German Riding Ponies imported by JH Sporthorses debuted on the American show scene just last fall and they were already big winners throughout the first half of the HITS Thermal circuit. Noted for looking and performing like small Warmbloods, the breed is not new to the United States but the batch imported by Jan Humphrey and paired with riders by her sister, Grand Prix rider and Leone Equestrian trainer Jill Humphrey, are making a special splash this season.
Jan with Kingston and Dalan Laughlin.
Jan went to Europe early last year looking specifically for horses. "But this pony trotted by and I knew I had to have it," she explains. She was working with dealer Jens Baackmann, who informed her the pony was absolutely not for sale. "I said, 'I don't care. I have to have it.'" The pony was the bay stunner Chiccobello, who became the first import for Jan's JH Sporthorses in April 2013. She has since imported five German Riding Ponies, all of whom have found terrific young riders, and in some cases owners, through Jill.
Jill and Jan Humphrey.
Photo ©Deb Dawson
Chiccobello is owned by Alexa Leong and was ridden to reserve champion in the Green Large Pony Hunter division by three riders, Peyton Warren, Dalan Laughlin and Summer Hill, in the mid-circuit HITS Thermal standings. Barnmate Candy Crush reached the HITS half-way point as reserve champion in the Children's Pony Hunter rankings, with Alexa riding. The jet-black pony was champion of the Green Large Pony Hunters with Katrina Komitsch in the irons.
Chestnut-coated Kingston was another early star in the pony ranks at Thermal, and the dappled gray Mr. Monk was a big hit in the SVS sale auction that closed out the first half of the desert season on Feb. 9. Another import, Matilda, is off to a great start on the Northern California circuit with owner Parker Cliff.
Mr. Monk with his new owners.
The Humphrey sisters have had experience with plenty of ponies over the years, but they are particularly impressed with the German Riding Ponies. Jill admits she's not sure if it's their breeding or how they are raised and started in Europe. Whatever the reason, the results are terrific.
Most of the ponies Jan has imported are between 5 and 7, and have arrived as ready-made mounts. "They have incredible minds, are super brave, well-started on the flat and have a lot more scope than they'll ever need to do the Pony Hunters in the States," Jill reports. European pony jumper divisions reach 1.3M (approximately 4'3"), so the German ponies who've competed at that level or been developed for it have no trouble scaling the heights, maximum 3' for Large ponies, in the U.S. Plus, they tend to go about their business with relatively little drama. Jill notes that "our talented little pilots" did most of the riding on these ponies throughout the circuit's first three weeks. Between-round tweaks from a professional rider have rarely been needed.
Chicobello with owner Alexa Leong.
Jan is enjoying importing the ponies, and horses, as a side venture to her main post as assistant to Olympic gold medal show jumper Will Simpson in training the von Heidegger family's horses and daughters, Hannah and Nicoletta. They recently moved from Anke Magnussen's facility in Hidden Valley to the von Heidegger's just-completed private training facility in Malibu.
The Humphrey sisters have a long history of helping each other. The daughters of non-horsey schoolteachers, they fulfilled their equestrian hopes with talent and hard work while growing up in Bakersfield. Both gained formal fundamentals riding with Rudy Leone while earning degrees from UC Davis. Jill, of course, has been his main rider for many years. Jan graduated in 2004, continued to ride and also earned the title of Miss California International in 2008, using the North American Riding for the Handicapped Assn. as her platform for the pageant. She spent a year riding in Europe, then had a favorable taste of the importing and sales business while working for dealer Alan Waldman in the Netherlands in 2012.
Kingston on the left, with Dalan Laughlin and Matilda with David Crowley riding for owner Parker Cliff.
Jan is grateful to the many who've supporter her career so far and particularly to Jill's fortuitous request last winter that she keep her eye out for a pony while horse shopping in Germany. "There was just something about Chiccobello," Jan reflects. "He wins a lot, but even on his off days, he has that spark about him. He's just breathtaking."