Pony power!! This month on YourDressage, we are celebrating ponies of all breeds. Dressage riders who choose ponies as their mounts are eligible for many Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as there are several pony organizations on our Participating Organization list. Here, a Region 3 rider shares about her meteoric rise from “a grass hayfield in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina” to the top levels in the sport with her Haflinger pony, Adrenaline Rush.
By Suzannah Rogers
Imagine the feeling of waking up on Christmas morning and seeing a perfect Haflinger pony sitting under your tree…. that’s the story of me and Adrenaline Rush! After participating in an educational trip with PeeDee Pony Club to Wellington, Florida through my trainers Sandra (Sandy) Bussey-Turner and Kathryn Butt two years prior to finding Adrenaline Rush, my eyes were opened to a world that I knew that I wanted. Watching Poldy 10 and Katrina Sadis dance in the international ring fostered my dream for a top pony. I knew I wanted a pony, and I knew I wanted to win!
After welcoming Rush into the family in December of 2015, we set about getting to know each other with my trainer Sandy. Sandy and I pushed our training in hopes of competing at the National Dressage Pony Cup national show in July 2016, which was held in Lexington, Kentucky at the time. The National Dressage Pony Cup show, and divisions within other shows, are strictly for ponies at any level, Intro through Grand Prix. It is a fabulous organization that awards some of the most beautiful ribbons! Rush and I competed in Training Level and First Level that year. Our hard work led us to qualify for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 3 Dressage Championships in Training Level and First Level later too. In Training Level, we were just out of the line up by a hair, and in First Level we ended up middle of the pack out of roughly 58 at the 2016 Regionals. Even though we did not have the shining year in 2016 that I had hoped for my first year, as all young riders do, Rush and I had so much to be proud of in terms of experience gained and partnership built.
Later in 2016, I participated in some clinics with Lendon Gray, which really helped Rush and I grow as a pair and enabled me to meet some girls my age who were also on ponies and shared the same goals as me. Lendon was, and continues to be, such an inspiration since she also rode ponies and trained Seldom Seen up to Grand Prix. With the encouragement of Sandy, Rush and I took the plunge and debuted our first FEI Pony test at our local USDF show held in Charleston, South Carolina in February of 2017. It was a scary but exhilarating experience! We had originally planned to wait to begin showing the tests until later that season, but it was fitting that our first attempt should be at our GMO’s show surrounded by our friends and community. My overall goal with Rush was always the FEI Pony tests and scoring a 64% in our first try was a cause for celebration! I was so excited to begin the qualifying season!
The USEF Festival of Champions only takes the top 12 FEI Pony riders, each of whom have 3 qualifying scores from Team and Individual tests with an overall average score above 58%. Rush and I came into Festival with an average in the top three. How cool for a Haflinger to hold such a spot! Leading up to Festival in late August, Rush and I made sure we stayed in top shape with a regimented training schedule by Sandy. We left South Carolina on a Sunday morning and arrived in Illinois on Tuesday. After unloading and resting, we had a big day hacking and walking around the venue the next day. The jog was on Thursday. I had never seen anything so prestigious with everyone dressed up and their horses braided. What an atmosphere! What a stunning venue Lamplight is!
The ponies went on Saturday for the Team test and Sunday for the Individual test. Saturday came quickly, and the ponies were the last class of the day. Rush and I were the last to ride down centerline of the day. It was intimidating riding for three judges. When I halted and saluted, I knew that that was the best test we had ever ridden! This was the first show where I felt like Rush and I were a true team! We won the first day in the Team test, and I was in a total state of shock! I remember saying in the press release after the ride, “I got him for Christmas, and he’s the best present ever…”. Sunday was a little different because everyone had a different attitude going into the Individual test. I did my best to stay calm and cool but ended up second in the Individual test. I figured if I did not win that at least I had gotten to attend. I “got the T-shirt” as people tend to say in South Carolina and gained invaluable experience.
When Hallye Griffin, who is the managing director for US Equestrian, was making sure everyone got their ribbon for the awards ceremony that year, she walked up to me holding the cooler and neck sash that had the 2017 USEF FEI Pony Rider National Champion on it, and I burst into tears! I was just in awe of my pony and my coach, Sandy. We came. We showed, and we won. We did all I had dreamed of accomplishing. There is a running joke that I come from a grass hayfield in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina on a Haflinger pony, but we enjoyed huge success anyway!!
After much needed time off, Rush and I had to come up with new goals. I was invited and accepted into Lendon Gray’s Winter Intensive Training (WIT) Program in Wellington, Florida at Kim Van Kampen’s beautiful Hampton Green Farm from January to March of 2018. I met so many riders that I look up to including Kasey Perry Glass, Debbie McDonald, and so many more. It was a wonderful experience, and I cannot say enough about the friendships and education gained at WIT. I returned to South Carolina in April of 2018 and continued to show Third Level and qualified again for Regionals that year. Rush and I later debuted at Fourth Level together. Sandy and I ended up finishing Rush’s training through the FEI Prix St George. He achieved more than I had ever hoped possible! I owe a lot of gratitude to the breeders of Rush, to my parents, and most importantly, to my trainer Sandy Bussey-Turner, who has guided me for over a decade now.
I believe that Rush and I made a difference in the pony community because I began to notice different breeds coming out to compete and winning the various championships. I think that USDF should offer an FEI Pony division in the regional championships. It would be such a great way to get more kids and ponies competing. I would love to be an asset to the pony community and give back to the ponies. I love the FEI Pony division and hope this story touches hearts and brings out more pony riders!