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Horse Nobody Wanted Wins National Pony Club Eventing Championship

by Stephanie Lawson

Photo credit:  GRC Photography

Susie Weidman doesn't know much about the mare she named Leap of Faith. Just that the 16 hand thoroughbred, who may be in her 20's, got herself kicked out of Linden Hall's lesson program for her unruly behavior. That she somehow ended up in the barn of Susie's dad's co-worker, Phil Shober, and his wife Geri, in Reinholds, Lancaster County. And that Susie wanted her in the worst way.

Leap of Faith, or Tayla, is excitable, wants to move around constantly, and won't stand to be tacked. Under saddle she can be good or she can be "kind of piggish", hopping and rearing.

Tayla was not the ideal first horse for a 13-year-old novice from a non-horse-owning family. But she was available. And to Susie, who never dreamed she'd own a horse, that was what counted.

It's safe to say that in July 2004, when Susie first sat on Tayla, none of their connections envisioned them winning the 2007 United States Pony Club Novice Eventing Championship at the Kentucky Horse Park. Just convincing her non-horsey parents to give her a chance with the mare took the persuasion only a horse crazy teenager can muster.

Against Horse

Susie's parents are not animal people, and are definitely not horse people. "This is not our thing at all. I didn't understand or appreciate it," Susie's mom, Joan Weidman, said. "We weren't sure we wanted to be a part of that world. It's expensive and time consuming."

After first encountering horses as a nine year old at a company picnic at the Shobers', Susie was doing very well in lessons at a local hunter barn. It became apparent that she had outgrown all the lesson horses, both skill-wise and physically Susie at age 16 is 5'8". "Everyone could tell she had talent but we weren't willing to spend the money," Joan said.

Tayla was standing in the Shobers' barn without a job. "They told us, 'no one wants her, we'll let you have her'," Joan remembers. "I said 'we are not even going to look at a 21-year-old horse, because then she'll have a year and it will be the same thing all over again'."
Susie lobbied for six months and finally her parents relented. "She said, 'Mom, that horse has way too much energy to be 20'," Joan remembered.

$25 a Month Lease

Shober made Tayla available for a $25 a month lease. Susie took Tayla to some hunter schooling shows. The first was nearly a disaster when the mare dumped the brand new saddle in the dirt and left Susie in tears just trying to get her tacked up. But things improved and they won the series championship at Bridge Acres.

That winter Tayla developed an abscess that wouldn't heal, Joan had eye surgery that left her unable to drive for several months, and Tayla's bad behavior continued. "We sent her back to Shober's farm and said that's it, we're done. I was afraid for her safety because the horse was out of control," Joan said.

Come spring, Susie begged for another chance with Tayla. "I knew my dad wouldn't let me have another horse after all the bad experiences, and I just knew Tayla had the energy and the will to be a great partner. I love to jump and I had the feeling if she focused her energy she would love it as much as I do."

Susie told her mom she wanted to event. They moved Tayla to Charming Creek Farm in Robesonia, which is not an eventing barn but which had some small cross country jumps left over from a previous owner. Tayla almost got herself thrown out again for ripping the cross ties off the wall on a daily basis. "She was as bad-mannered as when I had last seen her," Susie said. "One Friday my parents called the owners to pick her up because she was too out of control." Then Susie discovered if she tacked the horse outside, where she could see other horses, she could get the job done. By Saturday she had bought herself one more week.

Leap of Faith

Susie gradually got Tayla to trust her, gave her the show name Leap of Faith, and began training her in dressage and cross country. In early 2005 the Wyomissing teen, who will be a sophomore this year, joined the Berks Pony Club, Michael Matz's alma mater. She learned more and more about the care of horses and together they worked to the C-2 rating level.

With no trailer, they started begging rides to small events. Tayla was a star. In two seasons of competition, she has not had a rail down in stadium and has had only one fault, a refusal, in cross country. The pair entered their first United States Eventing Association event in November 2005 and placed third.

"We realized this was a train we were not getting off," Joan said. "She's so good at it and so passionate about it I couldn't say you can't do this. But I still dread it and the competition has taken a toll on the family."

In the spring of 2006, Susie's dad Steve got a bonus, and the Weidmans made plans for a new stove and kitchen counters. "Two days later, I said, 'I really need a horse trailer'," Joan remembered. "And a truck. I still don't have a new stove or counters." Her dad surprised Susie in September, 2005 by buying Tayla for her.

The pair condition on the trails, have a ring to practice dressage and three or four standards for stadium practice. Susie works with a dressage coach, Gail Carpency, but is on her own for jumping, other than occasional tune-ups with a trainer.

First at Regionals
Susie placed first in the novice division at Pony Club regionals, which were held at Fair Hill, to qualify for nationals. She went to Kentucky as a part of the Eastern Pennsylvania novice team, which also included Shannon Pitt, Gina Perri, and Emily Walkup of Unionville, Chester County. The team, which named Susie captain, competed against 21 other teams from across the country. They finished third, with Susie winning the first place individual ribbon.

"I always wanted to ride the Rolex course at the Kentucky Horse Park and never imagined I would," Susie said. "My dressage test was in the big stadium where the World Cup will be held. It was really cool. I was really nervous for that, because Tayla is afraid of the letters. I tried to keep her calm and we were in fifth after dressage.

"For cross country, she was really fast in the warm up. She was all fired up and I felt more confident because I knew she wanted to do well. We had no jumping or time faults and moved up to second.

"It was pouring rain for the stadium part. I had spent 45 minutes warming up and as I went to enter the ring they announced they were going to hold until after the rain. Someone at the gate let me slip in so I wouldn't have to wait. The course looked hard but we went clean. I wasn't allowed to talk to my mom until 6 pm so I didn't know I had won. A friend teased me that I had missed a flag and gone off course and was disqualified. I was really upset, then she told me I had won."

Susie and Tayla have qualified for the second year for the Wellpride American Eventing Championships in IL. "I'm a teacher and I can't take her," Joan said. "The budget doesn't allow it, nor the work schedules." Instead, Susie plans to step up to training level. "We'll try a small event and see how it goes," she said.

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