There’s nothing like a Devon blue, and for the Finally Farm team they came in abundance during Junior Weekend, held May 24-27 in Devon, Pennsylvania.
Maggie Hill, competing at her first Devon Horse Show, captured the Large Junior, 15 and under, championship. In the weeks leading up to the show, trainer Liza Boyd offered Maggie some words of wisdom that carried through.
“I knew she was getting nervous a few weeks before Devon. When she made a mistake, she would say, ‘What are we going to do? Devon’s coming up!’ I told her, ‘Let’s not focus on Devon. This is your first Devon, and you might not get even one ribbon. You have the rest of your life to go to Devon, so try to focus on riding well and leave Devon happy with how you rode and how your horses went.’”
The Sunday before Devon, in a schooling ring in Tryon, Liza pulled Maggie aside and told her, “I believe in you and know you can do well at Devon but go there and be happy. Be happy just getting a ribbon of any color. Some people take a long time to get a Devon blue. I think that took the pressure off, and she arrived relaxed,” said Liza.
Maggie began her Devon debut aboard Charmeur and received her first ribbon on the first day with a fourth in a section of the Dover Saddlery/USEF Medal. That confidence boost set the stage. As the Junior Hunters began on Friday, Liza could see that Maggie was riding confidently.
“By the time she got on O’Ryan, she’d been in the Main Ring a few times. O’Ryan is a great ‘Steady Eddie’ and went so well,” said Liza of Maggie’s Small Junior Hunter. “They earned low ribbons, and then in her first class on Cassanto she was fifth. She ended up with two nice ribbons and was happy. Not a primary. But it was a great start.”
Maggie returned the second day and was on fire. She placed second aboard O’Ryan and won both over fences classes on Cassanto.
“Maggie got better and better each round and more relaxed,” said Liza. “By the last round I was thinking I’d never seen her so relaxed and calm. It was due to her hard work and dedication as well as her supportive parents and these two great horses.
“I have to commend the Finally Farm team, as well. Katie (Wood) really has to be credited. She knows how to prepare both horses and gets them just perfect. Alberto Ramirez got there at 3 a.m. to get a good longeing spot, and for his thorough care in keeping these horses healthy, sound and comfortable. Diane Schiereck does the body work, which makes the difference between an 84 and 88. They feel so good.”
Liza also believes her training partnership with her father, Jack Towell, makes a huge difference in the preparation and the results their riders achieve.
“It’s really developed into a wonderful symbiosis,” said Liza. “Jack has the judge’s perspective and goes over the courses and the handy tracks. Then, I get on in the schooling area first to get the horses sharp and tell Maggie what I feel. So, she receives feedback from both of us. Jack on what the judges would like to see, and because I ride and show them I can tell Maggie exactly what I feel at that moment. It’s a great team.”
Liza and Jack followed that same routine with Abbie and Libbie Gordons’s ponies, Farmore State Of The Art, Small Wonder and Pacific Blue.
Liza rode Farmore State Of The Art in the schooling area and focused on what might help Abbie navigate the ring, keeping him straight and moving forward. Their teamwork paid off, as Abbie and her Small Pony won an over fences class on the first day and placed second in the stake class. Libbie also picked up ribbons aboard Pacific Blue and Small Wonder in the Large Pony section. Abbie also won the Small Pony Hunt Teams with her teammates, riding to the “Top Gun” theme.
For Abbie, Devon was bittersweet. She’s on the verge of outgrowing Farmore State Of The Art and not renewing the lease, so Liza and Jack spent time talking to her and lightening the mood during the course of the show.
“Jack told her some funny stories and little things that helped her,” said Liza. “It’s hard to lose the love of your life, but in the end, she rode beautifully and scored an 88. It was her best round and a huge accomplishment to win at Devon.”
Libbie is also transitioning after Devon and moving out of the ponies, so her ribbons were meaningful, as well. “She just leased a Children’s Jumper named Athletic Lady. She’s a really cute mare, and we’re looking forward to a fun summer with her and then Shamrock in the Junior Hunters,” said Liza.
Elly Ficca was on the standby list for Devon and only found out she’d be going the night before the horses left for the show. But she made the most of her opportunity with Cleopatra’s Smile, winning the first over fences class, placing second in the stake and earning the reserve championship in the Small Junior, 16-17, section.
“It was really close. The mare hasn’t done the Juniors for very long,” said Liza smiling. “Elly was so confident and rode that mare so well. She’s such a great jumper and kicks up so well behind. They’re a great match and kind of meant to be together. I’m so happy for her. It’s her last junior year and to get to go to Devon and win was great.”
Jack and Liza also welcomed the Peacock family back to Finally Farm. They trained Parker Peacock and Glenhaven Astoria to ribbons in the Small Pony section. “She had nice scores in the 80s, and I’m really proud of her,” said Liza. “Her mom, Ashley, rode with us before, so it’s great to have them back.”
Liza credited trainer Lynn Caristo Forgione for all of her support behind the scenes. “Lynn goes to the Peacocks’ and the Gordons’ farms at least once a week and does lessons with them. And then she calls me and goes over what they’re working on, so I want to thank her. She’s not here in the glory, but her hard work is evident.”
Speaking of hard work, Liza also noted that such a successful Devon doesn’t come without dedication.
“We have a wonderful group of kids. They show and practice more than most,” she said. “All of these kids went to Tryon and lessoned beforehand. They’re extremely dedicated, as are they’re parents.
“All of those bending lines at Devon were a piece of cake for them,” she continued. “We’ve been working all year at home and in Wellington and Aiken. I also credit Maggie’s and Elly’s confidence in that they did the USHJA International Hunter Derbies this spring. Those courses were similar to the stake class at Devon. They had to really nail the track, and they did it so easily. I’m so proud of all of them.”