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A Weekend of Horsing Around

A total of approximately 360 competitors turned out last weekend for the Seneca Valley Pony Club’s 2006 Spring Horse Trials at Austin Kiplinger’s Bittersweet Field in Poolesville.

At the two-day trial, riders competed in three events at four levels of horsemanship, from beginner to intermediate, many showing off what they had learned as young members of this 36-year-old pony club founded by Austin Kiplinger, owner of the property.

Each rider had to complete the three phases of the show: stadium jumping, with horse and rider competing over a series of jumps and receiving penalty points for knockdowns and time; dressage, requiring the horse and rider to perform a series of movements that are judged on balance and agility at each level; and cross-country, an endurance test with a long course containing natural jumps, including water, that tests the boldness and bravery of horse and rider. Awards and prizes were given to the top finishers in each division.

THE SHOW DREW not only locals, but also competitors from around the country, including some Olympians. Phillip Dutton, captain of the Australian Equestrian Eventing team who works with Potomac’s Matt Flynn, brought eight young horses to compete, and Kim Severson, who rode for the U. S. Olympic team in Athens, brought several. They joined the children as well as other riders in the competition, which was open to everyone. "One of the nice things about this show is that there are Olympic riders competing side by side with the kids," said Nancy Jones, one of the organizers of the event. Jones' daughter Andrea competes both on horseback and in an "It’s Academic" type of pony club competition called "Quiz," using her knowledge of horses and pony club rules.

"To become a pony clubber, all it takes is a love of horses," said Kathleen Flynn, secretary. It is helpful for youngsters to have access to a horse and trailer, but if the passion is there, Flynn said, not having them could be overcome. "If someone loves horses and wants to join, then there is help," she said.

Children must be 7 or 8 years old and they can stay and participate until they are 25, although most move on to other endeavors in riding when they reach their 20s. Flynn’s son Matt graduated from the University of Delaware in three years in order to have an extra year to pursue his passion in the horse business. He now teaches young riders, trains horses and hopes to compete in the Olympics one day. "The pony club builds a good foundation for children, through responsibility," he said. "You have to be accountable for your actions; that is what it did for me, and now I can give back."