USPC Fuels Pony Power at HITS

Filed under Ponies
Lexie Looker and her grey pony Center Field float over a hunter jump.

Lexie Looker and Center Field win the $1,000 HITS Pony Hunter Prix (Flying Horse Photography)

The return of the HITS $1,000 Pony Hunter Prix on Feb. 2 was a huge success, as 20 pony-rider pairs rode the Outside Course to showcase their A games.

Twenty contenders took to the ring, with 14 returning for round two. It was Lexie Looker and Center Field that finished at the top of the class, delivering two polished rounds that saw their final score of 161, edging out Alivia Hart and Maybeline by a single point.

The event provided the perfect segue to HITS’ USPC Day on Saturday, Feb. 9. That’s when the Desert Horse Park hosts the United States Pony Club, which is rebranding itself “USPC” in an effort to reflect an enhanced breadth of service that now includes a hunt seat track for jumpers and spans ages six to 25.

“There used to be just one test, where you had to ride in an open field, over fences and on the flat. Now we’ve gotten it to where we have specialty programs and allow people to get their certification by test-riding in a show ring, hunter style, if they choose,” said Gary Yettner, who is the regional instructional coordinator for the club and a trainer at D&D Stables based at Hansen Dam.

Yettner, whose Camino Real region has about 300 members, is holding a regional meeting in the Coachella Valley and as part of that will be bringing roughly 50 students and adults to the HITS Desert Horse Park for a special day that includes lectures from the show veterinarians and farrier, a course walk prior to the $54,500 HITS Grand Prix FEI CSI-W 2* World Cup Qualifier and a box supper at the showgrounds’ VIP quarters, the Oasis Club.

The group offers certifications both to children and teens as well as adults who are certified to be instructors. “A candidate must reach certification in one level to move to up to the next, which means their horse knowledge must increase every time they receive a certification. We teach not only riding…. But let’s put it this way, when our members go to a rally, which is your equivalent of a horse show – they take care of their own horses, they prepared their own tack rooms, they feed their own horses, they groom their own horses. They’re supervised, but adults are not allowed to touch their horses.”

Morgan Dickerson and Tonaco on course.

Morgan Dickerson and Tonaco on course for a medal class at HITS. (Flying Horse Photography)

Morgan Dickerson, a 15-year-old who is participating at HITS this year, said his experience with the Pony Club has been “a blast,” and that he learned volumes. Enough to be voted the Sportsmanship Award at the recent USHJA Emerging Athletes conference, where he was a team coordinator in charge of managing the barn and the horses. It says a lot that he received the write-in votes for the award – normally reserved for a riding team member – in his support role, said trainer Healey.

Dickerson is here at HITS in Thermal competing in all the Medals classes, hoping to go East for Finals. Among the other notable Pony Club alumni on site at the Desert Horse Park: Archie Cox, Jenni Martin-McAllister and Will Simpson. Other notables include Thoroughbred racing trainer Michael Matz.

“When you graduate at the A-level you’re practically veterinarian certified, that’s how indepth the knowledge is,” Yettner said.In this day and age where kids can find it easy to “delegate” barnyard chores to support staff, there’s more need than ever for a basic, thorough education, rooted in well-rounded horsemanship, Yettner noted. “It’s like George Morris says,” Yettner intones, quoting everyone’s favorite equine scholar, ‘The best horseman is the one who knows his horse.’”

While the Pony Club – which has its foundation in the fox hunting fields – very much wants to stay true to its traditions and roots, it is also making an effort to reach a broader audience, one that includes show folks as well as those who ride horses. “We have been growing in leaps and bounds,” Yettner explained. “We want to maintain that positive momentum and improve in ways that keep us relevant to all equestrians. We have everything from nationally rated riders to ones that have barely been on a horse, and that’s part of the fun and adventure of the USPC.”

Alivia Hart and her pony Maybelline, on course at HITS.

Alivia Hart and Maybelline placed second in the HITS $1,000 Pony Hunter Prix.
(Flying Horse Photography)

The group has found a fitting partner in adventure in HITS. The company “has a made a huge commitment to pony classes, holding 32 of them each week,    in addition to many Children’s Hunter classes, as well the Junior Hunter and Junior Medal classes, plus Short Stirrup,” HITS vice president Tony Hitchcock said. “These kids work hard and are very committed. We’re proud to support them.”