The opening ceremonies had just finished Friday night, and the leadline class was entering the ring – a single child clad in hunt seat attire aboard a dark colored pony of uncertain breeding. I was sitting patiently, waiting for the Saddlebred classes that were to begin next.
Behind my seat, a mother and her two children, a boy and a girl, stood watching what was presumably their barnmate being led around the arena.
“Can we go sit?” the little girl asked, excitedly.
“Well, I think we’re about to go to dinner as soon as this is over, honey,” the mother replied absently, her attention obviously on the child in the ring.
In a turn of events that must have surprised even the mother, the girl wailed her displeasure, and her response sent my heart soaring even as she cried behind me.
“But we wanted to watch the Saddlebreds!”
Something that sets Pin Oak apart from other shows is that it is a multi-breed competition – one of the last of its kind. Along with the saddle seat contingent, hunters, jumpers and Andalusians populate the show, and the effect is exciting, with many rings in use and classes running all day. There are other benefits, too – sharing a show arena with the Andalusians provides the saddle seat exhibitors with less stressful sessions, as they buffer what could otherwise have been two back-to-back classes for a trainer or rider. It provides saddle seat riders the ability to watch and learn about the other disciplines and, perhaps best of all, it allows them the opportunity to watch and learn about us. In fact, the Five-Gaited Championship took place right before the Grand Prix Saturday night, the stands full of spectators who came to watch the Grand Prix but got caught up in the excitement of five-gaited horses putting on a show, and the cheers were proof of it.
Yet, Pin Oak is more than a horse show, too. It lives up to its name as a charity, donating more than $200,000 to charities annually, including Texas Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at Texas Children’s Hospital. It also supports the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Family Alliance by paying the parking fees for families attending the Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Every March, the parking passes it provides also serve as tickets to the Pin Oak Grand Prix or International Hunter Derby, so that children and their families can come experience the excitement of equestrian competition.
The show reaches out in many other ways throughout the year as well, through various events and activities, gifts, special lunches, and “meet and greets” with therapy ponies and equine movie stars. They also provide what they call “Pin Oak ponies” (horse shaped stress balls) to children who are undergoing treatment, so they can hold onto them during needle pricks and other scary or uncomfortable procedures. It is all part of how Pin Oak brings the healing power of horses to the general public, all for a very good cause.
Stealing the show
Danny Cummins had a big Saturday night, winning with Coin Flip in the Amateur/Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Championship, Attache’s Popeye in the Amateur/Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Championship and then watching trainer Jack Magill take the Five-Gaited Stake victory pass aboard his other gaited horse, Speak No Evil. Making it even more exciting, all three horses won their qualifiers earlier in the show, making it a truly undefeated week.
“I was relieved,” Danny said. “I’m just happy that we had nice rides. I just want the horses to do the best they can do and me to stay out of their way.”
Coin Flip is just a five-year-old and Pin Oak was only the second time he’d shown him instead of Jack, so Danny was particularly pleased with his performance.
Popeye has been Danny’s partner since 2011, and last year the pair won both the Amateur Gentlemen’s Three-Gaited qualifier and Amateur Three-Gaited Championship at Lexington Junior League.
Danny rides about once a week at home to prepare, and does his best to stay in shape.
“I’m getting old, so I try to be fit,” he laughed.
He is competitive, and always wants to do his best. As a result, he tends to put a lot of pressure on himself.
“I just don't want to do anything to cause us to get beat,” he said. “My goal is to not mess up and not mess the horse up. If they're good enough to win and you keep them from it, that's when I feel bad.”
But at Pin Oak, all his horses – and their riders – put in great performances, and Danny is aware that he has it good. He is grateful to his wife, Kathy, for her support and he is happy to once again find himself training at Jack Magill Stables; he rode with Jack from about 1992 to 1997 until he and Kathy moved to Omaha. However, when he retired in 2012 they made the decision to move back, and moved Popeye to Jack’s in 2013.
Since then it has all come full circle, as even his granddaughters now ride at Jack’s.
Nancy Moreno and The Sherman Show have been partners a little over a year and a half, but they have the bearing of a much more seasoned team. At Pin Oak they topped all three western classes – the Western Pleasure qualifier and championship as well as Saddle & Bridle’s Shatner class – under the guidance of trainer Dan Flowers.
Despite their success, Nancy’s main goal is to continue to improve.
“We're still a work in progress,” she said. “We're working on all aspects of western pleasure, especially being very precise. A little bobble that wouldn't be noticed in another class is a pretty serious error, so it’s about learning to pay attention to all the details.”
But this isn’t Nancy’s first time in the western attire. She has had two other western horses with Dan and she loves the division.
“I like that you develop a much closer relationship with your horse and you have to have a big degree of communication,” she said. “Whenever you see a pair that looks effortless in western pleasure there have been hours of work to create that.”
It all came together at Pin Oak, and Nancy gives the credit to Dan, as he was the one who saw Sherman’s potential at Chattanooga Charity in 2013. At the time, Deborah Richardson was showing him in hunt seat, and he won the class.
“He was tough,” Dan said. “She made him look really easy but he wasn’t.”
But there was much to love about the horse. Dan felt that he could teach him to neck rein, and he looked like a true Saddlebred.
“He had a long neck and pretty ears and was just an attractive horse,” Dan said. “In western you have to have an attractive horse in addition to the ability to do the gaits. I needed a horse like him.”
Sherman has proven that he was, indeed, the right horse, and he and Nancy have enjoyed much success in the western division. It was particularly important to Nancy to put in good performances at a show like Pin Oak, where the spectators often include exhibitors of other breeds.
“I really think it’s important to continue to highlight the versatility of the Saddlebred,” she said. “At a show like this, to have them go in and promote the western horse beautifully shows off our breed well to those who aren't familiar with Saddlebreds.”
A birthday win
Whitney Shore may be 12 years old, but she speaks (and rides) like someone older. Paired with her beloved CH Harlem's Miss Abigail under the Foster Farm banner, she is kind, clever, ambitious and mature beyond her years, and at Pin Oak all these qualities shone through when she and “Abby” celebrated their Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure victory for the second year in a row.
Abby is a special mare, as she is the horse who also carried Whitney through her walk and trot days. Whitney is profoundly aware of how unique this is.
“Even though the walk and trot division wasn't really her she pushed through it for me,” Whitney said. “In this division she is giving it her all and rising above even more than I could imagine. She is amazing to commit like that for me.”
Whitney has a competitive spirit, but an extremely caring heart; her goal going into their qualifying class was to win, but to make everyone proud even if they didn’t.
When asked if trainer Nicole Foster offered any advice during their warm up, Whitney answered immediately.
“’Loosen your left curb,’” she said. “It's always been a habit of mine. But even though she gives me advice she gives me her love. She doesn't have to say anything to tell me she loves me.”
This response is a reflection of the special relationship she and Nicole share. She views Nicole as her “second mom,” and appreciates how she keeps her line, and how she pushes her to be and do her best.
Abby, too, means the world to her and, while they have had many offers to buy her, Whitney wouldn’t hear of it.
“She's like a sister, a daughter, a mother, a friend,” Whitney said. “I can talk to her about anything. She is always there to talk to and teach me more … and give me trouble.”
The day after Pin Oak was Abby’s 11th birthday, so Whitney viewed their victory as a pre-birthday gift for her special mare. The week got even better when the team returned to the ring to take reserve in the combined Country Pleasure Championship.
Whitney’s mother, Rochelle, was thrilled.
“I'm so proud of how far she's come but it’s scary too,” she said. “You want everything to go well and her to do her best.”
And Whitney has. Since she first entered the show ring in 2012, her long-term goal has been to be seen as a real competitor, and she felt like she accomplished that at Pin Oak.
“If you push hard enough you can accomplish anything in a short amount of time,” she said. “It took me three years to accomplish my dream but even if it takes 20 you'll get there as long as you keep trying.”
New division, same result
Jessica Cloud and Stonecroft Rumor Has It began their partnership in the junior exhibitor five-gaited division in 2011, and enjoyed much success, with top ribbons at Midwest, Lexington, Louisville and the Royal throughout their career together, under the Jack Magill Stables banner.
Jessica is now in her first year at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and Pin Oak was both her first show since leaving for school, and her first time competing in the amateur division.
“It being my first class on him as an adult, I was worried how I would measure up against the older riders and how he would against a new group of horses,” she said.
But she and “Rumors” made a terrific appearance in the Five-Gaited Show Pleasure Adult class, looking every bit the part of an amateur.
Jessica was both happy and relieved.
“He has definitely proven himself,” she said.
Her goal going into the class was simple – it was to feel as confident as she had before heading to college, since she is no longer able to ride him as often as she’d like.
“I miss him a lot,” she said. “If I weren't riding when I was up there I would be nervous being away from him. I'd be worried that I wouldn't be able to be up to what he needs as a rider.”
Jessica feels that Rumors got better as the class went on, and that part of that was due to her mental state.
“At first I was trying to be a little conservative,” she said. “I think the heat had gotten to him in the warm-up but second direction of the ring he said, ‘I'm ready!’ so I let him go a little bit.”
That is Jessica’s favorite part of showing Rumors – the fact that he is always motivated and passionate.
“He just explodes and is so excited to do it,” she said. “I have never had a show where he was reluctant or tired.”
Going into the championship Jessica’s plan was to try and ride that second direction ride a little earlier and it paid off, as the pair took reserve in the strong combined championship.
“I need to trust that he's ready to go when we hit the ring and just let him do what he does,” she said.
Elly and Alison
Elly Berman and CH Tuffy's Miss Alison have been a force to be reckoned with for a number of years, but what many don’t know is that the show pleasure star was originally intended to be a broodmare. It was trainer Sandy Currier who thought she would be fun to start working again, and showed her for a couple of seasons before Elly took over the reins. It turned out to be a great decision
Last year at Midwest, Elly and “Alison” won the Adult Three-Gaited Show Pleasure 39 & Over class, and they started this year off with a bang, not only winning at SASHA but earning the final points for Alison’s “CH” status. They continued their winning ways at Pin Oak, taking the blue in both the Adult Three-Gaited Show Pleasure qualifier and championship.
“My goal was to stay out of trouble, but luckily it’s a big ring,” Elly said. “I wanted to keep her off the rail and keep her happy and looking at things.”
They managed both, in a division that is often known for being the biggest and wildest of any show. The win was particularly meaningful to Elly as she has a special connection to the show.
“This is one of my favorite shows,” she said. “I’ve been on the board for about 15 years and have been showing here for about 30 years, so it was special to win it.”
Eventually Elly plans to breed Alison again, returning her to her original broodmare intentions.
“She'll be retired soon, and it’s going to be sad when I'm not showing her anymore, but we’ll keep going until she's definitely in foal,” she said. “She's just fun and likes what she's doing. She's one of my favorites to show.”
What a Story!
Story Sinex likes to go fast; that’s why she drives a road pony.
She quickly made a name for herself last year driving her World’s Champion of Champions pony Boogity Boogity aka “Booger.” What many people don’t know, however, is that when she got him, she didn't know how to drive and had virtually no show experience.
“I had only shown once riding when I got him,” Story said.
It was her mother, Krista Sinex, who chose the pony.
“He's just so stinking cute and he just really appealed to me from the pictures,” she said.
While Krista didn’t ride as a child, she was introduced to horses through a friend who rode at Lone Star Saddlebreds, and she was quickly hooked. The growing involvement of Story and her younger brother, Carter, has been very exciting for her.
“It's given me so much of my life and it’s made it even better to share it with my children,” she said.
At Pin Oak, Story and Booger took home the Amateur Road Pony class and Road Pony Championship.
While she loves to go fast, Story’s goal was to work on slowing down their jog to have a more distinct difference in speed, and keeping his head straight when they reversed and when they headed into the lineup.
Her favorite part of showing Booger actually takes place in the lineup, when he parks out and looks around as if to say, “Did you see that?”
“He's really full of himself,” Story said.
However, she knows his weak spot – he’ll do anything for food, especially Skittles.
She was surprised and thrilled when they won their classes, but those weren’t the only blues the Sinex family would be taking home with them; Story made some trips in the ring under saddle as well, winning the Academy WTC Performance Maiden class, and brother Carter won the Academy Walk/Trot Performance Championship as well.
Sydney Young and Seaside Santana or “Wiley” made a splash at Pin Oak, taking second in the UPHA Challenge Cup and going on to win the S&B Pleasure Equitation Medallion under the direction of Vantage Point Farm, in just their second show together. But there is another impressive part to their story – there is a good chance that Wiley is twice the age of many of the horses he entered the ring with. He is 20.
Trainer May Chadick purchased the gelding about two months ago.
“She’s allowing me to show him in equitation, so it’s really great,” Sydney said.
Sydney rides him once or twice a week to prepare, working mainly on pattern work and more pattern work.
Wiley was an adult equitation horse, so he knows the patterns well, and Sydney says he loves it.
“He's a lot of fun,” she said. “You get on him knowing he's 20, but he's game and he loves the pattern so he gets really geared up.”
During their first show at SASHA, Sydney and Wiley took reserve in both the Saddle Seat Equitation qualifier and championship. Her goals going into her classes at Pin Oak were to continue to improve, and to have fun.
The pattern in the Medallion class read as follows: Beginning on the rail to your right, trot on the right diagonal to the mid-point of the rail and continue to trot 1/2 a circle to your left. Halt. Canter the next 1/2 of the circle on the left lead and continue to canter to the end of the straightaway. Halt. Back. Reverse and trot to the end of the straightaway on the left diagonal and return to the lineup without stopping.
Sydney and Wiley performed it beautifully, to be named the winners, much to her mother Kim’s delight.
“It's awesome,” Kim said. “Especially because she started when she was five and to see her progress from then to now.”
Much of that progression has been due to Sydney’s love for the sport.
“I love the horsemanship of it, the challenges and the patterns,” she said.
She isn’t yet sure if she and Wiley will be attending the Saddle & Bridle Pleasure Equitation Medallion Finals at St. Louis National Charity, but she would be thrilled to get the chance.
There were a number of other excellent equitation riders at the show as well, including Abby Lawrence, who won the Saddle Seat Equitation Championship, and took reserve in the qualifier and Medallion, Joan Benjamin, who won the UPHA Challenge Cup and took reserve in the Championship, and Catherine Street who won the Saddle Seat Equitation qualifier. Catherine may have spoken for all of them – and anyone else engaged in the pursuit of equitation perfection – after her win when she said, “I felt like all the little stuff we'd been working on paid off, and it's the little things that count.”
Barn family support
Caroline Henry had never cantered in the show ring before, and she’d certainly never done it aboard Callaway's Right Triumphs Might, the new horse that she had only received around St. Patrick’s Day a few weeks prior.
She named him Lucky due to the luck-centered holiday’s proximity, and her feeling of gratitude.
“I thought it was very lucky to get him,” she explained.
She had ridden him fewer than ten times before the new pair hit the ring at Pin Oak in the Show Pleasure Limit Rider class, so she was aiming for a clean and correct ride in their debut.
“My goal was to get all my gaits,” she said, and they did.
Though the second horse scratched and she and Lucky found themselves making a solo performance in the ring, Caroline worked hard to put in the best performance possible – and there was one particular spot where she knew she would have to pay extra attention.
“When we reverse and trot he tends to canter,” she said. “If you don't say ‘whup trot’ he's not going to do it.”
But, though Caroline was a bit anxious the first time she climbed upon his back, she isn’t scared of Lucky anymore, and she simply sits up and rides through it. She loves his personality, and appreciates him as a partner. She appreciates, too, her fellow barnmates at Fleur de Lis Stables, who were there in full force to support her and cheer her on. Their support meant the world to her, and almost brought tears to her eyes.
“When I was coming down the rail to go into the lineup and they were cheering I had to try not to cry,” she said.
She is excited for the rest of the season with Lucky and her special barn family.
An amateur/owner/trainer victory
Kathryn Park of Park Lane Saddlebreds is an amateur owner/trainer. She bought her 12-year-old mare, Little Piece Of My Heart, or “Lucy,” almost a year ago, and has put a lot of work into her since then. Pin Oak was their first show of the season, and the perfect chance to check up on their progress.
“When I got her she had been out in the pasture for a year,” Kathryn said. “It took a lot of work to figure her out and get her to trust me. She was really nervous in the show ring.”
She worked with Lucy on walking and halting and generally relaxing and listening to her rider.
“We didn’t work as much on trotting and cantering because she knows how to do that,” Kathryn explained.
When they entered the ring for the Three-Gaited Junior/Novice class at Pin Oak, Kathryn could already feel a difference from last year, and the work must have paid off because they exited the ring with the blue.
“I was happy that we won but more happy that she did everything she was supposed to do,” Kathryn said. “That's the most important thing.”
Her goal for their next show is to enter Lucy in the park pleasure division.
“Being an amateur and having to brace her myself is not fun,” she laughed.
However, that probably won’t be until August. For now Lucy will have some time off from shows and will just work on walking and relaxing while Kathryn brings some of the young horses in from the field and starts them.
It’s not easy managing all 8 of her horses by herself, but Kathryn loves it, and feels lucky that she has friends to lean on.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of time – and having good friends that will help you out at horse shows,” she said.