For the first time in a number of years, the USEA Area III Championships returned to Poplar Place Farm in Hamilton, Georgia, taking place on the first weekend in June. Competitors from all over the Southeast sighed with relief when unseasonably hot weather broke, and the days were met with little humidity and a refreshing breeze!
More than 200 horses competed across 24 horse trials and championship divisions, but a particular breed stood out from the rest last weekend. They may have been far outnumbered by Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, and Irish Sport Horses, but it was the Connemara ponies who really shone! Seven purebred and half-bred Connemaras, all registered with the American Connemara Pony Society, competed over the weekend, and all seven came home in the ribbons! Four of them won their divisions, and three of those four were competing in a Championship division.
Poppyfield’s Tiger Shark, a 17-year-old half-bred Connemara gelding by Seven Hill’s Grey Ghost and out of a Thoroughbred mare, competed in the Junior Novice Rider Championship Division. He was bred in the USA by Kim Gates, and was ridden by Marissa Griffin. He finished fourth on his dressage score of 32.6
The 5-year-old purebred stallion, *Doonhill Dancer, by Curachmore Cashel and out of April Dawn Lady, won his Novice Horse Championship Division on his dressage score of 32.4 with Claire Robinson in the tack. Dancer was bred by Damien and Mary Gorham of Ireland and imported as a foal by his current owners, Mike and Jennifer Keane.
Carla Jimmerson’s homebred, Valley Creek Carlin LeBeau, a 14-year-old purebred Connemara gelding by Heaven’s Ridge Patrick LeBeau and out Beacon’s Cherubin Cathleen, finished on a 36.6 for fifth place in the Novice Rider Division. Jimmerson bred, raised and trained Carlin herself and has been eventing him for a number of years.
Another young Connemara stallion, the 7-year-old, *TBS Declan Pondi, by Dexter Leam Pondi and out of Dandy Sparrow, led the Senior Novice Rider Championship Division from start to finish on his dressage score of 25.6. Declan is trained and ridden by Megan Harris and is owned by her mother, Nancy Buchanan. They picked Declan out in Ireland as a 3-month-old foal, purchasing him from his breeder, Carol Henley, and importing him as a weanling.
Big Bear’s Cepheus, a 5-year-old half-bred gelding by the Holsteiner stallion, Cor de Lux, and out of the purebred Connemara mare, Big Bear’s Esther, won his Beginner Novice Horse Championship Division on a score of 26.5, only adding one rail to his remarkable dressage score of 22.5! Peter, as he is known around the barn, was bred by Leigh Ellen Ertle of Big Bear Connemaras in Pine Mountain, Ga., and is now owned by the Geven Family. He was capably ridden by Lily Barlow.
The diminutive Tullymor’s Houdini (Samson), a purebred gelding by Fieldstream Riley and out of Kahlua, was bred in Georgia by May Medley. Samson, now 16 years old, joined the Gevens four years ago, and only began his undersaddle career at the age of 12! He finished third in the Junior Beginner Novice Rider Champion Division with Tessa Geven on a 30.8. Learn more about Samson's story here.
Last but not least, Cady O’Daly Endymion, a flashy 13-year-old palomino half-bred Connemara gelding by Tre Awain Goldsmith and out of a Thoroughbred mare, won his Open Beginner Novice Division with his owner/rider, Chrissy West. Minion as he is known, actually has some pretty famous siblings - two of his half-brothers, Cady O’Daly Michael and Cady O’Daly Gabrielle, have won divisions at the USEA American Eventing Championships. The Cady O’Daly prefix is linked to Alicia and Emily Daily, Connemara breeders in Virginia.
About the Connemara Pony
The Connemara Pony is Ireland’s only native breed, a sturdy, sound-minded, and versatile individual that was developed out of necessity for an animal that could serve many purposes for their Irish family. The breed’s history is rooted in service, from pulling the family’s cart to church on Sunday, to plowing fields, to racing, and showing.
Over the last century, with the formation of the Connemara Pony Breeders Society in 1923, and with the modernization of travel and farming, the Connemara Pony’s purpose has shifted away from farm work and transportation towards showing and performance. Thanks to the creation of breed societies all over the world, and the development of the International Committee of Connemara Pony Societies, the breed’s natural characteristics have been preserved and developed into a breed standard.
The Connemara Pony’s sound limbs, stamina, and naturally intelligent and willing nature make it an ideal partner for riding and showing. They are remarkably good jumpers and possess that ‘fifth leg’ that keep them and their rider safe and upright, even in trappy or precarious conditions. The ponies are well respected all across Europe for their performance ability, and it is not uncommon to see them winning on the international stage in show jumping and eventing at European Championships.
The American Connemara Pony Society, seeing the benefit of crossing the Connemara on larger horse breeds, particularly the Thoroughbred, has added registries for both half-bred Connemaras and Connemara Sport Horses (1/4 Connemara). The Connemara crosses are particularly well suited for eventing, especially combined with the speed & gallop of the Thoroughbred. Additionally, the crosses allow for a broader audience, the added height being more suitable for the taller rider.
While you may think of the Connemara Pony as a child’s or Adult Amateur mount, don’t be fooled! They can be fiercely competitive and many have easily risen up the levels. Allie Sacksen has successfully competed her half-bred gelding, Sparrow’s Nio, through the five-star level and Lila Gendal and her BT Just a Rebel, another half-bred gelding, have been very competitive at the three-star level this past year. While the half-breds may have the advantage as one climbs into the upper levels, it’s not unheard of to see purebreds competing at Preliminary and above. Undoubtedly the most famous pair were Hideaway’s Erin Go Bragh and Carol Kozlowski, but more recently ponies like Courtney Sendak’s Wil Ya’ Love Me (Advanced) and Donna Miller’s *ArdCeltic Art (three-star) have shared the limelight.
In the final USEA Classic Series event of 2022, three horse and rider pairs rode their way to the top of the podium in the Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice 3-Day divisions offered during the Ram Tap Horse Park Horse Trials which took place November 18-20 in Fresno, California.
US Equestrian opened a bid process for one event to host the Advanced level in Area 3 on Week 10 for 2023-2027 due to an event cancellation. The bid process was conducted in accordance with the 2023-2027 U.S. Eventing Calendar CCI4*-L, CCI4*-S, CCI3*-L, & Advanced Policies and Procedures. The USEF Eventing Strategic Calendar Review Task Force made recommendations to the USEF Eventing Sport Committee who made recommendations for final approval by the USEF Board of Directors.
Concluding the 2022 Area Championships season was the Area X Championships held during the SAzEA H.T. which took place November 19-20 in Tucson, Arizona. Three Championship divisions were offered, allowing three horse and rider pairs the opportunity to conclude their 2022 eventing season by being crowned champion!
“The highest priority must be given by instructors to developing in their riders a correct, balanced, supple, effective, and independent seat for dressage and for jumping.” - “Teaching Principles” in the new ECP Eventing Handbook by the Levels