Yampa Valley Pony Club takes 1st at Quiz Rally
They never imagined they’d win.
For the moms, the hope was for their Yampa Valley Pony Club girls to “have a good time and learn something,” said Annie Kakela.
It was the first time any of them had competed in the Rocky Mountain Region Quiz Rally, and they had no idea what to expect.
One of the club’s founding members in the late 1970s, Kakela recently returned to the valley and to horseback riding. Last year, she took on the Yampa Valley Pony Club’s co-district commissioner position and led her daughter Anja Honebein and five teammates on the journey to the 2018 Quiz Rally.
Just a few years ago, the Yampa Valley Pony Club had dwindled to just four members. Today, there are 17, and membership is growing. The rebuilding effort is largely credited to Caroline Tynelius, who took over the district commissioner position in 2014.
Held Feb. 24 and 25 at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds, the Quiz Rally was a two-day competition centered on everything having to do with horses without actually getting on a horse.
It was stressful and intimidating, according to Courtney Diehl, mom of 11-year-old team member Sunny Winn.
“We felt like the Bad News Bears,” Diehl said.
Ranging in age from 9 to 14, the six girls competed in the Junior and Senior “D” Divisions. Winn, Anja Honebein, Hanna Hale and Adi DelliQuadri were members of the younger team, which won first place, and the older girls from the Yampa Pony Club, Emily Howe and Annika Brown, joined two members from another team to meet the minimum to compete.
The first day, they attended a horse management clinic followed by an oral exam and written test. They were quizzed on the anatomy of a horse, feeding schedules and nutrition, cleaning stalls and grooming.
On the second day, they spent seven hours rotating through exam stations, testing their knowledge on a wide range of subjects, including identifying tack and other equipment, trailers and transportation, horse health and equine sports. And throughout the competition, they were always tested on safety.
“It was very suspenseful,” Sunny said. “There was a lot of waiting for scores.”
Their confidence built slowly, said Diehl, as they did better than anticipated in each event.
It was in the final hours of the last day that things started to fall apart for the junior team. There was a rebellion against the captain. There were tears in the bathroom. There was adolescent anger.
But they worked through it, Diehl said.
“We just had a really hard time,” Sunny said. “Everyone hated each other. Then we pulled through.”
Not only did they overcome the “meltdown,” they won first place in their division.
“They were shocked,” Kakela said, describing the girls’ faces as the announcers started by naming the fourth- and third-place teams. “You could see it in their eyes.”
When they found out they’d taken first place, Sunny said, “It felt like winning the Olympics,” calling it one of the best experiences of her life. The girls hugged. They squealed.
Then Sunny slept most of the way home in the car.
The senior team took second place, and Kakela praised the two oldest girls for their leadership, as well as taking on the pressure of joining with another team.
“They were so good at being mentors to the younger kids,” she said.
The win, while unexpected, was hard earned — preceded by six weeks of preparation.
When Kakela reached out to the entire club to gauge interest in attending the Quiz Rally, she came out with six girls who agreed to meet for two hours every Sunday.
“They were incredibly motivated,” Diehl said.
In between sessions they studied on their own, practicing with flash cards and completing research assignments to bring back to the group.
But the amount of information is vast (primarily based on a 200-page manual), and without any experience at a Quiz Rally, they didn’t know precisely what to focus on.
“It was hard,” Sunny acknowledged of the weeks of preparation. “And boring sometimes.” It was, however, “way more fun” than school, she said.
As an organization, Pony Club is very “technically oriented,” said Diehl. There are strict rules, and a grueling and lengthy process of moving up the certification ladder — testing skills and knowledge as much off the horse as on.
But as they increase their certification levels, Diehl said, they can go to any barn in the country and those qualifications mean something.
Kakela saw the Quiz Rally as a good opportunity for the growing and less-experienced club to get exposure to the Pony Club “way of doing things.”
Everything the Quiz Rally tests them on “prepares them better for the riding competitions,” Kakela said.
“They become very high-level experts in horse management,”Kakela said. “It goes way beyond riding skills — it’s way more holistic.”
Sunny also recognizes the importance of the off-horse work.
“It helps you know more about the horse,” she said. “It helps you predict what they are going to do. You have to know about your horse to be able to ride them.”
Sunny said what she loves most about horses is “how sweet they are.” She loves to ride and grew up with horses.
“I love jumping. I love flying,” she said. “It feels so good. And accomplishing something new. That’s fun.”
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