Lexington, Ky. – Aug. 13, 2017 – The grand finale of the 2017 USEF Pony Finals week, the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals took over the Alltech Ring Sunday, with more than 160 small, medium and large ponies and their hopeful young riders vying for the top prize and the lead spot in the victory gallop. Riding to the early lead was Ada Catherine Hays and the veteran pony Center Field after the first phase of competition. The pair further extended their place at the head of the pack after a seemingly effortless ride during the call-back portion to secure the championship honors.
As the 134th to go in the order, Hays had plenty of strong rides to contend with as she and Robin Greenwood’s Center Field entered the arena for their turn over Jasen Shelley’s equitation track. The 12-year-old rider, whose birthday is next week, and the flea-bitten gelding ultimately set the bar even higher than their prior competitors with a masterful round. They were rewarded by judges Jim Toon and Rachel Kennedy with the top spot on the call-back list, which was comprised of the highest-scoring 20 riders. The Small ponies tackled the abbreviated call-back course, which included a trot jump and a halt, first, followed by the Mediums and finally the Larges, with Hays riding as the very last to go as the current class leader on her large pony. Unphased by the pressure of the lead during her first Pony Finals and first major horse show, the rookie Hays once again delivered aboard Center Field, pulling away from the pack even further, as noted by judge Jim Toon. Hays’ rides were both completed so well that the judges panel deemed it unnecessary for any further testing, and didn’t delay in awarding her the 2017 USEF Pony Medal Finals Championship ahead of her counterparts.
Though this is the first major accolade for Hays, it is a repeat performance for Center Field, known as “Bernie” in the barn, who won the 2012 USEF Pony Medal Finals with Lucy Deslauriers. Now 14-years-old, the veteran gelding has helped another young rider achieve this milestone with Hays, who began leasing Bernie from Greenwood last December. Not only is Greenwood the owner of Bernie and the trainer to Hays, but she also bred the winning pony, and had nothing but praise for him and his young rider. An accomplished foxhunter, Hays has ridden to a top placing at the Junior North American Field Hunter Championships and has been in the saddle since she was a child. She began training with Greenwood and more actively participating in hunter/jumper competitions three years ago, adding a new discipline to her repertoire. With her win in the 2017 USEF Pony Medal Finals, the multifaceted Hays can now claim to be not only an award-winning foxhunter, but an accomplished pony rider, as well.
Riding to the reserve championship behind Hays was Hannah Hoch and her own Havana, followed by Jordan Toering and Splendid, owned by Agnes Hahn, in the third position. Grace Debney and Denmark, owned by John Skinner, earned fourth place, and Kat Fuqua, in the irons aboard her Captain America, rounded out the top five placings.
The 2017 Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals wraps up the 50th year of the USEF Pony Finals. A new crop of riders will return to the Kentucky Horse Park next year for the anticipated 2018 competition.
FROM THE WINNERS CIRCLE
Ada Catherine Hays – Champion of the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals
On winning the Pony Medal Finals:
“I’m really, really excited. A little overwhelmed, but it’s the good kind. This is my first time to Pony Finals or any major show. I haven’t been to Devon or Harrisburg, nothing.”
On her jumping trips:
“[My rounds] felt really good. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden this well. Robin always tells me it’s a cantering course and I felt like we really demonstrated that today. The pace doesn’t really change – it’s not a gallop and it’s not a trollop and it just flows nicely.”
On her riding experience:
“[I have been foxhunting] ever since I was little. There are pictures of me in a diaper on a pony in the hunt field. My mom and I ride together. I have a small pony who I still foxhunt. [My foxhunting experience] probably did help today. Moving up to any distance or holding to make sure they are the right ones [is important] because in the hunt field you don’t really know what’s going to happen and it goes back and forth between fast and halted.”
Robin Greenwood – Trainer to Hays and Owner of Center Field
On Hays’ work ethic:
“Ada is really good at all parts of the horse care. All of our kids are. The ponies don’t get ridden for her. That pony doesn’t get schooled, and there certainly hasn’t been a professional ride on him since he’s been with us since October. She’s the only one who has ridden and jumper him. I put our kids to work.”
On her thoughts on Hays’ win:
“I’m really really impressed with her ability to focus on what she has to get done. To not have come to an event like this before and to be able to go back on top and nail the second course, I’m really proud of her, I’m really impressed by that.”
On Center Field:
“Everybody says they have a unicorn but he really is the unicorn. He’s named after Bernie Williams, center field for the New York Yankees.”
Jim Toon – Judge of the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals
On how they chose Hays as the champion:
“It basically came down to the fact who really wanted to just canter around the course and in our opinion, we felt she was the girl that demonstrated the fact that she picked up the canter, didn’t let her nerves get to her. She just basically cantered around the course, did the little testing that was in it – the halt, the trot, and everything just fell into place. And then we just did our arithmetic of putting the two rounds together and she came out on the top. We definitely felt that she stayed cool and relaxed and really just cantered the course and that was the difference.”
On why they chose not to test:
“Those two riders that ended up first and second were coming in about four points apart at the beginning after the first round, and then [Hays] in the final round she stayed still a good distance apart from the other rider that was second and we felt that there was not a need for a test.”
On his thoughts about riders who cantered directly from the gate to the first fence:
“Really, to me, I don’t think that’s necessary [to canter directly to the first jump]. Unless it was way down [on the other end]. I, myself, think about the fact that if you ride a grand prix horse and you come in the ring as a jumper, they blow the whistle and you have 45 seconds to get to the fence, so I don’t think that’s necessary. I could see if you wanted to walk in the gate and go directly to the first fence – that part didn’t impress me. She didn’t do that. She picked up the canter and cantered to her first fence nicely and I think in the entrance, you want to show a little bit of an entrance – you want to show the fact that you got a little pace and that was the different with her versus the other girl. She kept her pace basically around the whole course.”
Place / Rider / Horse / Owner
USEF Pony Medal Finals
1. Ada Catherine Hays / Center Field / Robin Greenwood
2. Hannah Hoch / Havana / Hannah Hoch
3. Jordan Toering / Splendid / Agnes Hahn
4. Grace Debney / Denmark / John Skinner
5. Kat Fuqua / Captain America / Kat Fuqua
6. Sofia Roberts / Rock Star / Roberts Stables LLC
7. Trinity Beitler / Hillcrest Leading Lady / First Blue LLC
8. Anna Tootle / Watchusayin / Abby Knapp
9. Alexandra Lynn Willner / Pajama Party / Bill Schaub
10. Emma Hechtman / Sir Dragon / Emily Elek-Burtard
For more information on the 2017 USEF Pony Finals, please click here.