Aiken-based drivers had a phenomenal showing at the United States Equestrian Federation National Pair and Pony Championships, held March 24 through 27 at the Live Oak CAI in Ocala, Fla. This combined driving competition crowned three national champions in the pony divisions (singles, pairs and four-in-hands) and one in the horse division (pairs.) Three of the four championships went to drivers, horses and ponies that train in Aiken.
Joe Yoder drove a pair of Gelderlanders owned by Jack Wetzel, an Aiken resident, to the USEF National Pairs Championship. Yoder, an up-and-coming whip who will turn 30 in June, recently moved to Aiken from Bozeman, Montana to drive for Mr. Wetzel. He finished second by just over a point in the dressage phase, and then won the marathon handily to put himself ahead by 15 points going into cones. In that test, he had three balls down to incur 12 penalty points, which was still good enough for first place and the championship. This was Yoder's first national title.
Shelly Temple, who is based in Windsor, drove her Morgan pony "Cooper" (officially LR Ami B-Line) to the USEF National Single Pony Championship. Cooper and Shelly won the dressage by over seven points. Then they finished in the middle of the pack on the marathon phase, but were still in the lead heading into cones. There, they completed the difficult course with no balls down, just three seconds over the very fast 2:38 time allowed, winning the competition. (No pony went double clear.) Cooper was also given the Hanzi award, which is granted to the horse deemed the best in the show. Shelly and Cooper are no strangers to the awards table: they won the national championship in 2006 and 2010, and were reserve champions in 2005 and 2009. This was their second Hanzi award - they also won in 2010.
Jennifer Matheson, an Aiken resident who trains in Windsor, drove a pair of German riding ponies owned by her mother-in-law, Katrina Becker, to the USEF National Pony Pair Championship. Jennifer won the dressage phase by almost 8 points, which gave her a solid cushion going into the marathon. She put in a good effort over that course, coming in second. In cones, she had four balls down and incurred time penalties, but still came out the winner. Jennifer also won the national pairs championship in 2010.
A large Aiken contingent was on hand at Live Oak, including both spectators and competitors. Suzy Stafford, another driver based in Aiken over the winter months, won the reserve championship in the single pony division, driving Josephine, a 9-year-old Morab mare. In other divisions, Meghan Benge won Preliminary Pair Ponies; Pixie Keating was second in Intermediate Single Pony, Sherri Dolan was second in Intermediate Pair Pony and Irene Gillis was second in Preliminary Single Pony.