The U.S. Pony Finals, a prestigious event that many young riders eagerly try to qualify for during their careers, took place last week at the Kentucky. Here’s a wrap-up of who took home the tricolor in each championship division!

Caroline Passarelli Captures U.S. Pony Medal Finals Championship Title

August 14, 2016 – Many of the top equitation riders did not become the talented athletes that they are overnight. It is a big commitment during one’s junior years, both financially and socially. Riding at the top level, especially in the equitation ranks, takes a team of skilled horses, hard work, lots of practice, and a good support system of family, trainers, grooms, and other barn staff.

For Caroline Passarelli, of High Falls, New York, all of the ingredients for a prosperous career are already there. Passarelli is currently a working student at Heritage Farm, training under the expertise of Patricia Griffith and Dottie Barnwell-Areson. At only 14-years old, not only is she well-spoken, mature and sweet, she is also not afraid of hard work.

On the final day of U.S. Pony Finals, Passarelli swept the Pony Medal Finals against other top-notch riders on News Flash, who is owned by Annabelle Sanchez. Passarelli was originally supposed to show a pony that she knows well, Heritage Farm’s Blue Chip, but was unable to when he was not feeling himself.

Being the humble, young rider she is, she went with the flow and trusted Patricia Griffith when she said she knew of a possible pony to borrow. It was a wise decision, and Griffith knew that they would make a good match.

“We want to thank both the Gandamorts and the trainer, the Champees, and the owner of the pony, Annabelle Sanchez, because they all really came to rescue,” Griffith said.

“We knew Blue Chip wasn’t looking good two days ago and I reached out to Eleanor Cunsmen who also trains the Champees,” Griffiths continued. “They just stepped right up and were like we’re here for you and if you need us let us know. It was unbelievable, the generosity on their part, to just step right in, as well as the Champee family and Alex. It was so nice, it moved me.”

Passarelli said she felt at ease aboard News Flash as soon as she took the reins this morning.

“I could tell when I got on he was a good match, and he was really willing and brave, and had a great change. He was everything you would want in a medal pony, especially at the last minute,” Passarelli noted. “I was just thinking I want to give him the best ride I possibly could with the limited experience I had with him and just go in and try to lay it down.”

Griffith said that it was imperative that she find her very deserving student a solid mount for this class.

“It’s very important to me since I was a working student myself,” Griffith said. “She really tries hard and she’s one of those kids that the whole show really wants to be behind. I wanted to really give her every opportunity because she really makes the most out of them all.”

In addition to riding and showing ponies, Passarelli also shows in the THIS Medal and 3’3” Junior Hunters. She is aspiring to show in the 3’6” divisions by next year, and hopefully qualify for the Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Equitation Medal Finals.

This was a great way to make a comeback from last year’s Pony Medal Finals, in which Passarelli had a rail down, and therefore did not get called back to the top twenty.

Even more impressive is the fact that Passarelli went in cold without doing the warm-up trip, and still laid down two solid rounds. Passarelli was asked to have a work-off on the flat against Augusta Iwasaki. In the end, judges awarded the championship to Passarelli.

Finishing as the reserve champion was Augusta Iwaskai, and in third place was Christina Rogalny.

The young superstar in the making proves that determination and perseverance will pay off in the end. There is no doubt that Passarelli will continue to make the team at Heritage Farm extremely proud.

“I have to start by thanking the Champee family so much for lending him to me at the very last minute because without them it would not be possible,” Passarelli said, elated. “Also, I can’t thank Patricia and Dottie enough.”

Caroline Passarelli and News Flash

Caroline Passarelli and News Flash. Photo: Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group.

Natalie Jayne Pilots Woodland’s Stevie Ray to Second Medium Pony Hunter Championship

August 13, 2016 – A little on-again, off-again sprinkling of rain at the Kentucky Horse Park did not interfere with Natalie Jayne’s impressive ride on Woodland’s Stevie Ray in the Medium Pony Hunter division at this year’s U.S. Pony Finals.

Saturday’s over-fences section saw 167 of the best medium ponies in the country jump around the Walnut Arena, but it was Jayne and “Stevie” who walked away with the blue ribbon. In the under-saddle phase, the pair came in 21st out of a large class. Stevie is owned by Hannah Bernstein.

The 12-year-old rider from Elgin, Illinois trains with her mother, Lynn Jayne, at their Our Day Farm. She is also trained by Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm and Kristen Carollo of Courtyard Farm.

Jayne got the catch ride on Stevie when his current leaser, Emily Aitken, had to decide between him or her other medium pony, Cleverist. Aitken chose the latter, and that meant that Jayne only had a short amount of time to figure out how to ride the 12-year-old gelding, who was also champion last year at U.S. Pony Finals in the same division with Alexa Aureliano. Luckily, the pair clicked right away.

“He rides a lot like a horse. He’s my kind of ride,” Jayne acknowledged. “I practiced a lot this week and jumped around the course, but he’s pretty easy to get used to.”

Perhaps some of Jayne’s innate talent in riding comes from her passion for all animals, especially horses and ponies. This affinity began at a very young age.

“I’ve always liked being around animals, so it’s nice to be able to interact with them,” she said. “I started riding since I was born, basically. I’d stand on the pommel of the saddle and my mom would walk around and cool out her horses. So I’ve been riding forever.”

While warming up, Jayne’s trainers emphasized getting Stevie moving forward off of her leg before beginning the course.

“They said just to make sure I got him going before the first jump – he’s lazy. And, to make sure he didn’t swap off to the right lead,” Jayne said.

Natalie’s mother, Lynn said that her calm disposition that can easily adjust to different types of ponies is what sets her apart from the rest.

“She’s very easy going and nothing really gets to her,” noted Lynn. “Last year, when she was in the Pony Medal, that was a catch ride who she’d never ridden before. She is just one with the horse and it’s easy for her to adapt.”

Natalie has also accumulated many top wins on horses recently. In addition to her Small Junior Hunter, Outlook, with whom she most recently won a class at Junior Hunter Finals, she also has a jumper. She is looking forward to showing at Pessoa Medal Finals and ASPCA Maclay Regionals in the fall.

The Woodlands Pony Farm’s Kay Randoph was elated when she found out that the pony she had bred ended up in the winner’s circle at U.S. Pony Finals for the second year in a row. The farm is located in Brodnax, Virginia.

“I’m super proud of him and I’m so happy to come out and see him all braided up,” she said, beaming.

“We have a big farm and they’re all pretty much just born in a paddock. They live a good life. Then, when their attitude is good we’ll get them ready. We try to get them at least green broke,” Randoph said.

Stevie is a Welsh Pony cross by Woodland’s Velvet Rain, out of Woodland’s Fire-n-Ice. The ponies that Randoph has bred over the years are all special, and usually she finds out that most of the ponies she has raised and sold have qualified for U.S. Pony Finals.

“I think on average we would have like 16 to 18 ponies that will qualify each year,” said Randoph. “They can be any age, from five year olds on up… We’ve had some come here in their 20s.”

Capturing the reserve championship prize was Hunter Champey and Annabelle Sanchez’s News Flash. Together, they were thirteenth over-fences and second in the hack. During Thursday’s model phase, the judges gave News Flash a tenth place ribbon in a large crowd of ponies.

“I just kept calm and rode. My day was going great; I knew I just had to go in and keep a nice, easy canter,” Champey said.

“My twin sister rode News Flash last year, and we just switched this year,” Champey stated. “The owner keeps texting my older sister asking about the pony. He’s just a great pony. His owner is going to be very excited, I already know.”

Natalie Jayne and Woodland's Stevie Ray

Natalie Jayne and Woodland’s Stevie Ray. Photo: Caroline Nickolaus/Phelps Media Group.

Gold Medal Goes to Bailey Doloff and Wishlea Star Dasher in Pony Jumper Individual Final

In his final junior year and second time at Pony Finals, 17-year-old Bailey Doloff and Wishlea Star Dasher captured the victory in the 2016 U.S. National Pony Jumper Championships Individual Final.

Doloff and Dasher, as he’s called, turned in an eight-fault round to start off the night, creating a three-way tie for the lead with Isabella Durnell and Carlton Diva, and Maya Lovdal and Miracles Happen.

“In the first round, I got a little bit forward at the combination, and he got flat,” Doloff said. “I had the back rails down. I surprisingly felt less pressure when I did that – I’m not sure why, but I felt better after that.”

As the night continued, nobody was able to break the tie for the lead, so the top three riders from round one returned for a jump-off to settle the score.

Durnell and Carlton Diva returned first and went clear to set the early time to beat at 35.775 seconds. Lovdal and Miracles Happen were next to attempt the short course, and lowered two heights to finish on a time of 36.244 seconds.

Doloff was last to take the stage, entering the ring confidently with Dasher to take over the lead, going clear in a time of 33.327 seconds. Lovdal finished with the bronze medal, and Durnell with the silver medal.

“Dasher is naturally quicker than most ponies,” Doloff said. “Even when I’m not really pushing, he has a faster step, so I knew that I didn’t have to take any crazy gambles, because I knew that he would be fine. I knew I still had to keep the rails up, so I just tried to nail each fence as quickly as I could without losing my mind like I did last year.”

After Doloff unfortunately went off course during his first Pony Finals last year, he said that coming back this year and winning feels incredible.

“This is a fantastic comeback, and I just think that this was great, because after last year I was really down,” Doloff explained. “I was making a lot of mistakes, and I was going off course, and I was at my lowest point. I went to Capital Challenge, and I was in the lead, ready to win, and then I completely blew it in the jump-off.”

After his trainer, Dorna Taintor, recommended that Doloff read up on sports psychology, Doloff said his luck began to change as he learned how to relax and change his perspective going into the ring,

“I just worked on putting everything in perspective,” Doloff continued. “At the end of the day, it’s just a show. Whatever happens, happens, and there’s going to be more shows in the future. It’s about preparing for the next one.”

Doloff said he began leasing Dasher three years ago, and only planned to lease the talented pony for one year to compete in pony racing. However, as Doloff discovered the pony’s scope over fences, the plans changed, and the duo began training to compete in the Pony Jumpers with the goal of competing at Pony Finals.

“The first year was just getting to know each other, and we realized he could jump big but he wasn’t really in a program, so we were just galloping around,” Doloff said. “We’d go to a race one week and then go to a horse show, which was a bit counterproductive.

“I think the turning point was in my second year with him. We went to Devon Fall Classic in 2014, and I didn’t really know what a formal show was. I had to borrow a man’s tweed jacket and tie, and I’m wearing too-small pants, and I have a blue saddle pad. It was the most ridiculous thing ever. We got second, and it was the first time we did 1.05m, and he did fantastic. I think it was when we finally got real clothes.”Bailey Doloff and Wishlea Star Dasher

Bailey Doloff and Wishlea Star Dasher. Photo: Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group.

Fourth Year is A Charm – Kyla Sullivan Earns Second Tricolor in Two Days

August 12, 2016 – The Medium Green Pony Hunters boasted a grand total of 67 entries on the fourth day at the U.S. Pony Finals, and it was Kyla Sullivan aboard Back Country Farm’s Not So Secret that reigned supreme. Sullivan was also reserve champion on Thursday in the Small Pony Hunters with A Dream Come True, owned by DK-USA Sporthorse LLC.

Sullivan is 12 years old and trains with Jill and Sydney Shulman at the Greenwich, Connecticut-based Back Country Farm. Although this is Sullivan’s fourth time at the prestigious U.S. Pony Finals, this year proved to be extra successful. Being able to block everything out and concentrate on putting in a solid round is just one of many of Sullivan’s strengths.

“I just try to focus on what I’m doing and not what everyone else is doing,” she said. “It helps a lot.”

“Oliver,” as Sullivan calls her pony back in the barn, was described as “very easy going and very smooth and he’s a lot of fun to ride.” She added, “He landed all of his leads which is really good for him and he went very smoothly and nicely.”

While Jill Shulman has owned Oliver for quite a while, Sullivan’s partnership with the liver chestnut gelding only began about six months ago. Waiting at the Walnut Arena in-gate, Jill Shulman’s instructions for Sullivan were clear but simple.

“We wanted it to all match we wanted it to be smooth, for a green pony it can be dramatic and have some brilliant moments. We just wanted to be pretty solid all the way around,” Shulman stated.

Sullivan followed the directions she was told and it paid off – the pair earned the blue ribbon over-fences. In the model phase, Not So Secret was given seventh place by the judges out of a large field of entries. Combined, the pair earned 985.380 points across the division.

“He is very easy, really one of the easiest green ponies we’ve ever brought to the ring. I think it’s because he had some real little kids ride him in the short stirrup,” Shulman noted. “He’s very tried and true.”

The talented team will also try their hands in the Pony Medal on Sunday, the final day of U.S. Pony Finals, before traveling to CHJA Finals and then indoors in the fall. Sullivan is also planning to show a Large Green pony, Tiger Lily, this week at U.S. Pony Finals.

Claiming the overall reserve championship in the Medium Green Ponies were Laura Owens’ Editor’s Note, with Augusta Iwasaki in the irons.

The long journey from the West Coast to the bluegrass state was all worth it for the Calabasas, California native. Iwasaki is a 12-year-old rider who trains with her mother, Liz Reilly, and John French at Makoto Farms.

Iwasaki guided the 6-year-old gelding around the course to a sixth place finish over-fences. Rounding out the top three spots were Alexa Aureliano and Taylor Howard’s Westwood Oliver Twist with 956.330 points.

Kyla Sullivan and Not So Secret

Kyla Sullivan and Not So Secret. Photo: Caroline Nickolaus/Phelps Media Group.

Maddie Schaefer Captures Overall Large Green Pony Championship with Minted

August 12, 2016 – Maddie Schaefer is no stranger to the horse show scene, especially when it comes to the U.S. Pony Finals. Not only is her mother, Stacey Schaefer, a top trainer, but her older sister, Samantha, also shows and helps Maddie out whenever she can.

Schaefer, of Westminster, Maryland, took the win aboard her own Minted in the Overall Large Green Pony Hunter division after collecting a total of 1001.51 points. This year was her ninth year competing at U.S. Pony Finals.

The 15-year-old trains with her mother and sister at their Shadow Ridge Farm, and the team imported “Robbie” from Robert Baider about a year and a half ago.

Schaefer said, “He’s a good boy. He’s a solid citizen. He’s always been wanting to help us out and win. He’s always been generally a very good boy.”

She attributes some of Robbie’s success comes from his “willing to please” and laid-back attitude.

“I love his attitude. He never really has an opinion and it’s great because when they have too much opinion sometimes it makes them a winner and sometimes it makes them a loser. It makes him a winner, his attitude,” she explained. “He’s always wanting to help you out. He’s never like, ‘You can do this one on your own.’ He’s always like, ‘Alright! Come on!’”

Schaefer agreed that the Bobby Murphy-designed course was challenging but at the same time it was appropriate for green ponies. The pair placed second over-fences. In the model, judges gave them eleventh place out of a very large section.

“It was inviting for green ponies. I did not like the short approach we had to do inside, but I guess it makes sense, they don’t want everyone taking five minutes on their entrance. They always cut off the far end and I love the brush jumps when we have the option.”

Schaefer does not just ride ponies, however. She also has two equitation mounts – one that was recently imported and one named In the Know, who her sister also rides in hunter derbies. The young rider also rides Michael Hughes’ horse, Red Hot, in the High Children’s Jumper division.

Patricia Lafoe’s Baby Blue and Ella Reinauer took reserve championship honors after accumulating 999.700 points overall. Ericka Koscinski claimed third place overall with North Shore Equestrian Center’s Honorable. Together, they garnered 996.450 points overall.

Maddie Schaefer and Minted

Maddie Schaefer and Minted. Photo: Caroline Nickolaus/Phelps Media Group.

Victory for Zone 5/6 in Pony Jumper Team Championship

The pony jumpers continued on Friday during the 2016 U.S. Pony Finals, and it was the combined team of Zones 5 and 6 that rose to the challenge to capture the team gold in the Phase II Team Championship competition.

Anna Spitzer with Silver Charm, Isaiah Wiseman and Midnight Heart, Natalie Hinz and Rumor Has It, and Maya Lovdal with Miracles Happen composed the combined team that bested the field in the two-round, Nations Cup-style jumper class.

“We didn’t really know each other before today,” Wiseman explained. “But I’ve my pony for three years, and this is my third year doing the pony jumpers on him. At home he’s so calm, but when he gets to the show he knows his job.”

“We’re all new to each other, so no matching shirts,” Lovdal continued, laughing. “But we all worked well together.”

Up against eight other teams comprised of the nation’s best pony jumpers, the Zone Six/Seven team rode both rounds impressively, finishing on a total of 44 faults for the victory. At her Pony Finals debut, Spitzer and Silver Charm delivered one of only three double clear rounds of the day, helping to boost her team into the lead

The challenging track posed problems for many of the horse-and-rider combinations, with a number of riders pulling rails through a triple combination that was followed by an oxer on a bending line.

“The course was set up really well,” Lovdal said. “There were a couple of tricky fences, like the combinations and the water. My pony is only a medium, so the only thing we really have trouble with are the oxers because he’s so little and he has to stretch over them. He knows his job, though.”

“It’s my first time at Pony Finals, so I was super nervous the first day,” Spitzer said. “But Silver Charm loves the arena. He’s been so good and so willing, which has made this experience really fun. I’m excited, and I think we’re all really happy.”

Although the gold medal was decided by the first and second round scores, a tie meant the silver and bronze medals were still in contention, requiring each team to send one rider to compete in a jump-off round to decide the order.

Each team had faults in the jump-off, but the best round was delivered by the combined teams of Zones 4 and 9, so it was decided that Isabella Durnell, Rachel Long, Kayla Long and Nadia Rosenbaum would be coming home with the silver medal on 72 faults. The Zone 1 team, which consisted of Riley Kram, Sydney Berube, Elize Albertini and Bobby Bolger, finished in third on 84 faults.

Anna Spitzer with Silver CharmAnna Spitzer with Silver Charm. Photo: Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group.

Claire Campbell Rides to the Top in Small Pony Hunter Division

August 11, 2016 – The “hurry up and wait motto” is all too familiar to people who frequently horse show. Waiting around all day to compete when you’re currently in the lead from the first day can make even the most laid-back people nervous. Top off the building anxiety with the pressure of riding around in the Walnut Arena with everyone eagerly watching your every move. For Claire Campbell, sitting around all day to go did not seem to faze her in the slightest.

“I showed my Medium Green and then we went back to the hotel, and I took a little nap,” Campbell revealed. “I thought I was going to be way more nervous than I was. Standing at the ramp, I really wasn’t nervous.”

But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t ecstatic over her victory – it just hadn’t processed in her head yet.

“I don’t think it’s sunken in yet, but it’s amazing,” Campbell said. “He was such a good boy. He was perfect today.”

Perhaps Campbell’s confidence came from knowing her mount so well. “Pleasure,” as he is affectionately called in the barn, has been with Campbell for six years now.

“Pleasure is great. He is so sweet, and he loves his treats. He nickers at everyone when they walk by,” Campbell said. “He’s always quiet, and he never spooks. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen off of him — knock on wood. He has a big stride, and he’s a really nice mover.”

Campbell and her own Roll Call were the last team out of a field of over 120 entries to give the course a go and ended up placing third over-fences. On Wednesday, she was second in both the model and the under-saddle phase.

Campbell, of Cochranville, Pennsylvania, trains with Stacey Schaefer at Shadow Ridge Farm. The 13-year-old rider treks from her hometown in Pennsylvania to Westminster, Maryland, so she can train a few times a week.

It’s a family affair for the Campbells, as Claire’s younger sister, Rose, also competes with the team at Shadow Ridge Farm in the medium pony division.

“Claire is a hard worker, and the family has put a lot of time and effort into this,” trainer Stacey Schaefer said. “They live two hours away, and they come to see me a lot. We are like a unit, for sure. We’re really close.

“They met me because they bought Roll Call from me, and I gave them another pony and they decided that they wanted to come to Florida the next winter,” she continued. “They came, and they never left. It’s been a great time.”

Kyla Sullivan collected the reserve championship with A Dream Come True, owned by DK-USA Sporthorse LLC. Sullivan trains with Jill and Sydney Shulman at Back Country Farm located in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Sullivan was also able to keep her nerves in check, despite having shown her pony a mere two times. This year marked her fourth time at U.S. Pony Finals, but today was the first time the 12-year-old captured a tricolor ribbon.

“We got him two weeks before we left,” Sydney Shulman explained. “So we’ve had him for three weeks. We took him to HITS and she showed him, and she showed him last week once, and then we were deciding between our two: Secret Love, that we own, and A Dream Come True. It kind of just fell into place that she should show Snowball.”

Sullivan and Snowball earned 12th place over-fences. Olivia Sweetnam, daughter of top Grand Prix rider Shane Sweetnam, and Love Bug rode to the top in the over-fences section. The dynamic duo made everyone in the crowd smile when they nailed every aspect of the course.

Sydney Shulman acknowledged her mother’s expertise in helping make today such a positive experience.

“I’m thrilled. My mom, Jill, really works hard with the ponies. She rides them and she picks them,” she smiled. “She always picks good ones. My mom was so excited for them today. Kyla nailed it.”

Sullivan was just as thrilled about her victory as her trainers were. She exclaimed, “It feels really exciting to be reserve champion. I like showing at Pony Finals because I have a lot of friends here, and the ring is very big and fun to ride in.”

Claire Campbell and Roll Call

Claire Campbell and Roll Call. Photo: Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group.

So Enchanted and Caroline Passarelli Earn Small Green Pony Championship

Aug. 10, 2016 – For Caroline Passarelli, her sixth time at the U.S. Pony Finals proved to be the charm, as the young rider earned her first championship aboard So Enchanted in the Small Green Pony division with a total score of 1052.4 points.

“So Enchanted was an incredible pony to win my first championship on,” Passarelli said, beaming. “I knew the pony was capable, I just didn’t want to let myself get in my head. She’s really, truly impeccable, and I think it’s rare to find one that excels so well in the model, hack and over fences. She’s wonderful.”

So Enchanted, or “Lex” as she’s known in the barn, has entered the show ring a mere seven times before Pony Finals, making her clean sweep of the Small Greens even more impressive.

“We got her in the beginning of June, and she was extremely green,” Passarelli explained. “We started going back to the basics of flatwork and just getting her to really accept the bit and relax. Soon, she just started to get it. Every lesson you would see her getting better and better. She’s gotten so brave and trusting and relaxed, which is great.”

Patricia Griffith, who trains Passarelli out of Heritage Farm, said that she had a lot of confidence in the small chestnut mare’s ability to succeed. Lex’s owners, Jessica and Michaila Zandri, approached Griffith all the way from Canada about training the mare, and said that they wanted Passarelli to have the ride. The Zandri sisters had one goal in mind: to prove their pony could win at Pony Finals.

Instead of backing down from the challenge, Griffith saw the quality of the pony and placed her faith in the abilities of the mare with Passarelli as the rider. The duo worked with the pony, fine tuning her skillset and showing only twice before their big debut at Pony Finals.

“Everybody at the show roots for Caroline,” Griffith said. “She’s just a lovely child with a work ethic like no other, and she has put a lot of work and time into this. The pony is obviously really top-quality.”

Going into her round today, Passarelli said she was focusing on keeping her ride smooth and giving the mare the confident ride she deserved. The owners watched safely from afar, too nervous to come any closer or jinx the duo.

“Down the last line, I was thinking that she was nailing it and all I had to do was let her do her job, and she was so brave,” Passarelli said. “She went in there so willing to do her job, and she really knew that she was on top and she wanted to come out on top, too. To win like this is incredible, I can’t thank the Zandris enough for letting me show her for these past couple of months, and to Patricia and Dottie and the whole team at Heritage.”

Bringing home the reserve champion honors with a score of 995.98 points was Patti Foster’s Picturesque Bow Tie, shown by Casey Oliver. The duo finished impressively in second place over fences, sixth in the under saddle and eighth in the model.

Caroline Passarelli and So Enchanted

Caroline Passarelli and So Enchanted. Photo: Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group

Mimi Gochman Earns Large Pony Hunter Championship with Storyteller

These attributes make it the ideal environment for young equestrians to chase their dreams. Mimi Gochman, of West Palm Beach, Florida, has been coming to U.S. Pony Finals for five years. Gochman wrapped up the Large Pony Hunter division on the second day by winning the over-fences to make her grand overall total 1080.4 points. Her pony, Storyteller, won the model and came in third in the under saddle phase yesterday.

Gochman and Storyteller, who is owned by Fair Play Farm, joined forces about a year and a half ago. She currently trains with the teams at River’s Edge and Baxter Hill. When she and her sister, Sophie, walked the course with their trainer, Scott Stewart, he advised them to jump the inside option fence in the last bending line coming home. This advice ensured Gochman’s round over the Bobby Murphy-designed course ended smoothly and flowing.

“I think that was a better idea than having to run up for the ten or running on the inside in nine [strides],” she explained. “The ten was just a nice canter down the line and he jumped it better than the flatter jumps.”

The pair topped the over-fences class out of a whopping 136 entries. “Story,” a 13-year-old German Sport Pony, is quite popular in the barn with his grooms as well, due to his quiet and sweet demeanor, Gochman explained.

“The grooms all love him. He’s very easy and not complicated. He doesn’t need too much lunging. He’s a pretty easy, all-around subtle pony that doesn’t need too much work.”

Sophie also enjoys getting the ride on the chestnut gelding from time to time.

“Every once in awhile she’ll show him and she really likes him,” Gochman said. “We all love him so much. He’s a sharing pony – everyone can ride him.”

“He’s very sweet. You can always go in his stall and cuddle. He loves treats so you should probably go in there with candy or something,” she said with a laugh.

Although Gochman has had her fair share of experiences competing at U.S. Pony Finals, this year marked her first time capturing the championship prize. Last year, she just missed the title, coming in reserve.

“It’s a great honor to be champion, especially with such a great pony. He’s always there and he always helps me out,” she smiled.

Coming in reserve was Devin Seek, of Ocala, Florida and Ashley Aycox’s Garavani. Seek rides for Don Stewart and Bibby Hill, as well as Michael Newman. Just like Gochman, Seek is not new to U.S. Pony Finals. This is her ninth year showing at the annual event. She came in eighth place over-fences, which made her overall score 246.700.

Odds were stacked against the 15-year-old rider. She had just come down with strep throat only three days ago, and she and Garavani only showed together twice this year – once in Tryon, North Carolina, to qualify for Pony Finals, and last week during the Kentucky Summer Classic.

Seek showed with Garavani last year at U.S. Pony Finals, but she made it her goal to come back and perfect her rounds. Her dedication throughout the year paid off, and the judges took notice.

“We got the “Most Improved” award! He jumped around the first time. I’m so proud of him…” she said. “He’s still like a green pony in his own little heart.”

She continued, “He was really good last year, but one jump caught him by surprise and he scared himself. So Michael was like, ‘Next year, he needs the same type of ride,’ so we planned on this. It wasn’t a last minute thing. We knew we were going to do this.”

Garavani likes his rider to be focused and confident in the saddle, so he feels his best in the ring.

“You have to keep him confident because he’s looking to you for that. After the first jump, he was like, ‘Oh I got this!’ That’s all he is looking for – confidence.”

Seek hopes to continue her winning ways this week as she is entered to show a Large Green pony, Phillippe, named after the luxury watch brand.

When asked why she keeps coming back year after year to this event, Seek explained that it gives riders the chance to compete at such an elite horse show held at an incredible venue.

“My favorite part is the fact that they give everyone a chance to shine. They give plenty of ribbons; anyone can come here and have a chance. And they make the course appealing to everyone.”

Tantallon Co-captain, owned by MDHT Equestrian LLC, was ridden by Dakota Champey and together the duo rounded out the top three overall winners in the Regular Large Pony Hunter division.

Mimi Gochman and Storyteller

Mimi Gochman and Storyteller. Photo: Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group.