Edited Press Release
Lexington, Ky. – The 2022 USEF Pony Finals presented by Honor Hill Farms came to a close on Sunday with the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal National Championship. A total of 214 combinations competed in round over Jasen Shelley’s winding track, which asked riders to halt and do a trot fence. Twenty-five combinations returned for round two with seven from the small section, eight from the medium section, and 10 from the large section. The course allowed riders to show their riding ability while having the option to take inside turns and demonstrating a hand gallop.
After round two, judges Keri Kampsen and Timmy Kees required additional testing to determine the final placings. Chandler Wilks, JJ Torano, and Abby Morris—each competitor being from a different section—returned to the Alltech Arena without their stirrups to be tested on the flat. The riders performed walk, rising and sitting trot, canter, and a simple change of lead through the walk as they changed direction. Once the test was completed and the placings were announced, Wilks (Canton, Ga.) was declared the champion with Orchard Hills Bougie, Japonica Cruise’s 2012 Welsh-Thoroughbred mare.
“This was a total surprise,” Wilks said of the win. She was supposed to ride her own pony, but ended up riding “Hayden,” a pony her family had sold last year, and it turned out to be a winning combination. “It was so much fun,” she added. “It was like she was my old best friend, then she went away and made a new kid happy. I got to get back on her and she was like, ‘I remember you.’ It was right back to where we left off.”
Wilks’s first round had a great flow to it. “One to two was nice, three to four was the bending [line], then I halted. I was like, ‘That was so smooth all I have to do is take a deep breath. No quick decisions,’” explained Wilks. “I came around to the five and you had to get your canter because they set an oxer for the first jump, so you land closer in the line and you really have to press down. That was beautiful—bending to the other oxer. The trot jump was great. The last few jumps were amazing.” Her first round was good enough to out her at the top of the callback list heading into round two.
Wilks trains with her mother, Jonna Wilks Murray, and receives sound advice for her rounds. “She told me to go in there and she said, ‘Be slow. Have a calm mind. Just be patient.’ Because every now and then I will get ahead of myself,” said Wilks.
Wilks laid down another great trip in round two and maintained her composure during the flat work-off. She has dealt with pressure before at Pony Finals. “It was 2018 and I was showing Valentino [in the Large Regular Hunter Pony Championship presented by Charles Ancona],” said Wilks. “I was in second right behind Kat [Fuqua], I went in and had a good enough trip, and we ended up reserve.”
Wilks has had respectable Pony Finals results since 2018, but nothing as significant as her win on Sunday. “You have your wins and your losses, and you have to have a smile no matter what,” Wilks said on a day filled with lots of smiling.
JJ Torano (Wellington, Fla.) claimed the reserve champion title with Paris Charm, Megan D’Amico’s 2008 Welsh Pony mare. Abby Morris (Centennial, Ga.) was third with Silver Wishes, Emma Brody’s 2004 Welsh Pony gelding.
1. Chandler Wilks
2. JJ Torano
3. Abby Morris