Jerseyans take their bows at USEF’s Horse of the Year Gala

By Nancy Jaffer
January 21, 2017

It’s always nice to get a trophy. But it’s even better when the honor comes in memory of a mentor.

Endurance rider Meg Sleeper of Kingwood Township proudly stepped up to accept the Maggy Price Endurance Excellence Award at the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Horse of the Year Gala last weekend in Lexington, Ky.

Meg Sleeper and Syrocco Harmony competing in the endurance world championships. (Photo by Pamela Burton)

“It was really a nice surprise. I didn’t expect it at all,” said Meg, a veterinary cardiologist who was coming to the USEF for an endurance meeting at the organization’s convention the day after the gala. The proof was that she needed to change her flight to arrive a day early in order to have a presentation photo taken with the impressive bronze horse trophy.  The award is given to the Endurance Rider Ranking List athlete with the most points earned in the competition year.

“It meant so much to me because I knew Maggy,” Meg explained.

Maggy, who died 10 years ago, was a unique character, outspoken and an active participant in the old American Horse Shows Association (a predecessor of USEF) and the U.S. Equestrian Team.  In 1992, she represented the United States at the World Endurance Championships in Spain, where she won an individual bronze medal and team silver.

“My first competitive trail ride was 1981, and Maggy was in her prime at that point,” Meg recalled.

“She was always one of the people I looked up to. When I was in vet school, I got to ride one of her horses. All of her horses were named Ramegwa something,” said Meg, who rode Ramegwa Rhodora, a mare that belonged to former world champion Valerie Kanavy.

Ramegwa stood for the names of Maggy’s children, Raymond, Megan and Wayne.

“I admired the fact that not only did Maggy produce really great horses, but wherever those horses went, everyone knew they were from Maggy because of the Ramegwa name,” said Meg.

When Meg started breeding horses, she decided to follow Maggy’s lead and came up with a name that signified her program.

“I picked a word I liked because I didn’t have kids, therefore, all my horses are Syrocco something.”

A perennial world championships competitor, Meg spends half the year working at the University of Florida, where she is involved in research on gene therapy for heart disease. It’s a canine study, but in the future it could be useful for horses and other animals, she said.

Meg, who also took the Price award in 2011, was among several Jerseyans in the spotlight at the dinner. Kaitlin Hofer and her mother, Liz, are regulars at the HOTY Awards, bringing home armfuls of championship ribbons in the Welsh division, but this one was their swan song.

Their Glynhafan Hermione, the USEF’s grand champion Welsh pony, has taken that title six times, in 2008 and from 2012 through 2016. She also has to her credit 15 USEF championships and three reserves, and 16 Welsh national championships and nine reserves as well. She also has been the country’s high-score Welsh section B champion for five years.

What’s the secret of her success? “She likes to win things,” said Liz, who took the Welsh Pleasure Sections A&B Adult to Ride title with Hermione.

Liz and Kaitlin Hofer accepting their USEF Horse of the Year awards in Kentucky. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

“We don’t school her when we go to shows. We just warm her up and she goes in the ring cold.”

Kaitlin, a 17-year-old high school senior at Northern Highlands in Allendale, also picked up a USEF championship on Capstone’s Tootsie, a Welsh/quarter horse cross, for Half/Partbred Welsh Pleasure. Now she will be focusing on her hunter, SF Peter Pan, so 14-year-old Hermione will be used primarily for lessons at the Hofers’ Lower Cross Farm in Saddle River. The mare may be shown occasionally by kids in the barn, but they won’t be going after any more Horse of the Year titles. Asked how she thinks other competitors in the Welsh division will react to Hermione’s absence, Liz replied, “They’ll be happy not to see her. I don’t think anyone’s come close to what she’s done.”

Audrey Schulze of Ridgewood also starred in the Welsh division, taking the title in Welsh Pleasure/Section B with Gayfields Talladega Knight, calling him a pony “who likes to work. He likes a good ride.”

The joy of the evening was quite a contrast to last year at the same time, when Audrey and her mother, Anne Marie Snyder, cancelled their trip to Kentucky to collect a reserve championship ribbon after another of their ponies, Magical Masterpiece, came down with Lyme disease and there was a question as to whether she would survive. Luckily, she did, but she can no longer be ridden and is retired at Red Tail Farm in Bedminster.

Seven years ago, Audrey started riding at Saddle Ridge Riding Center after going to camp there, then moved on to Liz Hofer’s farm, where she became involved with Welsh ponies. She now rides with Brian and Jolene Cash at Hidden Acres Farm in West Milford. Anne Marie is always there to watch her lessons.

Audrey Schulze of Ridgewood on Gayfields Talladega Knight. (Photo by Janice Thomson)

“I listened to everything every trainer said, so I would be ready when the time came to buy her something, I wouldn’t be one of those moms who had no clue,” Anne Marie said. In fact, she thought riding looked like so much fun she started taking lessons herself. While Audrey and Anne Marie are at the barn every night, husband Gary Schulze is making dinner, playing his part in the winning team.

Audrey, a 13-year-old eighth grader at the Village School in Waldwick, is moving on to the pony jumper division with Tally. She’ll be getting stiff competition there from Ponies Unlimited of Franklin Lakes, which took the national championship in that section with Angel and reserve with Cartier, as well as third (EZ to Spot) and fourth (Jet Pilot).

Donna Owen, who runs Ponies Unlimited at her home in Ringwood, said her daughter, Devon, only started competing in the pony jumpers nine months ago. A seventh-grader at Macopin Middle School in West Milford, Devon took over the ride on Angel from Gianna Orecchio of Hewitt, who campaigned the 14.1-hand paint/quarter horse mare the first part of the season and started accumulating points toward the HOTY award.

Devon Owen on Ponies Unlimited’s Angel. (Photo by Rachel Bradford)

Devon, who was the hunt seat pleasure national champion last year on Sky’s the Limit, is hoping to make it to the USEF Pony Finals this summer.

Asked about how she likes working with Donna, Devon said, “It’s hard, because she’s my mom, but overall it’s good.” Does she listen to her mother?  “Sometimes. It depends on the day,” Devon responded cheerfully. But she and her mother do work together taking care of the 10 ponies on the farm; mom mucks while Devon grooms and rides.

Other Jerseyans who won HOTY championships include Leslie Goryeb of Far Hills, Half/Anglo Arabian Pleasure/Pleasure Driving Open with Nutcracker’s Magdalena; Clara Hayes of Manasquan, Green Pony Hunter/Medium with Arnaby Bodacious, and Annika Bruggeworth of Mays Landing, Three-Gaited Park with Hollywood Heat and Three-Gaited Park Pleasure with Secret Meeting.

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