The Road to Pony Finals

By: Mia Sessums

We all know that a “joke” is something that seems too far from reality to be true but is funny because it is laced with truth. I used to joke with my trainer about getting a pony. My trainer, Diane Weber, runs North Star Farm in Lutz, Florida. North Star is my second home because I spend so much time there training my jumper horse, Baccus de la Miliere. North Star is home to some of the most talented and beautiful ponies and an excellent riding program. I have always enjoyed helping the younger pony riders at shows by setting jumps, giving high fives, and filming their competitive rounds.

So, during each show, the running joke I had with my trainer was: “I should get a pony.” Even though I was 16 years old, I wanted to “jokingly” enjoy the Pony World experience. Diane initially would just shake her head, laugh, and respond, “Oh Mia, you don’t have time.” Finally, she called my bluff and surprised me with, “if you are serious, let’s start looking.” The laughter turned into a Florida-wide search for the right pony who checked all the boxes.

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It was late February 2020 when a Facebook post for an up-and-coming pony prospect caught my attention. The ad read “Crown Ridge Royal Jovilee, 2016 British Riding Pony, Cusop Jovial x Northwind Margarita.” She was simply beautiful to the eye with a lofty trot, but the real question was, did she have the correct mentality to compete at the highest level? We set up a trial at HITS Ocala, and Jovi checked more than all the boxes.

Diane and I both liked the potential we saw with Jovi. Even my dad fell in love with her movement and temperament. Just like that, the Sessums family welcomed another family member. A silly joke now had four legs and a heart of gold; I needed to shift my undivided attention to Jovi to help her develop within a given time.

In March 2020, our partnership of hard work started and has been quite the accomplishment now: Jovi is well known and accomplished in the central Florida area as a top competitor in the Large Green Division. There is no denying her lofty trot and knees-to-nose jump that routinely wins over the judge’s hearts. To top it off, this 5-year young sweet cuddle bug also enjoys safely taking a wide-eyed 8-year-old jockey around the x-rails course and being doted on. She has a loving heart. My little family of Baccus, Jovi, and I spend 3-5 days a week training at the barn.

Baccus could not be more different than Jovi, as he is no cuddle bug and competes in the High Child/Adult 1.10/1.15 division. Training them both over the past 18 months has taught me so much. My riding mentality has to shift daily from the clever and aggressive riding of Baccus in the jumper ring to the calm, patient, and specific coursework in the Hunter ring with Jovi. It seems fitting that Jovi qualified for Pony Finals at HITS in Ocala, where my joke became a reality, and our love and devotion to our successful partnership first blossomed.

The prep and training path we have journeyed to Pony Finals has been intensive. Most people think it’s a repetition of three ideas: model, flat, jump, repeat. Diane is a firm believer of flatwork for balance and strength, so Jovi and I spent a lot of time in the ring or field practicing circles and straight lines.

This combination of training and focus has led to much success over fences in the show ring. Jovi is relaxed and confident in the practice and show ring as we work on stride length and suppleness that will come into play with the long bending lines at Pony Finals. Jovi has excelled at all the “A” shows that North Star Farm competes at ESP, HITS, and WEC Ocala. She is ready for the big stage in Lexington at the Kentucky Horse Park in a few weeks.

Some of my Pony World tips for the riders of younger ponies at shows are to bring a flower box, a scrim, or turf to jump in the schooling ring, know and stick to your pre-show training/warm-up routine, and figure out if you need to arrive early to longe your pony or hack in the show ring.

These simple steps can help ensure your success in the show ring. I also plan to pack my Pony Finals show trunk with my favorite Ride Every Stride products, such as my North Star Farm Pony Pals logo dandy brush, insulated water bottle, scrim, and baseball hat. Ride Every Stride provides high-quality products that are the perfect match for my talented and capable Crown Ridge Royal Jovilee.

These products have made all the difference in our success. Wish us luck as we take this “joke” to the next level of reality in Kentucky. All joking aside, I couldn’t be prouder of how far we have come.

Photos and video courtesy of Mia Sessums.

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