Performance Ponies

Connemara News and Thoughts in Ireland’s Equestrian

CONNEMARA NEWS – AND – THOUGHTS UPON WHICH TO PONDER

Those of you who are lucky enough to be able to purchase the magazine “Ireland’s Equestrian” will probably have already read the article on “Kippure Stud – The Business of Connemaras”

Many of you will probably have visited “Kippure”, spoken to Michael Igeo and realised the depth of Connemara knowledge that he possesses and will readily appreciate the message that is contained in his article on page 69 – 71 of the March April issue of Ireland’s Equestrian.

Michael outlines the primary use of the Connemara Pony in the early days and the market forces that saw change in the use of the Pony – consumerism, specialisation, dependence and market propaganda prevailed with the system of brood mares no longer expected to be worked and tested thoroughly. Faults and weaknesses that other wise would be found at the source of the working were now getting through. He speaks of a broad universal knowledge that is now found in place of what was a narrow detailed personal knowledge of individual ponies and the breed in general that lasted from childhood until death. Succession meant inherited knowledge and the passing on of this knowledge.

Understanding the relationship of “form and function” holds the key to success. Get it wrong and the result is devastating he states. Selective breeding is an art, which is second nature to someone who is gifted with the knowledge. Understanding the bloodlines and back breeding requires patience and analysis. He refers to the knowledge of Susan De Vesci, Jimmy Jones and Graham Tulloch that represented a Life’s work, a philosophy committed to memory.

In the heading – “Links in the chain” -Michael refers to the activities of the later part of the 20th century and the problems of inbreeding, over height, lack of bone etc. Michael states that as we delve further into the Connemara Pony, the more impressive is the impact that some of our predecessors have made. These vital links must be maintained, as without them, the demise is hastened.

“Need for reform –Blueprints for competition” Michael believes that our endeavours are to build on the efforts of our past stalwart breeders and be authentic in this restoration. The “In-Hand” world is only a small glimpse into the story of the Connemara Pony. Ponies must be bred that will meet customers expectations. There is a need to instil confidence in the industry of breeding Connemara ponies that in fact possess those unique qualities of the Connemara pony that can and do perform As well as and in fact better than most.

An interesting and thought provoking article for those who have concerns for the future of the Connemara pony.

Sweden: Connemara News April 2009

The pony performance ranking for 2008 makes interested reading for the friend of the Connemara pony. Here the results over the past year of ponies of all breeds are summarised and the ponies are ranked relative to each other. For the performance interested breeder the ranking lists make interesting reading.

Dressage

Beginning with dressage the overall winner of 2008 was a Connemara pony, Lotus II (by Rolls Royce out of Lorette V). Rolls Royce is one of the Swedish stallions with an Elite premium and he has long had a reputation of siring good performance ponies. Lotus’ dam Lorette V is imported to Sweden from France and has also been competing successfully, although in show jumping. Lotus himself has been one of the top dressage ponies in Sweden competing successfully for more than a decade. He has twice participated in the European Championships, both times qualifying to the individual final.

Figure 1: Backens Lotus (by Rolls Royce out of Princess Jasmin) ridden by Isabella Tovek

Figure 1: Backens Lotus (by Rolls Royce out of Princess Jasmin) ridden by Isabella Tovek

No less than nine Connemaras appear among the top 100 of the dressage ponies. The stallion V ̈arnbergs Orion has sired the second highest ranking Connemara, Hagens Qumulus (out of Hagens Fondora), another old European Cham- pionship participant. Qumulus half sister Ha- gens Rosmara (out of Hagens Andora) also made top 100. This mare won the Swedish Champi- onships for Connemara ponies a few years back and has also done well at the in-hand classes of the national show proving that conformation and performance go hand in hand. Also Rolls Royce have two of his offspring on the top 100 dressage list. Backens Lotus (out of Princess Jasmin) is another winner of the Swedish Cham- pionships for Connemara ponies and his rider was awarded the Folksam stipend from the Swe- dish Connemara society for 2008 for advertising the Connemara so well with her successful com- peting.

Eventing

Figure 2: Grange Flynn Sparrow (by Ashfield Festy out of Grange Agnes Sparrow) ridden by Karolina Gahne

Figure 2: Grange Flynn Sparrow (by Ashfield Festy out of Grange Agnes Sparrow) ridden by Karolina Gahne

Eventing has a history of being a strong Connemara discipline in Sweden. Lately, however, there has been a lack of Connemaras among the absolute top performers. In 2008 seven Connemaras made top 100 with the highest ranking being Sunday Bell (by Countach Campbell x Sun Light), incidentally yet another winner at the Swedish Championships for Connemara ponies. Finney Master, another of the Elite premium stallions in Sweden, during his lifetime, made a name for himself as a sire of performance ponies and among the top 100 eventers two of his offspring were found: Brol ̈otens Azzaro (out of Dame Grainne) and Amielle (out of Brantshammar Beckymoss). The international crowd may be interested to hear that two imported ponies were also among the top 100: the Danish S ̈ostholm Kidman (by Pilgaards Killroy out of S ̈ostholm Kimberley) and the Irish Grange Flynn Sparrow (by Ashfield Festy out of Grange Agnes Sparrow).

If the purebred Connemaras are somewhat absent among the top eventers this is made up for in no small amount by two highly successful partbreds. Lillefot (by Frederiksminde Hazy Chance) was the number one eventer in 2008. Among his successes last year are a gold at the Swedish Championships and at the Nordic – Baltic Championships. Runner up to Lillefot in the ranking is another partbred Connemara: Casper (by Cannon) who was the best Swede at last years European eventing Championships.

Show Jumping

Figure 3: Westside Padraig (by Westside Fred out of Aran Suzy)

Figure 3: Westside Padraig (by Westside Fred out of Aran Suzy)

Show jumping is by far the most popular discipline in Sweden with fierce competition, and Irish ponies have a reputation of jumping well. Sadly many Irish ponies, sometimes a picture of Connemara breed type, still come to Sweden with an unknown pedigree. Fortunately many Connemaras also bring their true identity to Sweden and market the Connemara as a high class performer.

The most successful show jumper in 2008 was the Connemara Westside Padraig (by Westside Fred out of Aran Suzy). Among his many wins were two bronzes in the Swedish show jumping championships indoors and outdoors respectively. Another of Westside Fred’s gets Lexus Justice (out of Dunamoney Lass) ranked number 15 in 2008, and the third highest ranking Connemara was a grandchild of Westside Fred: Williams Town Wonder (by Monaghanstown Fred out of Charlotte’s Pride). Show jumping genes anyone?

Another pony known for his performance genes is Poetic Justice (by Ballydonagh Cas- sanova out of Gloves Misty). His purebred daughter Poetic Annie (out of Myrens Anitra) is one of the seven Connemaras on the show jumping top 100. Another of his get, the partbred Golden Star was the third most successful show jumper in 2008 beaten only by the purebred Westside Padraig and an Irish import with unknown breeding. In the indoor show jumping championships of 2008 Golden Star took a silver medal.

The competition season so far

The competition season of 2009 has started for show jumping and dressage and a handful of indoor competitions on a national level has been held. It is still too early to single out which ponies will be the ”big” ones this year, but it is pleasing to see that several Connemaras are already in the ribbons. In show jumping the Swedish bred Desdemona (by Brol ̈otens Joop out of Ti-Ti-Oo) and Poetic Gilbert (by Poetic Justice out of Poetic Annie) has won and been placed respectively, while Irish bred ponies like Clew Bay Thunder (by Thunderball out of Racecourse View), Hearnsbrook Mairtin (by Connemara Playboy out of Atlantic Rose), Finisglen Flora (by Coosheen Finnegan out of Finisglen Star) and Harnells Tricky Dicky (by Rynn Richard out of Fermoyle Heather) all have been placed. The Danish Connemara Skousboe Morning Gift (by Skousboe Morning Rock out of Frederiksminde Mary Lou) have already visited Sweden and travelled back home with a rosette.

In dressage the old veteran Hagens Qumulus (by V ̈arnbergs Orion out of Hagens Fondora), at 19 years of age, has started off very well with two rosettes in his first competition. Backens Lotus is also showing promise with a 6th place at his first national competition of the year. The mare K ̈ohls Fidolina (by Shirley’s Thunderbell out of Hagens Ellina) had a promising start to competing at a national level when she took a third place and qualified to the Swedish Championships at her very first start at this level.

Stallion Inspections

Figure 4: Poetic Kelly (by Poetic Justice out of Lofty Dusty Rambler)

Figure 4: Poetic Kelly (by Poetic Justice out of Lofty Dusty Rambler)

Poetic Justice has been in the news quite a bit lately. Already well known, also among non-Connemara people and riders with not interest in breeding, for his ability to sire outstanding jumpers first made the headlines by travelling down to France for the 2009 covering season. At the stallion inspections in late March he was the man of the day in all ways. Firstly Poetic Justice was awarded his Elite premium, in particular for the jumping ability of his offspring, and is now among the select group of Swedish Elite stallions.

But the success of Poetic Justice did not end here. Later during the day his son Poetic Kelly was approved. Kelly is out of Lofty Dusty Rambler (by Kimble) and certainly lived up to what his pedigree promised with his impressive loose jumping. Other news from the inspections was that L ̊angarn ̈o Cedric completed his performance test and is now fully approved and Calvin Klein was awarded an A premium for the good conformation of his offspring.

Photo: Figure 1 -3: Jenny Hagenblad, figure 4 Annsi Jacobsson

/Jenny Hagenblad

Australia: Performance News 2009

DOWN UNDER PERFORMANCE NEWS

With the tragic bush fires in Southern Australia, the devastating cyclones in the north of Queensland and the interminable drought that covers almost all of the lower half of the country, some Connemara owners and breeders do have a reason to smile, even if only briefly.

Glenormiston Tipper O'Toole

Glenormiston Tipper O’Toole

Sue Clarke, Glenormiston stud, Queensland would have a broad grin at the moment. Castle Baron (Abbeyleix Owen – Castle Dame) whilst involved with his stud duties has had time to go showing and recently brought home the champion and supreme champion ribbons. His son, Glenormiston Tipper O’Toole (owned by Sue Clarke and ridden by Lyndie Easton) gave Baron a shake and was awarded the reserve champion ribbon. Later in the day he took out the champion ridden ribbon; reserve champion ridden stallion of the show, and then to show his family class he was awarded the champion dressage horse of the show.

In all Tipper O’Toole has had three wins and twelve placings in official dressage competitions during 2008, including a 4th place at the 2008 Queensland state dressage championships. Tipper was also undefeated in agricultural shows in Connemara saddle classes and only beaten once in hand and then by his sire Castle Baron. In 2009 Tipper has continued demonstrating the excellent qualities of the Connemara pony by taking out the reserve champion Connemara stallion class, champion ridden Connemara pony and champion dressage pony against all breeds at the Queensland APSB show.

Castle Baron, still a young stallion, is certainly proving through his own efforts and those of his progeny, that the well known “Village” ponies are a forced to be reckoned with regardless of their location.

Other ponies from Glenormiston Stud stallions or Glenormiston bred ponies are also noticeable in the performance fields. Capparis High Roller (Domo Cavallo Praize – Glengarry Patsy Malone – Abbeyleix Finnbar) has an excellent dressage record. 2007 official dressage pony of the year, 2008 state pony club elementary champion and 2008 reserve champion official elementary pony of the year.

Noweddie Nicholas (Glenormiston O’Neill Clanaboy – Rainey Island Joy) was awarded the 2008 national pony preliminary dressage championship ribbon and the 2008 national pony novice dressage reserve championship ribbon.

Capparis High Roller

Capparis High Roller

Riverdell Park Capella (Glenormiston Slipper – Colmaur Colleen) has excelled being awarded the 2008 PC zone showjumping and equitation championships – 1st in both 17 -26 yrs equitation rounds, champion 17 -26 yrs equitation, 1st in all three classes of pony and galloway showjumping, champion pony and galloway showjumping. Capella was also awarded 4 state pony club medals from 4 appearances in showjumping and combined training.

The mare Glenormiston Aedin (Abbeyleix Finbar – Glenormiston Abbey Lara) owned and ridden by Lyndie Easton competed in 2008 in official dressage competition for 2 wins and 11 placings including a 7th at the 2008 Queensland state dressage championships.

Domo Cavallo Praize, mentioned above as the sire of Capparis High Roller, was an excellent show jumper and eventing pony and competed in the open fields in both disciplines. He was rarely beaten in eventing despite standing just 14.2hh. His versatility was shown as he was also a champion and reserve champion harness pony. Praize has a pure bred gelding son Glenormiston Patrick (dam – Washlands Rebecca) who was also a successful A& B Grade show jumper. Patrick eventually went to a younger rider who took him through pony club, inter school competition etc. At 19 yrs, Patrick can still be found competing in these events.

Abbeyleix Finbar, another of the Glenormiston stallions, was a fabulous jumper and competed in eventing and showjumping. Oxenholm Gideon, the third leg of the Glenormiston fabulous performance stallion trio competed successfully in all jumping disciplines and excelled in speed events. Praize, Finbar and Gidgeon have now all gone to greener pastures but their combined performance qualities as can be found in the Glenormiston mare contingent will be seen for many generations yet to come. Add to this, the now emerging performance qualities of Castle Baron and the Village line, Glenormiston ponies have a very bright future.

Ireland: Fabulous Derby Win For Ballyowen Maybelle Molly

FABULOUS DERBY WIN FOR BALLYOWEN MAYBELLE MOLLY

The seven year old Irish Connemara mare, Ballyowen Maybelle Molly, competed at the Complet International de Fontainebleau Show Jump Championships in France on 18th and 19th April 2009.

Molly competed in the final seven year old International Jumping Competition over a huge, highly technical course. Molly had the only treble clear round out of the entire field. Huge congratulations must go to her rider, Kelly Allen and owner Anthony McCormac. The results of the mare’s two days competition are:

CSIP Table A against the clock, International Jumping Competition for 7 year old, FEI Art. 238.2.1 1m15 Saturday 18th April:

  1. BALLYOWEN MAYBELLE MOLLY (ISH); Kelly Allen (IRL) Faults 0.00 – time 34.99
  2. LITTLE DARK WARRIOR (IRRP) ; Niamh Dooley (IRL) Faults 0.00 – time 57.67
  3. OMBRE DES FALAISES; Robin Muhr (FRA) Faults 0.00 – time 65.15
  4. IRISH NIGHT WATCHMAN; Brian Crowley (IRL) Faults 0.00 – time 72.83

CSIP Pony final seven year old, International Jumping Competition Table A with jump off. FEI Art.238.1.2 1m20 Sunday 19th April 2009:

  1. BALLYOWEN MAYBELLE MOLLY (ISH); Kelly Allen (IRL) Faults 0.00/0.00 – time 34.28
  2. IRISH NIGHT WATCHMAN; Brian Crowley (IRL) Faults 0.00/4.00 – time 34.93
  3. GARRYDNUG GOLD DIGGER (ISH); Madeline Roberts Allen (IRL) Faults 0.00/4.00 – time34.99

A terrific result for owner, rider and the Connemara pony in general.bally

BALLYOWEN MAYBELLE MOLLY

It was a joyous occasion for all her connections – owner Anthony Mac Cormack, rider Kelly Allen and breeders John and Jenny Richardson when Ballyowen Maybelle Molly won the seven year old derby at Fontainbleau on April 19th 2009. She had become, officially, the best seven year old in Europe. Her magnificent achievement was not a surprise to me because I know the family and have followed its fortunes for many years

It all started when Sean Mac Lochlainn bought a three year old filly by Tiger Gill out of a Tully Lad mare called Kiss me Kate. She was a dun roan and stood at 13 hh. Sean entered her in Class14 at the Clifden Show in August 1960. This was a class for non registered Connemara mares not less than three years old. His sole purpose in doing so was that such ponies could be inspected for registration at the show which she was. She was called Lus na bPog (2103).

Her career as a show pony was short and inglorious but she became the most wonderful broodmare and left five fabulous daughters.

The oldest, Poigin (Carna Dun) went to England/Scotland. Ballyowen Belle (Carna Dun) stayed in Ireland with the Richardsons. Ciotog (Doon Paddy) went to Montana/Canada. Bla an Duinin (Doon Paddy) went to Sweden and Doireann (Macdara) went to France.

There is obviously a big Little Heaven influence but I also think there is a big female thing going on in this family The females are so dominant that we mustn’t give too much of the credit to the ‘topline’. Consider also that Doireann, who was by Macdara (no outside blood), produced Balladin de Fremur (Macky) in France, a registered stallion who jumped at national level there, thus garnering a big reputation for himself and the breed.

The extended Lus na bPog family is littered with great performers but three of them were genuine superstars operating at the very highest level. They were Poigin, Golden Avenns Ruby (daughter of Ciotog) and Molly (daughter of Belle). All three were females ridden by extremely talented girls – Fiona Clarke, Melanie Jacobi and Kelly Allen respectively.

Poigin and Goldie were allrounders, excelling in a variety of disciplines. They looked alike being typical of the Carna Dun line i.e. tall, scopey strong heads. Molly is different in that she is an absolute jumping machine and looks as well as she jumps. Doris Jacobi and I have written previously about Poigin and Goldie (English Chronicle 2001) and all I can say about Molly, being a seven year old, is that her career, stunning as it is to date, is only beginning.

The prominence of the females in the family is intriguing The talent and athleticism is unquestionable and if Sean were alive today we can assume that he would regard the £77-10-0 that he paid for Lus and her companion Londubh fifty years ago, as pretty good value!

Tom MacLochlainn

The Word Has Got Around

With apologies to Banjo Patterson and The man from Snowy River!

The past decade has seen the Connemara Pony being used to a greater degree as a performance pony in Australia with both the Pure bred and Part breds competing in various pony and open disciplines. Not only are these ponies performing well but in many cases they are out classing many of their opponents of all breeds. Below are just a few of these ponies that are competing throughout Australia with great credit to the breed and their owners and riders.

STRICKLAND PARK JO’S REBEL – Greenhills Rebel – Ballantrae Jaffa This Stallion Pony has competed whilst performing Stud Duties for a number of years. “Rebel” has competed in Ridden, Dressage, Hunter, Combined and Show jumping.

He has taken the Ridden Connemara class at the Melbourne Royal from 2003 – 2007. He won the 2005 – 2007 Ridden Mountain and Moorland class at the Melbourne Royal.
In 2005 he won the prodigious Barastoc Ridden Saddle Stallion class and went on in 2007 to take out the Barostoc Ridden Show Hunter Mountain and Moorland section.

He had dominated the APSB (Australian Pony Stud Book) shows with best performed Mountain and Moorland and Best Show Hunter classes winning each event from 2004 – 2007.
“Rebel” received a bad leg injury in 2007 and has not competed since that date. He has a son “Strickland Park Duke” who is now showing the same qualities as his Sire in both dressage and Show Jumping. “Rebel” is based in Victoria.

CAPPARIS HIGH ROLLER , a pure bred gelding (Domo Cavallo Praize – Glengarry Patsy Malone (Abbeyley Finbar) is performing extremely well in Dressage and was the 2007 Official Dressage pony of the year. In 2008 he was awarded the State Pony Club Elementary Championship and also reserve Champion Official Elementary Pony of the year. “Roller” is owned and ridden in Queensland.

NOWEDDIE NICHOLAS – ( GI Clanaboy O’Neill –Rainey Island Jo) is another Connemara pony that is performing well in the Dressage field. In 2008 he was awarded the National Pony Preliminary Dressage Champion and the National Pony Novice Dressage reserve Champion ship ribbons.

RIVERDELL PARK CAPELLA – (Glenormiston Slipper – Colaur Colleen) has been performing extremely well at Pony Club events. In 2008 the mare was awarded the PC Zone Showjump and Equitiation Championships – 1st in both 17 – 26 yrs Equitation rounds, Champion 17 – 26 yrs Equitation, 1st in all thee classes of Pony and Galloway Showjumping, Champion Pony and Galloway Showjumping. Together with the above, the mare was awarded 4 State Pony Club medals from 4 appearances in Show jumping and combined training. Not bad for just one years activities! But of course, she is a Connemara so what else would you expect!

Both Nicholas and Capella are Queensland based.

Finally – the classic performance!

GLENORMISTON CONNAUGHT – (Domo Cavallo Praize – Glenormiston Fionnuala) a 6 year old gelding recently arrived in South Australia and is resident at the Dawkins Stud and being ridden by Alice Dawkins.

On his arrival Connaught had very little training and had an adversity to the jumping game as Alice quickly found out. Connaught’s training went to back basics and in a short time he quickly indicated that he had considerable ability in the performance field.

His first appearance was at the All breeds Ridden Show in Gawler South Australia on 25th January 2009. This was Connaught’s first ever outing. The results speak for themselves:

First place ;
Led overheight Connemara

Ridden Overheight Connemara Best presented Horse and Handler Champion Ridden Connemara. Open Galloway 14 – 15hh
Pony Club Mount 14 – 15hh Champion Pony Club Mount.

Second Place:

Rider 12 – 16 yrs
Pony Club rider 12 – 16 yrs Ridden Pleasure hack Maiden Galloway 14 – 15hh Galloway 14.2 – 15hh.

At the Mt Crawford Dressage Club meeting 28/2/09

1st Junior class EFA test 1,1 with 66.6% Third Junior Class for EFA test 1.4

Strathalbyn Dressage 1/03/09

3rd Open class test EF 1.3 and 4th EFA test 1.1

At Black Hill Pony Club Eventing 15/3/09

7th PC grade 4 event.

At Reynella Horse Trials and competing with open company riders and horses, in a class of 25 competitors – placed 3rd dressage, clear Show jumping, and because of his experience, a quite cross Country where he finished without penalty Placed 9th overall.

The combination heads to Naracoorte 17th May for the Naracoorte One day event and then in June to Monarto, One day event. I for one will be interested in the results from these two Events.

Once again this indicates the ability of the Connemara pony to compete extremely well in the Performance arenas, and given the right training and with a competent rider, the combination can and usually does perform equally well as, and in fact better than, most other competitors. Which of course, we Connemara owners and breeders have know for a long time. As the heading states – the word has got around… !

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Australia: Monahan Harrison 2008

PONY PROFILE: MONAHAN HARRISON

Sire: Ben Dhui Diccon

Dam: Wychwood Lady Ann

Gaye & Tim Haworth purchased Harrison (or Harry as he is known as) in May 2003 from Christa Jone’s Monahan Stud. They were looking for that special pony for their daughter Kristy, and Harry being a newly broken in 3 year old, seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Initially it took a while for the two to “click ” as Harry had a strong personality, but after a while the two found common ground and the rest is history.

One of the first outings for the two was the BRAG Pony Sports Day in 2004. Harry and Kristy came along for the experience, but ended the day by taking out the Ballantrae Cup for the Best Performed Connemara on the day. No mean feat, as he was up against some of the more experienced and well known ponies. Even then he showed his potential for show jumping, only being beaten by “that damned wave jump”.

Since then Harry and Kristy have gone to be a formidable combination in show jumping circles. They consistently place and win junior jumps at many of the local shows and are jumping clear rounds at EFA D grade level (easily clearing rounds at 1.1 mtrs.)

Harry does have a couple of pet hates, those being, dressage (boring!!!!), working cattle and becomes disgruntled when the odd occasion arises when a rug leg strap comes undone. Even though he “hates” dressage, he is still placing at PC grade 3, plus also in open company at prelim and novice levels, which is a pretty good effort for a horse that gets bored with it as easily as he does.

Some of Kristy and Harry’s achievements over the last 18 months have been:

2nd working hunter
Reserve champion working hunter
1st working hunter
Two 2nd placings
2nd C Grade Championships Barastoc Inter School Show jumping Championships
4 out of 5 rounds clear (team placed 5th) PCAV State Dressage & Show jumping Championships

St Arnaud Show
Donald Show
Colac Show
Wannon Zone PC Qualifying Day

Overall C grade Champion South West Victorian PC show jumping Championships (1st in championship round, 1st in power & speed, 2nd in top score)

Harry is not quite ready to tackle cross-country courses as yet but he is mellowing with age and it won’t be long before this talented combination are taking the eventing world by storm.

With his extravagant movement (courtesy of Diccon) and his long wavy mane and tail (Diccon and Lady Ann), Harry has that “look at me” appeal and at only 61/2 years of age he and Kristy have a big future in front of them. Especially when you think he is now jumping 1.3 mtrs at home. How high will he be able to go is the question?

Emu Creek Pony Club which Kristy and Harry attend is the largest club in the Wannon Zone. There are three other Connemaras at the club along with Harry, and they are Ballantrae Hoopla (featured in a previous article) Ballantrae Bracken and Celtic Fairy, all of whom are going extremely well for their owners, proving that South West Victoria is once again becoming a stronghold for these fantastic ponies.

Peter Browhar2

USA: Connemara Wins Junior Virginia Gold Cup

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.

“Talbotstown does it all well – he keeps up with the field, jumps well, and I think he’s as well-behaved as the others, if not better,” says Amelia. “The most important thing to remember is to have fun – and make sure your pony is in shape so they can make it all the way around the course.”

At the Virginia Gold Cup races, a field of five ponies and horses followed Gregg Ryan, top amateur steeplechase jockey and also Master of Foxhounds with Snickersville (Middleburg, VA) around the famed Great Meadow course, modified for the Junior Virginia Gold Cup Field Masters Chase Championship.

In a hotly contested finish, Tinsel and Amelia placed second in the pony division, besting Isabella and Moya in third. Overall, Talbotstown and his rider earned enough points to claim top honors and the Junior Virginia Gold Cup. Even with all the hoopla of trophies and being the cover girl for the May issue of Middleburg Life, Amelia stays well grounded.

“The best race of the season was at Blue Ridge, because my dad was there [competing] and the jumps were higher and that was fun,” admits Amelia.

It’s a family affair from start to finish, and the girls ride to hounds with their father. Their grandfather Walter comes up for a day of sport with his progeny and to visit his hunting pals at Blue Ridge. Billy hunts four days a week whenever he can (his business partner is into golf and they accommodate each other’s seasonal interests). Like his own father, Billy takes his children hunting: Amelia and Isabella with Blue Ridge on Saturdays and Allegra with the MOC Beagles on Sunday. He’d like to persuade their grandmother to hunt with them more often.

“It’s more of what I grew up with, and the horse world provides opportunities for us to be involved and have fun,” says Billy. “I’ve hunted the last two and a half years with Blue Ridge. I grew up with MOC Beagles and when I went away to college, I got away from it. At this point, I feel as if I missed about 15 years.”

The whole Eyles family is taking advantage of every opportunity to make up for Billy’s lost time – and having a blast. This summer they’ll do some trail riding and horse shows, the girls will attend Pony Club and camps, but most of all they’ll have fun on horseback.

After all, their Connemaras can do it all. For more information, visit www.naptp.com