Lexington, KY - August 10, 2014 - From 7 a.m. until well into the afternoon, talented young pony rider after talented young pony rider trotted into the Alltech Arena to vie for the win in the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Final, but there was one talented rider in particular that stood out from among the 169 entries: Taylor St Jacques.
St Jacques and her mount, Happy Feet, met the opening vertical of the first round course perfectly, setting the tempo for nine more seamless fences, a well executed simple change of lead down an outside line and a firm halt at the end of her course.
That first round course shot St Jacques to the top of the standby list for further testing, and she would remain untouched in that first place position through to the end of three total rounds, clinching the 2014 USEF Pony Medal Final victory.
"I'm really excited,' said a smiling St Jacques following her win. "This is my second year at Medal Finals, and I wasn't expecting it to go as well as it did today.'
From the initial course, judges Karen Healey and Stacia Madden called back the top 20 riders for round two: another 10 fence, Richard Jeffery's designed course. From there, they whittled it down further, calling back the top four for additional testing on the flat.
St Jacques, Camyrn Halley, Ericka Koscinski and Alexandra Pielet demonstrated the walk, trot, canter and sitting trot in the counter-clockwise direction before reversing and performing the same gaits sans stirrups.
The final testing confirmed what the judges had thought all the way through from the first round: that the victory was St Jacques'. Finishing behind St Jacques in the second place position was Pielet, while the third place honor went to Koscinski.
"Going into the second part of the first test I was just focused on staying smooth again, trying to keep my heels down and looking up,' 15-year-old St. Jacques said. "There are usually a few minutes when I get really nervous - but then after I realize that it's just another trip at another horse show I'm fine. I try to not let it get to me and just think 'I'm just going in again for another trip just to be judged again.' When I start overthinking I really start over thinking, and it goes badly.'
St Jacques trains with Bill Schaub and Molly Sewell at Over the Hill Farm, and she credits much of her win today to their training and to the generosity of Lily Ezrow. Ezrow is currently leasing St Jacques' winning mount, Happy Feet, and she has allowed St Jacques to show the pony for the past several months.
"I really want to thank Lily and her mom Isabelle,' St Jacques said. "I'm really fortunate to rides these ponies, and I've had a great time on them. I'm really happy that they're happy for me and that they're letting me do this.
"They've been very generous,' Schaub added. "I'm very proud of Taylor. She's worked very hard and learned a lot. We just really emphasize keeping the basics strong and working on exercises, and then it all makes everything fit together. Pony Finals isn't really something you can practice for. You've got to learn all of your skills so when you're thrown out there you can do whatever test they ask of you."
St Jacques has handled any and all tests thrown her way this week at the USEF Pony Finals with ease. In addition to her win today, St Jacques was reserve champion in the Large Green Pony Hunters with Empire's Victory, champion in the Medium Pony Hunters with Finders-Keepers and the recipient of the 2014 Mindy Darst Perpetual Trophy. The trophy was presented to St Jacques as the rider the judges deemed the most likely to become a top professional rider.
Perhaps making her final USEF Pony Finals win today a little bit extra special for St Jacques was being able to finish on top alongside some of her closest friends.
"My top three closest friends were us three that got the top three [St Jacques, Pielet and Koscinski],' Pielet said.
Pielet made one of the biggest moves up the rankings throughout the three rounds, climbing from ninth after the first round to the eventual second place spot.
"I was really nervous because [Secret Love] kept wanting to go faster as he got closer to home. I was like 'no, no,' and I was really nervous,' Pielet said of her first round course. "Then it was a lot quieter and smoother the second one. I was just so concerned about making (the second round]. Then I just relaxed' and it was fun."