Ponies have been “my thing” for about 15 years now. I went through my teenage angst years riding Thoroughbreds, but upon settling into my mid-20s I realized that at my short stature (also known as fun-sized), a smaller horse just feels better to me and as a result I’m a far more confident rider. I successfully ran Preliminary for seven years on a 14.2 hand Morgan/Arabian cross named Milo who is now retired in my backyard and teaching my newest pony the ropes of being, well, amazing. Speaking of this new pony, meet Eli (aka Even More Impressive), a 14 hand Hanoverian/Welsh whom I purchased from Wine Country Sport Ponies in Orland, California as an unbroken, coming 3-year-old.
As an amateur rider, I’ve done most of my training on all four ponies I’ve competed over the past 15 years, but Eli was the first pony I got that was quite literally just halter broken. I am so lucky to have the most amazing support team of trainers, Raydiance Eventing and M.Young Equestrian, to help me bring my young horses along properly. Bringing Eli along has been such a blast and a great feeling of accomplishment. I didn’t plan to buy a pony that was just barely 14 hands, but I couldn’t turn this little guy down when I saw him with his amazing trot and Justin Bieber-esque forelock.
Our first year together was about teaching him the basics; how to wear clothes, how to get in a trailer, and how to be in public. He passed all those tests with flying colors and in May of 2018, as a 4-year-old, he competed in his first event at the Introductory level at The Horse Park at Woodside, finishing in third place. The year 2018 also happened to be the year I got married so my show schedule was limited to just that one show. However, we came into 2019 with guns-a-blazing, competing in Beginner Novice where he is currently the 10th ranked pony in the country and I am tied at the top of the leaderboard in the USEA Adult Amateur Beginner Novice rankings. I’ve never had my name mentioned on the national leaderboard before, so it feels pretty incredible!
The thing about knowing your pony (or horse) as well as I know Eli is that you can really win those tie-breakers! For instance, during the Spring Event at Woodside this year, we were in a very competitive Beginner Novice division with 25 entries where I was tied for second place with a well-respected professional rider. I went into cross-country with my minute markers in mind, crossing the finish flags exactly at optimum time. The other rider with whom I was tied finished merely one second under optimum which meant I won the tie by the slimmest of margins and took home the red ribbon!
Fast forward to the Summer Event at Woodside a few months later where I was in yet another large and competitive Open Beginner Novice division. This time I was tied for FIRST place with another well-respected trainer. I thought to myself that maybe my tiebreaker luck had run out last time, or maybe that was a fluke, but either way, I was going to give it everything I had. This time I crossed the finish line at one second under optimum time, as did the other rider! I was informed that the tie-breaker would be determined by optimum time in stadium (who knew?) Well it turns out because I was riding a PONY, with his smaller, slower strides, we were closer to optimum time! We drove back home with our fancy blue ribbon hanging from the rear-view mirror along with a nice bag of prizes. My takeaway is that it takes some luck, some skill, and one heck of an awesome pony!
I love cheering on my fellow pony riders in Area VI where there are more and more adult amateurs on ponies! The amazing thing about the eventing community is that everyone can choose the best horse (or pony) for them regardless of size, breed, or color, and no matter what, we all support each other. Oh, and one last bonus item about being a pony owner: you can totally get away with being an adult using blue sparkle yarn in your braids at shows! So I look forward to seeing you all at the future shows and clinics. I’ll just be living my best pony-loving life and channeling my inner 9-year-old!
The USEA is made up of over 12,000 members, each with their own special horses and experiences. The USEA's Now on Course series highlights the many unique stories of our membership. Do you and your horse have a tale to tell? Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Submit your story to Jessica Duffy at [email protected] to be featured.
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