Virginia Horse Center hosts regional championship

By Emily Leventhal

For many riders, last weekend’s Southwest Virginia Hunter/Jumper Association Finals were the final opportunity to rack up points for the skills they polished over the season.

For others, like Virginia Tech student Maggie Kelleher, the competition was about more than scores.

“It teaches me responsibility,” she said. “My parents always say that they don’t think I’d be as responsible as I am if I didn’t start when I was so much younger. You have to take care of a whole other animal by yourself.”

Riders at the annual show at the Virginia Horse Center compete in one or more categories — hunter, jumper or equitation — within their age groups. Those with the highest totals in each category qualify for a final event. The winners receive trophies.

Turnout this year was good, said Anne Johnston, executive secretary for SWVHJA. Riders and about 225 horses came from as far away as Richmond and West Virginia to compete, she said. Many of the riders are from local high schools and universities.

Stone Bridge Farm coach Carolyn Williams, who was at the show with her two daughters, also said she finds deeper meaning in the competitions.

“It’s the end of your year and you hope to do really well. For a lot of these kids, this is the first time to dress the pony up … pull out the red carpet, and put on the bells and whistles,” she said.

This year, there is a new award—one that Johnston called “really special”—the Jackson Reel Memorial Trophy, named in honor of a Rockingham County teen killed in a November car accident. Reel, 16, died when 17-year-old Cyndal Ward lost control of the car she was driving and crashed into a tree. Ward was also killed.

Although last weekend’s show caps off the association’s season, it is not the end of competition for the riders. Kelleher said she plans to try out later this month for Virginia Tech’s riding team and will continue to work with her horse, Sox.

On Friday, she was reserve champion in her Special Adult Hunter warm-up, placing second out of 26.

“We’ve done really well this weekend,” she said. “[Sox] is awesome. He’s done really good.”