Donald and Cara Cheska train ponies for the Winter Equestrian Festival hunter ring – an American way of showing that is foreign to the UK. But across the pond is where many of their past success stories have come from. Pouring through the classifieds in Horse & Hound has found many a pony that would fit the mold to show in the pony hunter classes in Florida and beyond.
“In our sport, they have to move like the show ponies, but jump like a ‘hunter’,” said Cara. Eighteen years ago, the Cheskas were pioneers in looking across the pond for said ponies, and it was a time when shipping to the USA was considerably cheaper.
“We still import ponies but 18 or so years ago, we used to buy them based on the postage stamp picture in Horse & Hound,” said Cara. “They had photos of them moving like this,” she said, stretching her arms out straight and scissoring them back and forth.
The majority of ponies were bought purely with a leap of faith based on the small classified photo. “Most of them we would call the number on the ad up and work out a deal,” said Cara. “And the ponies would come right away. It was very easy to get them here.”
A few were tried out at horse shows in Scotland and Ireland. “We got known as the crazy Americans with the measuring stick,” she said. “Because they had to measure to our standards – to be top of the line 12.2hh, 13.2hh or 14.2hh. In between is hard because then their stride doesn’t usually match what we have to do here.”
They also needed to jump. “I would ask people if I could jump their ponies and they would look at me like I had four heads,” Cara said.
At the time pony breeding in the USA was popular and the Cheska’s decision to import was unusual. But shipping a horse to the USA cost $5,000 and the Cheskas would pay somewhere between £2,00o and £3,000 for a pony. By the time they had trained them for the show worlds of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the like, the asking price could be between $40,000 to $50,000.
Many of the ponies they imported blazed a trail of ribbons across the showgrounds. All of them had the word ‘home’ in their name. Home Court from Edinburgh and Home At Last from Dublin were two of the top imports.
Cara and Donald still look in Europe for prospects – Welsh section B being one of the preferred breeds. “Now because of the internet and cellphones, it’s so much faster [to review the ponies],” Cara said. “But now it’s $12,000 to get them here. It’s still profitable, but the ponies are for children so the small ones have to be so far along, in order to make a profit on them. There are no chances to be taken anymore.”
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