The United States Pony Clubs (USPC) announced the winners of the 2016 Hildegard Neill Ritchie Joys of Foxhunting Writing Contest. The competition is open to all D- or C-rated Pony Club members. The winner receives a $200 cash prize to spend on foxhunting dues, hunt capping fees, Pony Club camp or related activities, with smaller awards to second and third places. This year, judges included Nancy Ambrosiano, former USPC Foxhunting Committee chair and a USPC graduate; Mary Pierson, a lifelong USPC supporter; and Norman Fine, foxhunting expert and author.

Ambrosiano said, "Having judged a number of these over the years, it's a great experience to read these compositions. Sometimes hilarious, often touching, and occasionally marvelously awkward, these entries really provide a fascinating insight into the youthful writers' view of our sport." 

The contest award is supported by a memorial fund established by friends of Mrs. Ritchie, who was a long-time Pony Club supporter and volunteer. She founded the Colorado Springs Pony Club in 1958 and was its District Commissioner for 30 years. She was Regional Supervisor of the Colorado (now Rocky Mountain) region for 12 years, and hosted regional Pony Club camps on her ranch for more than 20 years. She served several terms as a USPC Governor and received the USPC Founders Award in 1989.

Here are the results, followed by the winning essays:

First Place: Lauren Rogers, a 24-year-old, C-1 Traditional Pony Club member from Greeneville Foothills Pony Club, in the Carolina Region with “What Are We Doing Today?”

Second Place: Libby Nelson, a 10-year-old, D-2 Traditional Pony Club member from De La Brooke Pony Club, in the Maryland Region with “The Hunt”

Third Place (tie): Brianna Rhodes, a 24-year-old, C-1 Traditional Pony Club member from Kuenzi Equestrian Center Pony Club Riding Center, in the Lake Shore Region with “We’re Off Again,” and Mackenzie Saunders, a 10-year-old, D-2 Traditional Pony Club member from the Arapahoe Hunt Pony Club, in the Rocky Mountain Region, with “Closing Hunt"

"What Are We Doing Today?" Lauren Rogers

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Lauren Rogers and Petey.

The morning started just like any other. Well, not really. It started much earlier than most days! We must be going somewhere. But where could we be going? To a lesson? No, we don’t get up this early for that. To a clinic? Maybe, but we just went to one of those last weekend. Mom doesn’t usually do the same thing two weekends in a row. Oh, she always keeps me guessing! Maybe we’re going to a show? But we usually leave the night before for those. Maybe this is just a strange show. She is braiding my mane, after all. She only braids my mane when we show hunters, but we haven’t done that in years! She says it’s because I’m a jumper that I’m too fast for hunters.

Well, we’re DEFINITELY going somewhere. Mom’s walking me up to the trailer now. Oh boy! I get a peppermint for loading up so well! My favorite. What’s this? Alfalfa in the manger? This is fantastic! Away, we go!

We’ve stopped. Are we here or just at one of those - what does Mom call them when we pass them on road hacks? Oh, yeah. Stop sign. I always spook at those. Yep. Just a stop sign.

Now this time, we must be here. I can hear Mom turn off the engine and walk over to let the ramp down. I’m so nervous. I have no idea where we are or what we’re going to do. Oh, darn. I just pooped in my tail. Mom’s going to be mad, she spent so much time cleaning and brushing it last night. I back off the ramp like a gentleman, trying to make up for my messy tail. Well, this is weird! We’re not at a barn of any sort; there are no stables in sight. Instead we’re in the middle of a field, surrounded by other horses and trailers. Mom ties me to the trailer and starts brushing me. She only complains once about my soiled tail! I’m so glad she’s not mad at me. In fact she seems rather happy. She went to meet all the other humans and had a “stirrup cup”. Whatever that is.

Ok now she’s back, and my saddle is on. It’s funny. She’s dressed like we’re going to a show. So is this some kind of strange show in a field? I’ll make sure I behave my best and show off every chance I can. Not sure which one of these humans is a judge. They all look dressed to ride like my Mom is. Bridle goes on. That’s weird. We’re using our cross-country bit. But Mom doesn’t have her safety vest on! Maybe I should nudge her in the back to remind her. Nope, she didn’t get what I meant. Ok, well, not my fault if we get eliminated then.

Mom hops up on my back and we join the other horses in the field. We’re all facing a trailer and when the door of the trailer opens, out floods dogs! More dogs than I have ever seen! I hear them referred to as hounds. They must be special dogs, these hounds. We all follow them across the field and into the woods in a line. The hounds start making strange noises, not like barking like Mom’s dogs, but something else. Now we’re galloping after them! Oh this is fun! It’s like racing! I haven’t raced in years! I try to pass the horse in front of me, whose racing colors must be red and green, because that’s what his rider is wearing, but Mom won’t let me. We have to stay in line. We gallop up hills and down, trot through a creek, jump some logs and coops, still chasing the hounds!

We’ve been at this for hours and I’m sweaty and tired, but Mom and I are having such fun! We have to do another field reversal. I try to stand as still as I can, but it’s just so hard letting every other horse go first. One last stretch of following the pack and now we’re walking back, along the road, gathering up all the hounds that went off on their own.

Back at the trailer, Mom asks me, “So how did you like Fox Hunting, Petey?"

So THAT’S what we did today! I rub my sweaty head all over her to tell her how much I loved it!

"The Hunt," Libby Nelson

I was cantering through the beautiful autumn woods when someone yelled, “Fox!” My horse reared and in lightning speed I was on the ground and thought to myself, “Back to dream horse.” I had grown out of my pony a few months ago and I was looking for a calm, safe foxhunter. I was taking a gorgeous grey out hunting. He was supposed to be a “gem.” Apparently he has a fear of foxes. This guy wasn’t as much of a “gem” in the hunt field.
The next day I found a bold bay and took him hunting. I was all packed and ready to go. It was time to load him on the trailer when his owner called. She said she had forgotten to tell me that he doesn’t load without his friend, Clyde. After two hours of trying to get him to load, I had to accept the fact that I was going to miss the hunt.

One week later, I took a black beauty out. At the hunt, I went to greet the master of the hounds. One sweet hound named Bubbles came to say hello. “Beauty” kicked at him and just barely missed his head. I apologized and knew this mare wasn’t the one for me.

I was checking out Facebook when I saw a Haflinger for sale. She sounded great! For several hours she was perfectly behaved. We stopped and I was thirsty so I took out my flask and Halfie bolted! She was galloping and bucking across the field until I finally got my reins back, sat heavy, pushed my heels down and yelled, “Whoa!” I realized she was afraid of the flask! Hazardous Halfie was not my dream horse.

The next day, I was at Tractor Supply getting feed. On the bulletin board where you can post flyers of sale horses, there was a horse named Gabriel's Gift. The ad said he is a bay fifteen hand fluffy ball of cuteness. He is around ten years old and his breed is unknown. I took him hunting and he was an absolute dream! He stood quietly at checks, sailed over coops and gave no mind to the field master’s holler! “Gabe” was a perfect gentleman.

Not only was he a perfect hunt horse, he became a perfect whipper-in horse too. I’ve become a junior whip and am well on my way to earning my colors with Gallant Gabe. He is my dream horse.

"We're Off Again," Brianna Rhodes

The cool morning air caused the hair on the back of my neck to rise. The fog that seemed to rest gently over the ground was all around us giving the morning a mystic feel. We all stood quietly the only noise was rustling of long grass and the yipping of hounds. My heart pounds with the expectation of our next halt to gallop transition. I can feel the excitement in my gelding and the others in my field. My field was hugged by a tall corn field and a wall of trees with thick vines growing up them. I was relaxed and on the buckle when my horse perked up his ears and turned his head to the wall of trees. Seeing the white of his eyes I shortened my reins expecting hounds to burst through at any moment.

A flash of red and all of the horses around me jumped back many of them ending up among the corn stalks. The huntsman on her large bay was in front of us confident, patting and praising her horse for charging through the large scary wall of green. I was in awe of the trust by both parties. The horse trusted its rider enough to jump thru a seemingly solid wall of leaves and branches; the rider trusted the horse to take them through it. You could see the pride in the Huntsman’s face that her horse did what most would never attempt. 

Before I could gather my thoughts or my reins we were off! The cold fall air burned in my chest but the exhilaration of the hunt kept that far from my mind. Soon we were traveling thru thick woods rushing thru bursts of red, orange and yellow, the trees left beautiful patterns with the shadows of their leaves; curving around trees only missing our knees by inches. It felt effortless to bend my horse around my leg; the connection with my horse at that moment was impeccable. I felt a connection with him that had been lacking. I had lost the confidence and trust in my horse; the relationship that had started me in riding to begin with. Years of falls, run outs and bucks had made it hard for me to let go and trust that he would trust me.

We came to a river, water was not our strong point, and on the other side was a 5’ high dirt inclined that seemed to go strait up at a 90 degree angle. My heart wrenched at the sight. I whispered “We can do this. I believe in you!” I put on my leg and gave him more rein. He scaled the wall of mud without a second thought. I gave him a pat, feeling the spark of connection again, and we were off again!

"Closing Hunt," Mackenzie Saunders

I wake up to the sound of footsteps, and realize it’s my mom getting ready for something. Wondering why the footsteps are so loud, I look down at her feet and see she is  wearing boots...her riding boots! I jump out of bed remembering that today is the Closing Hunt.

At the field, I unload my horse and tack up quickly because we don’t want to be late. As I mount my horse, I feel the cool morning air blow against my face, and it reminds me Spring is here. The sun has just come up, and I sit for a moment enjoying the scene of an  excited Hunt field preparing for what is to come next. Before long, I hear the hounds giving  tongue as the Huntsman brings the Hounds out from the kennels. After a few brief comments, the Huntsman leads the Hounds away, and the Field quickly falls in behind. I stay away from the front because my horse is a little jumpy.

We start off at a walk, then a trot, then a canter, but it’s not long before the Hunt is at a full gallop...and going away! My mom and I galloped to the creek, giving chase to the Hounds as best we could. As we approached the creek, the Field crossed quickly and continued to gallop up the hill. We tried to keep up, but couldn’t cross the creek as fast, and soon the Hunt and Field had  galloped away from us. To be safe, we crossed the creek slowly, walking carefully through  the water. As we came out the other side, my horse got excited and jumped a log on the  other side. As fun as it was, I kept wishing we had been able to stay with the Hunt.

We were about to return to the chase when we suddenly heard leaves crunching as though a hundred tiny feet were running through them. Just then, out from behind a log, a coyote jumped out, and moments later, so did the Hounds! The Hunt had come full circle and was running right past us. We were back in the Hunt! We followed the Hunt through trees, over logs, up and down hills, but finally, we came to a coop. I can’t yet jump coops, so we had to go to a hand gate up the hill. We tried to do it quickly, but it wasn’t fast enough, and the Hunt got away again. As we took a moment to figure out how best to catch the Hunt again, we suddenly realized the sky was filling with huge, black clouds, and we could see lightning in the distance. A moment later, the wind started to pick up, and the rain started to come down. My mom and I looked at each other, as well as the Hunt Field, which was now a ways off in the distance. As much as we wanted to join them, we knew it was time to head home.

I quickly untacked and loaded my horse, and ran to the Tack Room to get out of the rain. I was soaking wet, so I sat by the fire. Soon many more people filled the place. They, too, were soaking wet, and looking to get warm by the fire. We sat around the fire, sharing stories about the day’s Hunt until the rest of the Hunt returned, and the Huntsman told us about the Hunt as he had seen it. After a little while longer, it was time to go home. As we pulled away from the Field, I sat listening to the rain pattering on the window, and looked out over the open range we had just Hunted. All I could think of was how much fun it was to ride my horse on a beautiful day, over logs and creeks, with my mom, and the rest of the Hunt Field. At the same time, though, I was a little sad, because it was, after all, Closing Hunt. But, for me, it was my best Hunt yet, and I couldn’t wait until next season!

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