From The Chronicle of the Horse
By Molly Sorge
It was hard to miss Alexa Elle Lignelli's smile at the Pennsylvania National. Her grin was ear-to-ear during junior weekend, Oct. 13-15 in Harrisburg.
Lignelli couldn't contain her excitement on Day 1 of the pony divisions, as she and iParty topped the conformation class, then placed second in the handy. And then she followed that up with a win in the under saddle and second in the stake class to claim not only the small pony tricolor, but also the grand pony hunter title.
Lignelli's smile in the grand pony hunter awards ceremony outshone the trophies she won, but she still wasn't done. She picked up the Best Child Rider on a Pony title, too.
"She has nerves of steel! She's always telling me to calm down; she doesn't understand why I get nervous," said Bill Schaub, who trains Lignelli. "She loves the competition. That's unusual for someone so young. And she doesn't get emotional. If she has a bad round, she comes out smiling, we talk about it, and she goes back in.
"Her mother's instilled that in both of them," Schaub said of Lignelli, 9, and her sister Agatha. "She's taught them that you have to learn how to win and how to lose."
It was a stellar debut for Alexa's first indoor season with iParty (Dragoncroft Pintado—Loafers Lodge Isis). The half-Welsh pony, who is also 9, won the small pony hunter title last year as well with Lila Mark riding.
"I knew she loves this ring, so I was hoping things would go well here," said Alexa, who took up iParty's reins after the Washington International Horse Show (D.C.) last year.
"She's very huntery. You have to know her pace very well though. If you find her good pace, all the distances just come up. It's not really galloping, but definitely not slow," Alexa said.
Alexa and Agatha, 6, live in New York City and ride with Katie O'Donnell on Long Island and with Schaub, of Sanford, Fla. Their show ponies, including iParty, live with Schaub, and they meet them at shows. But they travel to Long Island whenever they can to ride at O'Donnell's Twin Oaks Farm.
And at Twin Oaks, the Lignelli girls have a much more relaxed atmosphere than at the show ring. "They spend hours out there, playing with the ponies and grooming and bathing them," said their mother, Catherine Lignelli. "They clean stalls. This high-end show circuit is very different, but I think that there needs to be a balance. That's so valuable to my girls. They do this, and then they ride bareback and take the ponies swimming in the pond."
Catherine rides casually, so when her daughters expressed an interest in ponies, she dove in. "It's such a wonderful sport. We're nothing but blessed to be involved in this. I'm so impressed with all the rider and the supportive families I've met," she said.
When they met Schaub this winter, Catherine thought he would be a good fit for the girls. "Bill is a very special man. His character was something that drew us to him. I thought it was a good fit for my girls' character," she said.
Schaub started helping Alexa at the ring just before the U.S. Pony Finals (Ky.) this year. "She won the under saddle at Pony Finals, but then we had some bad luck there. She was reserve last week at Capital Challenge [Md.], so she's been working her way up to this," Schaub said. "When she first came to me, she got along with [Rollingwoods Knee Deep] the best, and she was a bit on and off with iParty. But now they've really come together. IParty is such a lovely pony across the ground. She'll be sassy in the stall, but in the ring she loves to win."