Budding future grand prix riders are warming up at Pony Island, hair ribbons flying, ponies cantering perfectly – the images are chocolate box material and the photo opportunities are endless. Because the Winter Equestrian Festival doesn’t just cater for FEI stars, one of the strongest components of the 12-week show are the pony hunter classes and tomorrow 64 young riders move on from Pony Island at the WEF showgrounds to take center stage in the $5000 USHJA Pony Derby in the Stadium Derby Field.
Pony Hunter classes are a proven training ground for grand prix riders. Among others Lucy Deslauriers – daughter of grand prix riders Mario and Lisa Deslauriers – began her riding career in the pony classes as did the US’s Lillie Keenan. Shane Sweetnam’s daughter, Olivia, is currently showing signs of following in her father’s footsteps, as a noteworthy competitor in the pony ring. Tomorrow’s Derby is a highlight for the riders and especially their ponies who get to trade a relatively small sand arena for a sizeable grass jump field.
“The Derby throws its own challenges, because sometimes you can’t even see the jump it’s so far away, the kids get lost and the ponies get a little excited coming towards home,” said trainer Kyla Makhloghi of Rosemont Farm, who for the past two years has trained 10-year-old Ella and Luca Endzweig – twins who are regular competitors in the pony ring. “We have a chance to familiarise the ponies with the area next to the arena today, so that does help.”
Tomorrow the twins ride six ponies between them but aren’t likely to tire. “They’re energizer bunnies!’ said Kyla, adding that “they are fortunate that they get to do that, but they love every second of it.” Ella and Luca were not yet cantering when Kyla started working with them, but they are now seen confidently flying around the hunter courses at Pony Island, not withstanding the odd tumble that comes with riding horses. “They are so into it,” said Kyla. “I have to tell the parents to drag them out of the barn. They love the animals, riding and competing. They really love it for all the right reasons and you can’t teach that.”
Training young children requires a special approach and Kyla takes a pragmatic, but fun stance with the twins.
“Keeping them safe when they are very, very little and teaching them to be tough without scaring them,” are some of the challenges, she said. “You have to keep them laughing too. I think you hit a point where the hard part is keeping it fun, but at the same time pushing them to improve.”
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