Pony Lane Farm enjoyed a banner day during the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, one of the highlights of the prestigious Devon Horse Show, held May 21-31 in Devon, Pennsylvania.
While Maggie Jayne guided Pony Lane Farm's The Answer to the top call, Liza Boyd and Sterling weren't far behind, clinching third place with arguably the day's most impressive Handy Hunter Round. What's more impressive, though, is that Sterling is just a First Year Green horse.
Liza admitted that she may have ridden too conservatively in the Classic Round.
"In the schooling area, he had taken note of the gaited horses and carriages," she said. "I kind of lost his focus. I wasn’t sure where he was in his mind, and so I was conservative at beginning of the first round course. As he went, he got better and better."
When Liza walked the course, she decided that the last high-option fence was so big and wide that she probably shouldn't attempt it with Sterling because she didn't want to risk a rail. As she neared the end of the course, however, she reconsidered her plan.
"At that point I thought, 'There are a lot of horses in the class. I think I really needed those 2 points.' I was very fortunate that I did take that fence because I wouldn’t have made it to the second round," she recalled. "That situation is what makes the derbies fun, even on course you're problem solving. What do I do? Where do I make up points? Knowing I was conservative at the beginning, I knew I had to do something. He jumped that last jump so well, too. It was a solid 4’3” and super wide. It was a very meaty brush in jump, and even though it was big it was very inviting. Every horse jumped it spectacularly."
Going into the Handy Round, Liza and Sterling stood 11th, just ahead of Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy in 12th. Liza was able to watch Jen and Jersey Boy tackle the course before her.
"We were able to re-walk the course before the Handy," she said. "There was an inside turn to the third-to-last jump that people were like, 'Really Liza? You’re looking at that?' My Dad knows me well enough, so he didn’t say yes or no but 'just do what you need to do.'
"Jen’s like me. When we're at the bottom we go for it. I knew she would go for it on Lewis," said Liza. "She wanted to do the turn and looked at it but didn’t do it after all. She said Lewis wasn't on his game that day. He's not as easy to ride, but still the fact she didn’t take it made me think…but at that point, I still had nothing to lose. This horse is really handy. I don’t think I’ve ridden a horse that backs up to the jumps so well. You can push at him, and he never touches the bit. He's soft and loose and elastic.. He’s like a rubber band. I just thought, 'We’re going to do it.' He was right there, and I did make the inside turn, and he did it easily. When I came out of the ring, people were like, 'How was it?' I don’t know if I would have made that turn with Brunello. It's deceiving how handy he is."
In the end, no one else attempted the inside turn that Sterling accomplished for Handy Round scores of 9 across the board. Kelley Farmer looked like she was going to try it aboard Mindful, but she didn't. By the time the top three in the standings tackled the course, they were far enough ahead to not have to worry about Liza and Sterling and didn't attempt the difficult turn. They could go around and still receive the base scores to win.
"But with that being said, we went from 11th to third," said Liza. "That's also what makes these derbies so exciting. The second round is like a jump-off. If you take a chance, you might have a rail, and there were some rails in the class."
Earlier in the week, Sterling competed in the First Year Green section, where he picked up consistent ribbons."If he made a mistake, it was First Year mistake," said Liza. "He'd be staring off into crowd, for example. He was sixth in the second class over fences, and then the next day he walked right in there and won. He got a Devon blue!"
For Liza, their week at Devon led right back to a story that started exactly a year earlier. "It all coincided. On May 30 last year, the day [daughter] Adeline was born, I received a video of Sterling and the guy who sent it said in the email: 'Your next derby horse.' I had just had Adeline, and I couldn’t fly to Europe and try him. Then, the summer came along and I got going and got busy. Long story short, Kelley and Larry [Glefke] bought him, but then I still ended up getting him because Maddy [Thatcher] picked him out. It's funny how that happens and things are just meant to be."
Pony Lane Farm's Scripted also got nice ribbons with Liza aboard in the Second Year Green section. "He went quite nicely. Every time he went in the ring he improved, and I really felt I got to know him better. I learned some things about the horse that will make him even easier for Maddy. I'm excited for Maddy to get back on and do him this summer. Both horses walked away from Devon better educated and ready for Maddy to have a great summer on."
During Junior Weekend, Khaki Run LLC's Castelli earned the Small Junior Hunter, 15 and under reserve championship with rider Mckayla Langmeier aboard.
"The horse was great. He was so consistent," said Liza. "Every time he went in he was so solid and jumped great. Mckayla is a pleasure to teach and is such a good rider, so humble and appreciative. It was fun to be a part of her winning team that weekend. She was Grand Junior Hunter champion Missy Clark's Cuba and did great in the equitation, too."
Owner Alley Millam is just finishing an internship in Washington, D.C. and will return to the show ring in July. "It will be good to have Alley back, and her parents were so supportive to keep her horse going while she was gone," said Liza. "Castelli stayed in a wonderful program and is ready for her to come back. She'll take lessons on Castelli and her jumper in June and will be ready to go to Tryon next month.
Liza credited Mckayla and Megan Rosenthal for their great rides aboard Castelli in the junior hunters. "Mckayla showed him in Florida, and after that we asked her to show him at Devon," said Liza. "We brought him home unsure of who would show him during the spring, and Megan stepped up. She really kept him super tuned up, and they were champion or reserve every time out. Megan's the daughter of a professional, and I've helped her before once in a while, so I knew she would be a great fit. They’re both lovely riders, and we’re lucky to have them both."
Finally Farm riders Stella Styslinger and Zola Thompson also qualified for and competed at Devon, with Eloise and Mr. McGregor, respectively. "It was great that they qualified, and they were excited to get in and be there," said Liza. "It was a great preparation for the rest of the summer."
Kinda Funny and Theresa Tolar earned several jogs in the Large Pony Hunter section, and was on the winning Large Pony Hunt Team. "She rode really well. Winning the Hunt Teams was a great way to walk away from Devon," said Liza. "She and her teammates went in and had fun but also rode really well. Contrary to what many people think, the Hunt Teams aren't judged on who has best costume but who rides the best. They had great costumes, though, and music. All three went in the ring and found the jumps, and they were especially good about waiting and pealing off and jumping the last in perfect sync. They did a fantastic job."
Liza returned home in time to help Adeline celebrate her first birthday on Saturday. "She's walking like crazy all over the place now," said Liza laughing. "We had a little party for her. Elle went off to Pony Camp this week in Camden at Springdale Stables. The summer is off and running."