Pennsylvania Horse World Expo is one of the biggest and best in the country, and with Penn National and Parx racecourses nearby it is surrounded by Thoroughbred people.
It should be no surprise then that despite the light crowds for earlier sessions, it was standing room only in the 2,200-seat Equine Arena for Pennsylvania’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred Contest on March 7.
The four contestants had been carefully selected from among 27 applicants for their ability to perform in front of a crowd and inspire an audience to favor Thoroughbreds for riding.
Hanging Tree (show name Hakuna Makata) and his rider Olivia Rickards showed just how well it can turn out when the right four-year-old off the track is matched with the right twelve year old girl. Their absolutely rhythmic, relaxed, and forward ride over the course of jumps showed why they made it to the USEF Zone Finals and beat so many warmbloods over and over again in their eight years showing together. They made it all look easy and their trust in each other was moving to watch.
Tractor (show name Old-Fashioned Love Song) and Monica Fiss of Windswept Stables had his racing connections from Sylmar Farm on hand to cheer for them. They demonstrated what can happen when racing folks team up with good riders to find the right niche for a good horse. Tractor wasn’t much faster than a tractor on the track, but in front of this crowd he showed the movement, the presence and the talent that sport horse buyers shop for in Europe. They have been winning in their first combined training events and they very nearly won at the Expo.
Petey Cap and Emily Daignault both started out on the track, and thanks to CANTER Pennsylvania they found each other. They demonstrated the tight turns and galloping style that have made them tough to beat on the jumper circuit, and turned the crowd on when Emily insisted on raising the jumps six holes. Emily asked the crowd to root for the “little guy” and it nearly worked to give her the win.
Proud Chestnut (show name Pardoned) and her tactful rider Kimberly Nevitt came to Pennsylvania to smash stereotypes, and they did. Who would think that a chestnut Thoroughbred mare in her second year off the track would hit the A-circuit and wind up 11th overall in the 3’6”green hunters for all of NY, NJ, and PA? And who would expect her to do that barefoot with a rider who could only afford to attend those shows by braiding everyone else’s horses? That wasn’t enough to give them the win. They had to prove themselves to this crowd. Three lead changes on a straight line, jumping courses in a neck rope, jumping bareback, rein backs, western-style sidepasses, and beautiful form over fences sealed the deal.
Judges Sue Smith of CANTER PA, Bev Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, and Peter Giangiulio of PA Horse Breeders and Castle Rock Farm couldn’t agree on a winner. They asked the crowd for a final applause for each horse and it was wild for all four. It was pretty clear, however, that things got a little louder for the barefoot chestnut mare, Proud Truth. Kimberly went home with the $500 check from PA Horse Breeders Association, and the others got $100 from RRP. All four got big tubs of Cosequin ASU from Nutramax and saddle pads and shirts from RRP.