Aug. 8—Lexington, Ky.
With all the yelling, whistling and urging coming from an orange-clad contingent in the Alltech Arena stands, one might have thought the USEF Pony Finals jumper team championship was a tight race. But no, Zone 4’s fan club was simply cheering on its four first-timers to eight clear rounds.
There was no contest who would win gold at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Zone 4 team (led by Chef d’Equipe Katie Maxwell and comprised of Cooper Dean, 14, on American Hero; Morgan Gravely, 17, on Dragon Lair’s Banner; Micaela Smith, 17, on Blue Me Away; and Heather Vaxer, 15, on Cha Cha Cha) had big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of their predecessors’ victory last year. But the rookie foursome did one better—not one of them touched a rail all night.
Silver medal team Zone 5 (Carson Ruff on Jet Pilot, Emma Ellis on Tangled Up In Blue, Emma Bach on Lucky Charm and Caitlyn Connors on Break Away) fought hard to stay in the race, but ultimately logged 8 faults. Zone 7 (Caroline Zaunbrecher on Fire Van Battenbroek, Elizabeth McDougald on Knock My Sox Off, Fiona Donnelly on Picasso and Sedona Chamblee on Lucky Star) was the best of the rest, winning the bronze medal with 27 faults.
“I’ve never won anything this big in my life,” gushed a soft-spoken Smith after the medal ceremony.
“I’d try to cry, but I’m just too happy,” said Dean.
Zone 4’s quick and tidy ponies made easy work of the Marc Donovan-designed course, which each qualifying team jumped twice, dropping the lowest score each round to get their final tally. Many of the riders found trouble within the first four fences: two bending lines to a tall vertical away from the in-gate. Others dropped rails at the two-stride, and 16 of the 44 entries had eliminations.
“I thought the course was more about strategy than speed,” Vaxer said. “We followed our plan and it worked out.”
Four-time chef d’equipe Maxwell said the team had been taking clinics and training together for a month, so although they had not met prior to July, they were already a tightknit bunch.
“I think it was a lot of their team spirit that carried them,” she said. “For them to be clear all eight rounds … that was amazing. I’m proud of them all.”
All eyes are on Zone 4 heading in the individual jumper final Friday, but until then the team is just enjoying the moment. “I know every single one of us worked really hard to get here,” Gravely said. “So to come here and actually win it is awesome.”
Full results can be found here.
For more Pony Finals results, check out today's action from the medium pony hunter ring.