June 18, 2016 -- It was heaven for horse-loving kids yesterday at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation stables, as the historic facility opened its doors for pony rides, rides in a wagon pulled by black Clydesdales, demonstrations from a wide variety of breeds, magic shows, model horse painting and all sorts of other activities geared to eager youngsters.
The occasion was a new event presented by Breyer, which produces model horses that thrill both children and serious collectors--some of whom are children. And they take this very seriously.
Kathy Fallon, co-organizer of Pony Up!, explained what it was all about against the backdrop of the iconic stables and a giant inflated horse. Click on the video to hear what she had to say.
I also talked to her co-organizer, Jaime Potkalesky, who added her viewpoint to our conversation about Pony Up! To listen, click on the right-pointing arrow.
So much was going on that we tried to put some of it in a video for you. Click on this one to get the feel of what Pony Up! was about.
The famous USET arena, better known for hosting competitions and selection trials, was a perfect venue for an introduction to horses. Animals familiar to most as models, brought their charisma to life for thrilled children and their parents. Among them was the adorable Welsh stallion, Brookside Pink Magnum, owned by Becky McGregor.
She and I talked about what it's like to own the live version of a Breyer model, who was really enjoying the spotlight. Click on the video to hear her interview.
Gabriella Boyle of Livingston, N.J., got a model of Magnum and held it while meeting him. Does it get any better than that? Sadly, he couldn't autograph the model; it's hard to hold a pen with a hoof.
The 9 and 1/2-year-old Gabriella explained that she came to Pony Up! (courtesy of an indulgent father) “because I'm obsessed with Breyer models because I'm obsessed with horses.”
There was a lot of that going around. I talked to numerous kids who had 100 models--and counting.
Gianna Tanzi figured she has more than 180. I think I know what her next purchase will be.
She indulged in a meet-and-greet with the enormous BHR Bryants Jake, a North American Spotted Draft foundation sire. He stands 17.2 hands, but looks bigger because of his bulk.
“Our living room is covered in Breyers,” confided Gianna's mother, Renee Tanzi. The family also has three live horses at their farm in Howell Township, N.J. I joked with Renee that she was lucky it wasn't the other way around, with 180 real horses and three Breyers!
Renee brought six members of the Hearts and Horseshoes 4-H Club from Monmouth County, and they were really into Pony Up!, just like all the other kids with whom I spoke.
The model of Bryant's Jake (who is 3/4 Belgian and 1/4 Paint) will come out next month. The first place Breyer will be selling it is Breyerfest at the Kentucky Horse Park, July 22-24. Consider Pony Up! a bit like Breyerfest Lite.
It offered many of the same features, such as opportunities to paint models and meet horses, but on a more affordable scale for those who can't afford to fly to Kentucky or stay three days in a hotel.
On the other hand, Pony Up! drew people from beyond New Jersey, though I'd guess the longest distances were traveled by Joanne Puhac and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Annabelle Sciulli.
“She wanted to come, so we're here,” said grandma, but that doesn't tell the whole tale.
She flew from Colorado to Pittsburgh, Pa., for a visit, picked up Annabelle and drove to Gladstone. Talk about devotion. Annabelle's birthday is next week, so her parents gave her $30, quickly spent on a model and two tack sets, one English, one Western.
It was a lovely day, but quite warm. How do you deal with that if you're a pony? Watch Magnum handle the situation by clicking on the video below.
At various shows and conventions, I hear a lot of talk about broadening the base of horse sports, but most of the ideas are geared to people who already ride or are showing at a low level. The proper introduction to horses could bring so many people into the fold, but where can you go to see and touch horses if you have no contacts in the equestrian world?
Pony Up! certainly seems to be one of the answers. The approach was beautiful; it was gratifying to see the smiles as kids petted a horse for the first time, or appreciated the broad range of different types of horses, from Magnum to Jake. Let's hope Breyer will be doing this again and rolling it out around the country.
Pony Up! was a lot of fun, but it's on to more serious things at the same location next week. The U.S. Equestrian Federation is holding its mid-year meeting at the USET Foundation headquarters on Monday, which is a wonderful development. You may remember that the USET and the old USA Equestrian (the USEF is its successor) had a battle royal just after the turn of the century over which would be the federation.
The animosity lasted for years, in some cases, so this coming together is good news for making horse sport stronger.
Come back Tuesday night to see my postcard from the meeting.