Feb 09, 2024

Dreams Are Coming True on the Back of the 2023 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year Delilah's Boy

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Kendal Fansler and Delilah's Boy at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

The little gray Connemara cross gelding Delilah’s Boy has made quite a big name for himself in eventing. Since starting his eventing career in 2019, the now 13-year-old pony has celebrated 11 wins and countless top-3 finishes at the Novice and Beginner Novice levels, including a win at the U.S. Pony Club Championships in 2019 with former owner/rider Macie Sykes. It was his fabulous 2023 season, however, that earned Delilah’s Boy the title of the 2023 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year with young rider Kendal Fansler of Clarksville, Maryland, in the irons.

Fansler took over the ride on “Sammy” from her cousin Emma Whitaker, who outgrew him. Whitaker had her own string of successes with the gelding, including winning the Area II Junior Beginner Novice Championships in 2022.

“I always thought he looked like a lot of fun,” said 12-year-old Fansler. “Emma always had the biggest smile on her face when she rode him, so I knew he would be fun to ride. At first, I just started riding him at home, but then I loved him so much I knew he needed to stay on the farm so our partnership could grow."

There are lots of things that make Sammy so lovable. First and foremost, of course, is his experience in the ring and his very workmanlike presentation when it's showtime, but outside of the ring, Fansler shared, he is quite the opposite.

Kendal Fansler and Delilah's Boy. Photo courtesy of Jessica Fansler

“He is very goofy!" she said. "He is playful, and if you put a blanket on the bar of his stall, he will drag it into his stall to play with it. Oh, and he loves to lick you!”

The two kicked off their partnership with a bang by winning their first outing together at the Plantation Field Horse Trials (Unionville, Pennsylvania) in April. It was Fansler’s first attempt at the Novice level. She loves that Sammy helps her build her confidence so that she can give her other pony, Elderglen’s Charlotte, a proper ride.

“My other pony is way more spicy than him,” Fansler said. “She had not done much when I got her, so Sammy’s experience helped me learn a lot. If I make a mistake, he takes care of me. He is just so forgiving. He never does anything angry if I mess up.”

For Fansler’s mom, Jessica Fansler, having a pony like Sammy in Kendal’s life is a huge relief.

“To be honest, it makes me worry a little bit less,” joked Jessica. “It gives my mom-heart a little break. Although, cross-country still makes me hold my breath! But really, Sammy is a great pony, and we are so blessed that Emma had a growth spurt and now Kendal has a great opportunity to ride him for another season.”

After their first win together, the pair won again at Waredaca just a month later and another back at Plantation again in June. With the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds (Lexington, Kentucky) on their horizon, Kendal imagined they might have a chance of being competitive, but she never imagined they would lead the USEA Novice Junior 15 & Under Championship from start to finish.

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“I didn’t think I would win,” noted Kendal. “I thought I would be higher up there because he is a very competitive pony, so it was so very exciting when we really did win!”

Shortly after, they came in second in the USEA Area II Junior Novice Championships (Adamstown, Maryland) and had a fifth place finish in the Novice long-format at the Waredaca Classic Three-Day Event (Laytonsville, Maryland). While Kendal wasn’t keeping an eye on the leaderboard all year long, her fan club was.

“My grandfather and dad both kept an eye on them,” she said with a laugh. “I have big supporters!”

“We are just over the moon excited,” said Jessica. “We are so grateful. We have a lot of people supporting us. Sammy has been an awesome ride for Kendal this year, and we are looking forward to another great season.”

Kendal noted that her support system includes both of her parents and grandparents, her aunt and uncle, and her trainer John Secan. One of her biggest supporters, however, is Whitaker. The two ride together at their home farm, Hedgerow Farm, and are always there to cheer one another on.

“She gives me a lot of support, and I give her support," she said. "Since she had been riding Sammy for three years longer than me, she will tell me what I should do on him. There is always a lot of advice that we give each other!”

In addition to being named the Pony of the Year, Sammy also helped Kendal earn the 2023 Novice Junior and Novice Interscholastic Rider of the Year Awards presented at the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.

Kendal shared that she couldn't have gotten to this point without the help of Secan.

"He is so supportive," noted Jesica. "He is the type of coach that just perseveres, no matter if the girls have a good day or a bad day. He just encourages them to keep going and to work through whatever might be happening. He has been such a great asset, and we are so grateful for him."

Photo courtesy of Jessica Fansler

While the experiences that Sammy has given Kendal in the ring this past year have been undeniably special, it’s the lifelong lessons that he has taught her that will stick with her forever.

“The biggest lesson that Sammy has taught me is to keep going at it, even if you have had a really rough time before," she said. "You never know what is going to happen. If I have a rough start to cross-country, he just keeps taking me around and not letting me get down on myself.”

Kendal and Sammy intend to enjoy another year at Novice together, which is music to Jessica’s ears. Kendal hopes another trip to Kentucky for the AEC is in the cards this year. As she looks far into the future, she has dreams of becoming a professional eventer.

“If that is her dream, we are going to support her,” her mother reflected.

And it could all be a dream made possible based on the foundation of the wonderful little Connemara who could, Delilah’s Boy.

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