Golden West and Melissa Mulchahey. Photo Courtesy of Melissa Mulchahey
Lightning really can strike twice, as Melissa Mulchahey discovered at the 2014 Bundeschampionate in Warendorf, Germany, earlier this month. Though she was the first American owner to win in any division at the German young horse and pony championships with her pony stallion Golden State in 2012, she was more nervous the second time around—this time with her pony stallion Golden West. “I didn’t think I could be so lucky as to win again,” she says.
But Mulchahey, of Livermore, CA, had confidence in Golden West (HET Golden Dream – FS Golden Moonlight), even if he’d only been to one other show: the Westfalen Championships, where he was reserve champion.“He’s a great mover—always swinging, always elastic, all gaits for a 9. But best of all are his temperament, character and rideability. I knew if we could get him to the guest rider phase, we had a shot.”
Mulchahey’s instincts were right on target. With top German pony rider Wibke Hartmann-Stommel at the helm, “Westi” made it through the first two rounds of the 3-year-old pony stallion division and into the final, where the ponies are paired with guest riders. There, he won a tie-breaker to take the championship. “The judges were really impressed with his balance and gaits, his development as a riding horse, his temperament and character, and how he got better and better over the course of the competition,” she says.
Golden West and Wibke Hartmann-Stommel. Photo Courtesy of Melissa Mulchahey
Golden West, whom she bought last December at the Westfalen Pony Stallion Licensing Sale, will remain in Germany for another year of breeding and training and then come to stand in the U.S., where Mulchahey will compete him herself. “I can’t wait to get him here. The ice-blue, Paul Newman eyes are just lovely, and he is such a character. It’s been so gratifying to have the support of the German pony breeder community. So many mare owners have taken a chance on breeding to him. We’re excited to see the first of approximately 45 foals start to arrive in the spring!”
Between a demanding travel schedule that’s part of her job in pharmaceutical consulting, frequent trips to Germany for auctions and licensing events, keeping tabs on her other horses and ponies, and finding time to ride and compete, the USDF silver medalist has a very full plate. “I’m a little busy,” she laughs.
But living just three miles from the barn means that she can ride every day she or just visit. “Some days it’s a 5 a.m. ‘run by’ on my way to the airport. Other days it’s just for 10 minutes—I go out there in my sweats, nuzzle the noses, inhale the lovely pony smell, give them a carrot or two and blast back to work. The horses give me balance.”
Golden State ridden by Trainer Kelly Casey. Photo courtesy of Melissa Mulchahey.
Mulchahey currently has three ponies in California: Golden State (FS Golden Moonlight – SPS Daylight), who has earned scores of 70s and 80s with trainer Kelly Casey and is a contender for the Adequan/USDF Horse of the Year honors at First Level; her gelding Outrageous (Out-Break – Diddi), with whom Mulchahey won the 2013 California Dressage Society Amateur 6-Year-Old Futurity and the Great American/USDF Region 7 First Level Freestyle Championship; and the 5-year-old Holsteiner gelding Holstein’s Harlequin, whom she imported in August. Then there are two Westfalen horses: Sir Velo, currently ridden in the Developing Grand Prix by Noel Williams, daughter of USDF president George Williams, and the gelding Furst Fiorano, whom she purchased for rider/trainer Alyssa Pitts, who’s now majority owner.
Mulchahey first discovered German Riding Ponies on trips to Europe scout Westfalen and Hanoverian horses. Impressed by how well they were ridden by amateurs, professionals and children alike, she began to think about them for herself. “They really were ‘small warmbloods,’ with all of the gaits, conformation and work ethic of the 16.2 to 17.2 hand horses. And riding them was fun, less stress and easier on my body.”
Outrageous and Melissa Mulchahey. Photo courtesy of Melissa Mulchahey
At the Westfalen Elite Auction in 2010, she took the plunge and bought the bay pony stallion Clooney AT; a year later she bought Outrageous. By 2012, she was purchasing and importing ponies for amateurs as well as professionals.
Mulchahey dreams of the day that the United States has a flourishing sport pony dressage program. “In Germany and Holland, almost all children under the age of 16 primarily show ponies, and all the top riders in Europe came through the pony system,” she says. The Europeans recognize the value of ponies for dressage—paying $30,000 and up for a good prospect.
“Until we get the ponies, we won’t get the kids, but we won’t get the kids until we have the ponies,” she says. “Lendon Gray [who helped launch the USEF National Pony Rider Dressage Championships in 2011] is on the right track.”
But Mulchahey’s doing her part to help cultivate an American pony culture. With Gray and others, she’s a member of the U.S. Pony Task Force, which aims to develop a pony division for dressage riders of all ages and levels. “We’ve made recommendations to both USEF and USDF,” she says. “The wheels turn slowly, but [U.S. dressage chef d’equipe] Robert Dover has been extraordinarily supportive.”
“I’d prefer to see children and small adults on ponies,” she adds. “They learn to ride more effectively and correctly on a horse that’s suitable in size, and the level of confidence a rider gains by being mounted appropriately can’t be quantified. Besides that, ponies are just fun!”