My 4-year journey to 2014 Pony Finals

Four years ago, I was given the opportunity to work with a pony that turned out to be the love of my life. As far away as it seems, it was only 5 years ago I was learning the basics of riding. After a year, I moved to Graceful Image Farm, in Chester NH, and began training with Jodi Gitschier. A rescue pony came from the Camelot Auction and needed someone to love her. One Thursday night in December, I took my very first lesson on her. I got off with blisters on my hand from pulling so hard on the reins to slow her down. We showed several times that summer in the 18" equitation and hunter classes, not many ribbons but I was not discouraged, only determined. The first year was tough as it was a constant battle every lesson. Puzzle wanted to race and play and fight with me, and she could not do a lead change to save her life. It took almost a year of trying a million different methods to teach her lead changes, but we finally got them. However, lead changes weren't our only struggle. She had a "mare" attitude and could be aggressive when being handled but I began to love every naughty thing about that pony. The following year, we trained to show as a hunter pony. She was not happy so we tried her in the puddle jumpers midway through the year and she seemed to love it. I became determined to work my hardest in what seemed to make us both happy - Jumpers. We had a great show season the next year getting better and better, showing at NHHJA Finals and claiming 4th out of 20 in the puddle jumpers. But I was determined to go further. I didn't have a perfect or the best pony, I didn't have top of the line tack or the most money, but what I did have was an amazing bond with Puzzle and crazy determination. After months of begging, I talked my mom and my trainer into letting me try to qualify for the 2013 USEF Pony Finals in Lexington KY. It was a long shot and showing at this level was new to the entire team (my mom, my trainer, Puzzle and I), but I believed in her so we laid down the plan. That winter I worked the hardest I've ever worked. Our first show was a little shaky moving up to higher jumps but we kept trying. The next show, in Westbrook, CT, had fences that were "big" and "scary". In one of the classes, Puzzle fell and our confidence was gone. She started stopping at jumps and was terrified. The Team decided we needed to take a step back and re-group. As devastating as it was at the time, I am now a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. If we hadn't had the extra year to train and prepare, I think it would have been a huge disappointment to go to Pony Finals. We went to work re-building our confidence and with hard work it returned. We began to consistently take home blue ribbons and acquire points. Puzzle and I had developed a trust that made us a strong team. We were super grateful but believed there was always more to perfect. We returned to Westbrook this past Spring and took home Reserve Champion - what an amazing experience. I had hinted around to my mom and Jodi about the Devon Horse Show in PA. It had been a dream of mine too, but I felt like it was too much to ask with us already trying for Pony Finals. My mom secretly submitted the application for Devon. On the morning I learned I had fractured my foot and needed 4 – 6 weeks of “rest”, Devon posted their invitation list and my mom told me the good news. It was nerve wracking having other people hack Puzzle and I was anxious to get back on her. Despite the pain, I was eager to continue training. Devon finally arrived and it was a huge difference from what we were used to. I was competing against 21 of nationally ranked ponies on my little pony from the auction; it was quite intimidating. I was thrilled to tears to finish our first class, even though it wasn't perfect, I thought she was. The next day I was 3rd to the last to compete in the second class. I was nervous but felt inspired by compliments we got from people in the crowd as we were warming up. One man told me he had a feeling we were going to do awesome. We went clean in the first round and had the fastest clear time in the jump off moving us in to first place. The longest 10 minutes of my life followed while the last 3 competitors finished. We had won the class and I couldn't hold back the tears of joy and pride. My family and friends back home were able to share in our victory as they watched on the USEF Network. Our “cheering section” from home at Devon received honorable mention from the announcer! I don't think I will ever be able to put into words how proud I was of Puzzle that day. She continues to amaze me. We continued our quest for Pony Finals and ended the qualification period in first place in Zone 1. A few weeks ago, we received our official invitation to the 2014 Pony Finals. The journey has been absolutely insane; it’s been emotional, hard, and frustrating yet my heart is overflowing with love for this incredible pinto pony. It has broken me down and lifted me up time and time again, but I still wouldn't trade it for anything. Puzzle is truly a one-in-a-trillion pony and I have enjoyed every single second with her. It’s crazy to think I'm measuring our time left to Pony Finals in weeks, when it feels as just yesterday it was two years away. I am forever grateful for the chance to take this journey with Puzzle and I am looking forward to the big challenge ahead.

Pony Jumper Championships is held in Lexington, KY, from August 5th – 9th. In anticipation of this trip, I have been babysitting and cleaning barns to earn money. The costs from August 2nd to the 11th include: trailering, stabling, rental car, coaching fees and expenses, hotel, entry fees, team attire, gas, food, etc. My mom works a full time job and has supported me endlessly through all the trips to the barn, getting ready for shows, washing both Puzzle and my stuff, and coordinating all the schedules. I would like to help her by offsetting some of these costs which currently totaling $5,000. Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated

It overwhelms me to realize I have outgrown Puzzle and this will be our last year showing together. I will never forget the tricks I taught her, like to open the gate, give kisses, and to bow, and the million times she has tickled me on the neck or played with me in the paddock. I will always remember our first victory gallop, every ribbon, every lesson and every time she made me smile. As we count down these next two weeks, I look back on our transition from a girl who was learning to ride, on a pony who had no training, to a blue ribbon team. I don't know whats going to happen at the 2014 Pony Finals, but I do know that one day I will be sitting in a rocking chair telling my grandkids about her, and my endless love for the hopeless auction pony that helped me achieve my dreams.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98EctRrOcMc&list=UUaNGidvBfSE192mro2aHLbg
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Organizer

Hannah Robbins 
Organizer
Chester, NH
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