BY CATIE STASZAK
The Bauman Family’s ‘Little Engine That Could’
Amber Bauman believes there was more at work than just timing when a pony jumper all but fell into her lap for her son Austin to ride in 2017.
The quick-footed, quirky, and competitive 13.1h bay gelding, who had already made three USEF Pony Finals appearances at the time, has since become a coveted member of Amber’s family. Miracles Happen (“Roy”) has competed and won around the country with both Austin and Amber’s daughter Alexis, who currently has the ride. The 15-year-old pony has taught Amber many lessons, most notably that miracles really do happen.
“It’s just so much fun to watch him with my daughter,” Amber said. “There’s this dynamic connection between the two of them. They trust each other and aren’t afraid to go for it.”
Miracles Happen, originally named Miracle the Captain, was bred in Phelps, WI, by Paulette Johnson’s Miracle Welsh Mountain Ponies. The Sec. C Welsh Pony of Cob Type is by Mynydd Hir Orion out of Heritage Hall’s the Cat’s Meow, by Tanglewood Sundance. Bought by Jayme Nelson, the pony was originally trained for the hunter ring, until his connections realized that he had other aspirations. Unleashed in the jumper ring, Roy took to fast-paced competition and quickly made a name for himself with Nelson’s main rider, Maya Lovdal.
“His green card [for the Green Pony Hunter division] has technically been reinstated,” said Amber with a laugh, “but lord knows he’s not going back [to the hunter ring]!”
Roy qualified for his first appearance at Pony Finals in 2014, and by 2016, he jumped to his first medal. He and Lovdal were part of the gold medal-winning Zone 5/6 team at the U.S. Pony Jumper National Championships in Lexington, KY, before earning an individual bronze by week’s end. That event gave Lovdal a storybook ending to her pony career and opened the door for Roy to partner with a new rider.
Enter Amber, whose son Austin decided he wanted to join his mother and sister in the saddle. After a few years of short stirrup and pony hunters, Austin¬—inspired by his good friend Logan Fletcher’s pony jumper exploits in Germany—wanted a pony with a little more gas. Amber’s friend Emily Elek of Stonewall Farm knew just the mount for him.
“I remember Austin getting on [Roy], and he was all smiles,” Amber said. When It was time to canter, “he galloped down the long side. I asked, ‘Did you mean to do that?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I wanted to see what [kind of gears] he had!’”
Within a few weeks, Austin and Roy were bound for the Devon Horse Show, where they brought home ribbons nearly every time they entered the Dixon Oval. They would go on to make two Pony Finals appearances of their own before Austin decided to turn his focus toward football.
But Roy wasn’t finished with the Bauman family. He still had plenty more to give—this time, to Austin’s sister, Alexis. Alexis had primarily competed in the pony hunter and equitation divisions before teaming up with her brother’s former mount, but Roy quickly taught his new rider the joys of full speed. In the year since their partnership began, they’ve more than held their own against competitors with significant stride advantages, often competing in the both the low and high child/adult jumper divisions when the pony jumpers don’t fill at their home shows in Chicago.
“I wanted to try [the jumpers], and things just started to click,” said Alexis, 16. “I love how he jumps. When I ride my equitation horse, it’s pretty, but with Roy, I can just fly around. I have so much fun and can just let go.”
“He’s just this little powerhouse—the little engine that could,” Amber said. “He will try to get to the other side of the jump, every time. He has the heart and the desire to want to achieve great things. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in his incredible turning.”
In their first visit as a pair to Pony Finals, Roy and Alexis earned a bronze medal in team competition with the combined team of Zones 3, 5, 7 and 8. Looking ahead, Alexis’ goals for her return to Lexington have remained clear.
“I want to place in the individual final,” she said. “I was one place out of the ribbons last year, so I’m aiming for that.”
In the meantime, the duo is preparing with competition at Ledges, their nearby horse show venue in Roscoe, IL, and enjoying their extended time at home together. Roy lives at Bauman’s farm in Woodstock, IL, and the entire family pitches in to help with care for their string of horses and ponies. When he’s not taking charge in the ring, Roy can be found with his nose all but buried deep in the grass while enjoying turnout with a herd of six; trail riding with Alexis down their street; and avoiding being clipped at all costs.
“He has some interesting quirks,” Amber said. “One time, he dragged [Austin] out of the wash rack, and Austin went and backed up the security footage in the barn so he could watch it back! He’s a lot of fun to deal with on a daily basis. The good ones are always quirky.”
Amber juggles managing the family’s horses with not only her duties as a mother, but also a full-time job as a middle school science teacher and studying for her Doctor of Education from Grand Canyon University. Despite a schedule that begins and ends in the barn, the devoted mother lights up every time she talks about the pony that has given her children—and herself—so much joy, even when Roy’s breakneck pace and bold jumps get her heart racing a little faster than normal.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity that we have Roy in our lives,” she said. “He’s just so fun to work with and be around. He teaches you to ride, because he’s going to go. You just better be hanging on!”
Originally from the August 2020 issue.