It was barely sun-up when rigs bearing tags from five states lumbered into the Austin Kiplinger’s Bittersweet Field last weekend, hauling some of the best horse flesh in the country.
The occasion was the fall horse trials sponsored by the Seneca Valley Pony Club.
“We have 362 entries for the two-day trials,” Kathleen Flynn, a show secretary, said while sorting through mounds of paperwork involved in scheduling three phases for each day — dressage, stadium jumping and cross country.
Pony Club members volunteer untold hours to produce this competition, sanctioned by the United States Eventing Association. “We are lucky to have two dates — June and September,” Flynn advised.
Primarily it is the parents of present or former pony club members who do the work. The Flynn family of Potomac is typical of this endeavor. Dr. Pat Flynn spent the weekend overseeing the parking situation while son Matt, now a professional rider and trainer, competed. From Cathy Mattax’s awards section to stadium steward posts manned by Carla MacLeod, Kim Lefelar and Tom Gutierrez, it was an all-volunteer exercise.
THE SPORT IS definitely a family affair. It would be almost impossible not to have help. Moms, dads, brothers and sisters are often seen pitching in to help the competitor. Grooming, watering or just walking the horse between events are all necessities. “No one can do it alone. We were at Loudoun last week and Waredaca before that,” explained Fran Hayward, whose daughter, Alissa, 17, was competing in open training, a competition for high-level riders.
Two-day horse trials, according to Matt Flynn, are preparations for three-day events where the competition is tougher and steeplechase and endurance riding phases are added. Both are different from horse showing in that each phase is ridden individually. Riders are on a schedule to compete.
“It’s like you just want to prove yourself and your horse to be the best,” said Flynn, a former pony clubber, who was riding Kings Crossing in only two of the three phases this week. He is working toward a three-day event in Kentucky next month.
From current international riders to local pony clubbers serious in hitting the big time, the horse trials give spectators the opportunity to see many excellent performances. International competitors at Bittersweet Field included equestrian team members Donna Smith (New Zealand), Kelli Temple (Canada), Leslie Law, (Great Britain), Nina Fout (USA) and Phillip Dutton (Australia), using this opportunity to give their young horses more experience.
Show veteran Jaye Yonkers of Potomac, former United States side-saddle champion, rode Shamus Brown, finishing fourth in a division with 16 competitors. “It’s his first year at a higher level,” she reported. It was far from Yonkers’ “first year.” For devotees of the sport, it is a way of life.
Even the youngest of the competitors are more than competent. Chase Beach, 12, of Lewes, Del., has been competing since he was 6. In the junior novice division (for 18 years old and under) riding his pony, Pete, Chase said he had just returned from two weeks of competition in North Carolina. At the Seneca Valley trials he placed a credible fifth out of 16.
It is a given that those competing spend hours in preparation for each event, not to mention years of training. However, behind the scenes, an equal amount of effort goes forth in organization. Excluding the judges who receive a stipend (there were five at these trials) the impressive array of volunteers listed on the program was staggering, and like the Flynn family, many had children, past and present pony clubbers, competing.
Catherine Hanagan, whose mother Nellie was in charge of stabling, won the open novice division riding The Last Laugh. (Did she ever have it!) She also placed second in open beginning novice riding her Phoenix Song. Safety coordinator, Dave Herbick‘s daughter Marian rode Patagonia in an upper level phase where she won a third place in training rider division. Dressage steward Paula Siegel’s daughter Sara competed in the junior open preliminary, placing third on Spy Glass, a class won by Potomac junior Derek Alvey, astride Copper Dancer. Field coordinator Debby Price’s daughter Jennifer competed with Personality Plus in beginner novice, but not before Mom lent a hand in mane braiding.
Christie Brown, riding Sacred Collection, was presented with The Surrey’s Bonnie Thompson Grey Perpetual Cup for high scoring, the junior training rider competing with 60 contestants for the honor.
Noting the number of overall entries, it is no wonder that volunteer secretary Nancy Jones remarked, “We are very fortunate we make a healthy profit that is returned to the Seneca Valley Pony Club.” She explained that after paying judges’ fees, and dues to various associations connected with the sport, proceeds from the events go to help pony club members with lessons, pay rally fees, upkeep and other necessities.
It’s the pony clubbers who are the most fortunate. The dedication of parents is a beautiful thing.