trophy honoring his victory Boris was grinned. "It was pretty cool to get the trophy and see names on it like Meredeth Michaels and Richard Spooner," he said. "I had my eye on it." Boris also credits his veteran equitation horse, Du Calme.
Winner of the LAHJA Junior Finals was Theodore Boris, aboard his own equitation horse Du Calme. "He’s really seasoned and he’s taught me a lot." Boris posted two other medal finals wins earlier this year, including the USEF Talent Search Finals West, a national equitation championship.
Caitlin Sweasey took time away from her studies at California State University at Channel Islands to compete in the LAHJA Senior Medal Final. The 21-year-old business major with a minor in biology was not sure she had the time to compete, but qualifying had been her goal. She commuted between school and the show, and the effort paid off.
Winning the Senior Finals was the biggest win of Sweasey’s career. "I’ve never won a medal before," she said. "It feels amazing. I just hoped to get in the top ten. I love the National Preview, and all the shows at the Equestrian Center. They’re my favorites." She has been showing there since she was a pony rider, and she trains with Heather Lee Davis. Sweasey rides her own horse, a 13-year-old Holsteiner named Wesley. When he was first imported over from Germany he bucked everyone off who tried to ride him. "He’s been a lot of work," she stated. As for next year, she said that since he is getting older she plans to take it easy and only go to a couple of the larger shows. However, this will serve her well since she also works two jobs in addition to her studies. Riding is her sanity. "When I go out to the barn, I don’t think about anything," she said. "It’s relaxing."
Complete results are online at: www.langershows.com