After 12 long years of work and negotiations, this summer the United States Pony Club has decided to accept polo as an official discipline.
“There were two main reasons that the Pony Club decide to accept us this year,” says Kris Bowman who is the director of club development at the United States Polo Association. “The first was that they saw how strong our intercollegiate and interscholastic program was – this year we had 110 teams. So they could see that if kids learned polo in the pony club, they could take it somewhere, they could play on an interscholastic or an intercollegiate level.
“The second reason was that they wanted to expand any programs that would retain boys in the Pony Club.”
Polo’s official induction into the USPC was marked by three days of games, clinics and demonstrations at the 2011 Pony Club Festival at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, from July 24-26. Clinics included sessions with the foot mallet, on horseback and in a hitting cage.
The polo demonstration match featured two members of Aiken’s interscholastic polo team, Ty Morris and Austin Allen. Austin is a junior member at Aiken Polo Club, while Ty plays with Overbrook in Wagener. Both young men are pony club members who are also veterans of polocrosse. Aiken is expected to have its own pony club polo team in the very near future.
“We expect Aiken to be one of the leaders in the pony club polo movement,” says Kris.
Kris is excited about the prospect of pony club introducing polo to hundreds, if not thousands of enthusiastic kids.
“Our interscholastic programs start when kids are 12,” she says. “But pony club starts when kids are much younger. So here we’ll have these amazing young riders, already playing polo by the time they are old enough for the interscholastic program.”
This summer and fall, no fewer than six Aiken-based drivers packed up their horses, harnesses, carts and carriages and flew to Europe to train and compete. Five of these whips are in the pony divisions and are on their way to the World Pony Driving Championships in Lipica, Slovenia from September 22-25. One, Joe Yoder, trained in Germany with the American driving coach Michael Freund and then competed with the rest of the American team at the Reisenbeck CAI in July. From there, he went to Conty, France for the FEI World Pair Driving Championships from August 25-28.
Joe, a young driver who recently relocated to Aiken from Montana, drives a pair of black Gelderlander geldings owned by Jack Wetzel. Earlier in the year, he drove these geldings to the United States Equestrian Federation national pairs championship at Live Oak in Florida. The FEI World Pair Driving Championships were his first international competition.
At the championships, things started out well for the Americans. Joe Yoder had an excellent dressage test, scoring 44.03, which was good enough for sixth place in that phase. His teammate, Misdee Wrigley-Miller, scored 52.86 and came in seventh, putting the United States into fifth place going into the marathon.
The weather in France had been wet and the ground was quite saturated on the next day, marathon day. It was a day of changeable weather, with sun one moment and pouring rain the next, the kind of day that can play havoc with competitors and spectators alike.
Kathrin Dancer, the third member of the American team, was the fifth driver of the day, and the first of the Americans. She went clean with no time penalties. Misdee Wrigley-Miller had the 26th start position. She also made it through the course without penalties, despite a driving rain that drenched her halfway through her run. Joe Yoder, the driver who was expected to do best in the marathon and who had a chance of medaling, had an unlucky draw. He went 50th out of 70 drivers. By this time the course was heavy, muddy and cut up. He slogged through, but it was not pretty. His groom fell off the cart on the fifth hazard, and he incurred more penalty points on the course. He ended up in 57th place. Wrigley-Miller and Dancer were 28th and 45th respectively.
The next day, cones day, was not a great one for the Americans either. Wrigley-Miller was eliminated on the course, Yoder had two balls down for six penalty points and finished 21st.. Dancer dropped a ball and had time penalties for 9.66 points and 29th place. Overall, Yoder ended up in 27th place and the American team came out 10th. Although these scores may sound somewhat disheartening, this is a new team with little international experience. Things can only get better!
The pony drivers are still training in Germany in preparation for their trip to Slovenia. On the same weekend as the World Pair Championships, the American ponies competed at the German National Championships in Minden. American drivers fared best in the singles division. Miranda Cadwell, who trains in Southern Pines, N.C. came in second, while Shelley Temple, who has a winter training base in Windsor, finished fifth. Suzy Stafford, another Windsor driver, was just out of the ribbons in 11th place.
The American Competitive Trail Horse Association has a new reality TV series called America’s Favorite Trail Horse. Competitors tried out for the show back in April in three- minute mounted auditions that included some simple trail obstacles. Auditions were held all over the country and were open to anyone 21 and older - all you had to do was pay the entry fee (it was $149, a little steep for some riders.)
The top 100 horses and their riders were selected as finalists. These horse and rider combinations participated in the national finals, a five-day ride held at the Franklin Family Ranch near Austin, Texas in May. This ride was filmed for 13 one-hour episodes that will air on the HRTV every Tuesday at 8 pm starting on September 13. (The shows are also repeated three hours later at 11 and then again at 10 a.m. on Sunday.) Episodes 2 through 11 will each feature ten different trail horses. After the show, America will have the chance to vote for their favorite horse in that episode, and the winner of each show will get $5,000. Episode 12 will feature the ten previous winners. America’s votes will then determine which horse is selected as America’s favorite trail horse. Winning comes with a cash prize - $25,000 for first, $15,000 for second and $10,000 for third.
According to the ACTHA website, “The purpose of America’s Favorite Trail Horse is to bring attention to the great American trail horse that has served this country so magnificently. It is our sincere hope that this effort will cause many to get back in the saddle again. . . .”