Talbotstown & Amelia Eyles Earn Top Honors On VA Junior Field Master Chase
By Lauren R. Giannini
If you haven’t run across the name Eyles or Ridgetop Connemaras, now at Greenwood Farm in Middlebrook, VA, here’s a little tale about a family whose involvement in the horse world continues to promote the versatility of these incredible equine athletes. At the Upperville Horse Show, progeny of Aladdin’s Denver and Landgate Bluebeard won classes and the Connemara championship. They really do ‘do it all’ – including harvesting first place in the Junior Field Master Chase on the 2008 Virginia Point-to-point circuit.
As soon as Amelia Eyles was old enough, she started riding a pony at her grandparents’ Top of the Ridge Farm, just outside Winchester, VA. She was just five or so – genetically programmed from birth to get bitten by the bug. It got her father Billy Eyles back in the saddle after a hiatus of about 20 years. He missed riding and hunting and wanted to share what he loved about growing up with his parents (Marynell and Walter) with Amelia, Isabella and Allegra. Billy’s wife Karen goes on occasional trail rides and happily admits that she’s a great support crew at competitions.
Amelia and Talbotstown made their triumphant debut last October at the International Gold Cup Races held on the Great Meadow course in The Plains, VA. Three ponies ran with the horses for a field of 11 starters. Isabella and Ridgetop Moya ran second to her older sister in the pony division, and Tinsel, as Talbotstown is affectionately called, finished sixth overall, first of the ponies.
In 2008 Amelia and Tinsel did five Junior Chases. They won at their home hunt, Blue Ridge in early March, and ran second at Orange County at the end of the month. They won the next two weekends at Old Dominion and at Loudoun.
“My mother told me to be safe and smart,” recalls Amelia, who positioned her pony well during each race so that he had some run left after the final fence and the race to the finish line. “She told me not to try to keep up with the horses the whole time. Tinsel needed more condition for the Field Masters Chases than he needed for hunting, so we galloped around the field at home and up hills.”
She also gave her pony a few days off after a race. But it wasn’t just equine fitness. Amelia participates in school sports, including track, and also rides her pony.
“Amelia trained that pony and they were both fit,” says Karen. “They did great and the junior chases were well done. All the people, Gregg Ryan and everybody did a great job. They had it safe and all together. Rob Banner at The Chronicle of the Horse was all about making it fun and safe for the Virginia riders. They’re the next crop of foxhunters.”
Needless to say, with Dad, Amelia and Isabella competing in chases this season, Allegra (10) is chomping at the bit, so to speak, because she wants to get in on the fun.
“I think that twelve is a good age to start – if you have the right pony and the ability,” says Karen. “I think my family will be involved again next year. I was nervous in an excited way, but they were well mounted. That’s so important – to have the right pony or horse. They have to be good out hunting.”
That’s the whole premise to the Field Master Chases, senior and junior. You must qualify your horses in the hunt field and get written documentation in order to compete. Riders follow the field master over a flagged course of hunting type fences and, after the last jump, anywhere from 50 to 100 yards from the finish line, the “field” is let loose to race home.