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LIBBIE GORDON AND EVELYN WALKER JUMP TO FIRST TWO 2017 USEF PONY FINALS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Libbie Gordon Award.jpg

The first two champions of the week were crowned at the prestigious 2017 USEF Pony Finals Wednesday, with Libbie Gordon and Mia Albelo's Childs Play Hot Topic victorious in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, and Evelyn Walker and Captain Crunch maintaining their lead and earning the top spot on the podium ahead of the rest of the Small Green Pony Hunter field.

Entering the final jumping phase of competition in fourth position in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, the 14-year-old Libbie, who rides as a 13-year-old, and "Hottie" had stiff competition ahead of them. The pair from North Carolina sat a mere two points behind Claire Campbell and Brighton, owned by Maher Family, LLC, the leaders of the class after the model and hack. Rising to the challenge by laying down a stellar over fences round, Gordon and the pony managed to not only best the three pairs sitting ahead of them, but earned the third-highest over fences score of 253.10 in a division with nearly 140 entries. Gordon and Childs Play Hot Topic ultimately separated themselves from their competitors with cumulative marks on 1016.64, one of only three pony-rider pairs to break the 1000-point threshold.

The reserve championship for the division was claimed by Baylee McKeever and Tantallon Co-Captain, owned by Cecelia D'Amore, who finished the day with a score of 1007.41, trailed closely by Alliyah Antoniadis aboard Maggie Huffman's Touch The Sun, who made the jump to third place overall from the 17th position after one of the highest-scoring over fences trips of the afternoon. Minty Mellon and Tamara Mellon's Del Ray concluded the competition in fourth place, up from 28th place to begin the day, and Gabrielle Sokolow and Kingston, owned by Ava Peck, rounded out the top five.

In the Small Green Pony Hunter division, California-based Walker and her own Captain Crunch entered the day as the clear leaders, more than 16 points ahead of the next-closest competitor, and that early lead proved helpful in maintaining their status at the head of the herd. As the last to ride in the over fences class, Walker needed a score of 230.85 or better to solidify herself as the division champion ahead of Augusta Iwaskai and Bibby Hill's Thinking Out Loud, and the pair delivered with marks of 234.50 from the judges panel for a total score of 988.40 to capture the tricolor.

Iwasaki and Thinking Out Loud finished the day as reserve champions with a total score of 981.10, followed by Caroline Olsen and Lynne Dow's Farmore Charismatic. With the highest-scoring over fences trip, Taylor Kraft and Silver Dragon, owned by Damchu Stables, LLC, jumped from 15th to claim the fourth position, and Lauren Reid navigated Ramble On Farm's Smoke Tree Starlet to an overall fifth place finish.

Both Gordon and Walker will return to the Walnut Ring later this week with hopes of claiming another championship. Gordon will ride in the Large Greens, Medium Greens and Regular Medium Pony Hunters, each yet to begin. Walker and her own Sir Lukas already showcased themselves successfully in the model and hack in the Small Regular Pony Hunters, and will return for the jumping portion of competition Thursday sitting in fourth position overall.

The 2017 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, will continue through Sunday, Aug. 13. The nation's best young pony riders will be tested in Small, Medium and Large classes of both Regular Hunter and Green Hunter divisions in the Walnut Ring, and the Alltech Arena will play host to Pony Jumper competition Thursday through Saturday. Sunday's feature will be the Pony Medal Finals, one of the week's highlight events.