Reprint of The August 2016 Pony Issue. Find the full TPH Magazine Issue at https://issuu.com/theplaidhorsemag/docs/tph0816
BY TPH STAFF
Bailey Doloff is a rider on a roll. With his Wishlea Star Dasher, the seventeen year old Doloff has won almost every class entered in the Pony Jumper and Children’s Jumper divisions in 2016, including a masterful performance at the Devon Horse Show.
Often overlooked and undersubscribed, the pony jumper division was formed as a stepping stone for pony riders endeavoring to learn to compete in the jumper division. With few shows offering pony jumpers, these young riders often compete their ponies against horses over courses designed for a horse size stride. While often problematic for ponies, Doloff and the 11 year old Welsh/ Thoroughbred cross have excelled in the 1.10 meter and 1.15 meter Children’s Jumper classes. In 2016, they won in Gulfport, MS, Lexington, VA, Atlanta, GA, Gettysburg, PA and Upperville, VA as well as Devon, PA. (see box)
While Doloff sits atop his game, he is deeply cognizant of the struggles he has overcome. The road to success has not been smooth for the quiet, friendly Doloff and his spirited partner, Dasher. A Maryland native, Doloff grew up riding in every discipline available: foxhunting, pony racing, and horseshowing. Bred by Bridgid McMurtrie, Wishlea Star Dasher (Glencoe Nimbus x Acknowledge Me) was originally acquired to be Doloff’s 3′ jumper and pony racing mount. He raced at Shawan Downs, Timonium, and Pimlico race courses. Asked if he won, Doloff replied with his usual optimism, “We were never last!”
Moving from flat racing to foxhunting camp, Doloff realized that the courageous and athletic pony could run and jump. “He easily cleared all of the big hurdles used by the steeplechase trainers. That’s when I knew he was a quite a jumper.”
As a young pony, Wishlea Star Dasher had a successful career in the Welsh Pony horse show circuit. As he aged, he became the competitive, bold athlete that now excels over large, fast tracks. The transition from Welsh shows to racing to jumper classes was not easy. In 2014, Doloff took Dasher to his first show in Culpeper. “He would not walk into the ring at all. He would stand at the gate and rear up.” Doloff spent the next few nights walking the pony in and out of the ring after the conclusion of the horse show. “Peter Foley helped me and we spent every night in the ring jumping little jumps. By the last day, we jumped a 2′ course, and won!”
Despite an inauspicious start to their showjumping career, Doloff and Dasher formed a successful bond. The rider discovered a way to tap into the energy and scope of his equine partner. With Joe Fargis and Dorna Taintor as their coaches, the pair won the majority of the classes they entered. Doloff arrived at the 2015 Pony Finals on a wave of success.
Yet, as often happens in the horse business, the road was neither straight nor easy. “I was in the jump- off at Pony Finals for the Bronze Medal, and I went off course. It was heartbreaking. That started a real downward spiral for me,” explains Doloff. After the 2015 Pony Finals, Doloff competed in Culpeper, VA, where he went off course three times. In October at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, he was victorious in the first Children’s Jumper class out of 73 entries. The duo seemed to be back on track. As the winner of the first class, Doloff had the pressure of going last in the Championship Class at night in the Prince George’s Equestrian Center coliseum. Clean in the first round, he began the jump-off on his lightning fast partner. “I had a rail down in the combination and just lost my head. I did a crazy inside turn, and deer-jumped a fence. Then I ran down to another and crashed through it. I had to pull out and stop and then finish the course.”
From a rider’s abyss comes self -realization. “My coach (Taintor) sent me a few sports psychology books: The Mental Game of Baseball and The Champion’s Mind. They really worked for me. The books gave me some ideas about mental skills and different methods of preparation. At first, I followed the preparation routine too intensely. Then, I began to understand perspective. I could tell myself that this is just a horse show; it is
not life or death. And everything has been a lot easier.” Doloff has adopted the mental strategy of less analysis and more quiet concentration. He has a pre-class playlist that he listens to along with a meditation routine that helps him focus.
Going into Devon, Doloff felt excited and well prepared. He and his coach had planned a show schedule that would help the duo peak at Devon. The plan worked as Doloff and Dasher were consistently clean and fast with clear rounds in every class, resulting in two firsts and a second to make them Pony Jumper Champions. “I was a little nervous, so I tried to think of it as just another horse show,” explained Doloff, “It was so much fun.”
Multiple Olympic Gold Medalist Joe Fargis is a man of simple method and few words. His training program- and that of protégé Dorna Taintor- builds on the basics of horsemanship with the use of pole work, gymnastics, and trotting jumps. For Doloff and the mercurial Dasher, the Fargis regimen is a recipe for success. The horse and rider benefit from the quiet, slow work which promotes softness and accuracy. Fargis praises the attitude and work ethic that his pupil brings to their sessions. “He is a very talented kid and he has a tremendous regard for the horse. He thinks of his horses first, and is very meticulous about his preparation.” Fargis went on to praise Doloff’s style of riding. “He rides in what we call a forward seat. He is not trying to do anything fancy, just stay out of the horse’s way and stay as light as he can. It is a breath of fresh air for me.” Fargis emphasizes the challenges that Doloff faces in piloting Dasher. “[The pony] is like Pegasus, a winged-creature that you have to guide gently, and he does it beautifully. He does not disturb the pony.”
Doloff and Wishlea Star Dasher will complete their last junior year by again competing at Pony Finals and the Zones 3 & 4 Children’s Jumper Championships. They currently lead the Zone 3 High Children’s Jumper standing by a large margin. The Washington International Horse Show will be Doloff’s last show on Dasher. Hoping to attend a college close to his trainers, Doloff will compete next year in the Amateur Jumper division with his horse, Diva. Mentally tough and buoyed by success, Doloff will cross the start flags ready to win.