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A Rescue and a Champion: Señor Santana, 2020 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year

Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Posted by Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
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Señor Santana and Riley Jones at the 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships-TOP.jpg

Rags to Riches

Señor Santana and Riley Jones
Señor Santana and Riley Jones (Photo: USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo)

The first USEA Pony of the Year award was presented in 2007 to the legendary Theodore O’Connor (Witty Boy x Chelsea’s Melody), a Thoroughbred/Anglo-Arab gelding ridden by Karen O’Connor and owned by the Theodore O’Connor Syndicate. Now, a trophy bearing his name is presented each year to the Pony of the Year. This year, the SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year award went to Señor Santana, a 15-year-old Quarter Pony gelding of unknown breeding, owned and ridden by 13-year-old Riley Jones of Thompsons Station, Tennessee.

Top Photo - Señor Santana and Riley Jones at the 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships. (KTB Creative Photo)

Before he was Pony of the Year and before he met Jones, “Santana” was a rescue horse. He was found on a farm in middle Tennessee in a nine-acre field with 37 other horses. “They had no grass and were eating trash,” Jones described. After Santana was rescued, Jones’s family purchased Santana from his first adoptive family when Jones was just 7 years old.

Santana was fairly green when he partnered up with Jones, having done a little western pleasure and a bit of jumping. Because Jones was still quite young, they started out just walking and trotting together, and as their partnership grew they started to do more. They graduated to hunter/jumper classes, and from there they began eventing, competing at their first event in 2018.

Because neither Santana nor Jones knew anything about eventing, they learned about the sport together. “There haven’t been many times where someone else has gotten on him, which I think is really cool,” she said.

In 2020, Santana and Jones completed 13 USEA recognized Beginner Novice events, finishing outside the top four just once and winning three events. In all, Santana finished the 2020 season with a total of 57 points.

Señor Santana and Riley Jones
Señor Santana and Riley Jones (Photo: USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo)

Jones recalled a fun weekend at the FENCE Horse Trials in July where they finished on their dressage score of 28.3 to win the Beginner Novice Rider division. “The course was very hilly and I was actually riding two horses at the show. It was fun because I had really nice rides on both of the horses, but it was different because so many of the horse shows we go to are flat, especially in the Southeast, and it was very different to see so many hills!”

Even though the 2021 season has barely begun, Santana and Jones have already added another ribbon to their wall. They traveled to the Sporting Days Farm earlier this month to compete in their first ever Novice level horse trials, finishing in fifth place. “There was one really big jump on cross-country, and there was a log going down a hill to a ditch – those were really challenging. Santana was perfect, as always! He got a little purple stain on his white patch from the soap that we used, and I told my mom and [my trainer] Annie that his unicorn was showing through!”
USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“It was really cool [to win the USEA Pony of the Year award,]” Jones said. “Obviously a lot of the credit goes to him because we wouldn’t be able to do this sport without our horses. It felt really surreal – it didn’t feel real – until we got the email confirming that he won.”

Señor Santana was honored along with all the other USEA year-end award winners in the USEA Year-End Award Ceremony on Friday, January 8. You can view the awards ceremony on demand here. To view the 2020 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year leaderboard, click here.

The USEA would like to thank SmartPak for sponsoring the USEA Pony of the Year award.