Horse Sport

On the Backstretch with the Stars of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship

Sophie Perri on Olney Smarty Pants, Norah Eagley on Olney Kushion, Mariah Smith on Quick Draw McGraw, and Isabelle Brockett on Lightening Bug.

When the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) first introduced the Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series in 2012, it was heralded as “D.C.’s newest—and cutest—sport” by the Washington Post.

For some of the participants, however, the backstory stretches well beyond the five-year history of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series.

In fact, it stretches as far back as the 1920s.

That’s when Harriet Shriver Howard first began breeding Shetland Ponies at her family’s Olney Farm in Maryland. Howard bred and raised dozens of top-quality Shetland Ponies, many of which were ridden by her daughter and granddaughter, Katie Perri.

Sophie Perri and her mom, Katie Perri are carrying on the Shetland Pony breeding program started by Sophie’s great grandmother in the 1920s.

“My grandmother took us around to every show possible, so we would show all of these Shetlands,” said Perri.

“We had a big horse van, and we had a big open back truck with the sides on it. We would pull the horse trailer up to the back of the truck so we could use the horse trailer ramp. We’d go up on the van and go through the van and load like 20 ponies in this big flatbed truck with the sides on it.

“So when we’d go to horse shows, and we were unloading, people were like, ‘How many are in that van!?’ because they couldn’t see the truck. My grandmother had us go to all of these shows. We had to get on every single pony and ride all of them.”

In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, Howard introduced other kids to Shetland Ponies and pony racing—other kids like Regina Welsh, now founder and director of U.S. Pony Racing and the organizer of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series.

“On the very last day of the Harrington State Fair [currently called the Delaware State Fair], they had a race that was open to any ponies,” Perri said. “We raced on the track and did a full lap on the track with these Shetland Ponies. My mom made homemade silks.”

After Howard died in 1993, her daughter and Perri carried on the traditions of the family’s farm, where they continue to raise and breed Shetland Ponies. When the 2017 WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series kicked off at the Devon Horse Show at the end of May, Perri’s ten-year-old daughter, Sophie, wore silks nearly identical to those made by Howard and worn by her mother decades ago.

“Those are our farm’s colors, and all the kids at our farm that race continue to wear those colors,” said Kate of Sophie’s blue, white, and gray silks. “She almost wore my silks from when I was little. They’re almost exactly the same and are still hanging in the closet.”

Sophie, the youngest of Kate’s children and the second of her daughters to participate in the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series, finished in second in the WIHS Shetland Pony Hurdle Stakes donning her family silks and, of course, riding one of her family’s own Olney Farm ponies, Olney Smarty Pants. The black and white paint mare is out of the broodmare, Olney Whoopee, who has a tie of her own to the WIHS Shetland Pony races.

“I actually used to ride Whoopee, who is the mom of three of the horses in the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series,” said Welsh, who founded U.S. Pony Racing to bring pony flat and jump race riding opportunities to young riders of all abilities.

“She had Olney Smarty Pants, Quick Draw McGraw, and Olney Kushion who all raced in [the Shetland Pony Hurdle Stakes at Devon].”

The Shriver Howard and Perri family may have the richest ties to the Shetland Pony races, but they are not the only family with second generation jockeys participating in the WIHS series.

Arabella Knox Brockett grew up racing ponies, thanks to the influence of her mother, highly-successful steeplechase racing trainer, Nancy Knox. Now, Brockett’s nine-year-old daughter Isabelle is the one in the irons, taking on the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series.

“This is her first year, and she’s absolutely loving it,” Brockett said of her daughter who raced at Devon aboard Lightening Bug, owned by Welsh. “We grew up doing the pony racing, so that’s how Isabelle got into it too.”

Isabelle Brockett (center), is following in the Shetland Pony racing footsteps of her mom, Arabella Knox Brockett (pictured left), and her grandmother Nancy Knox, a highly successful Thoroughbred steeplechase racing trainer.

Both of the winning jockeys at the Devon Horse Show, Lawrence Fowler and Harry McMahon, also come from families with a racing background—albeit not a pony racing one.

“When I was younger, my dad had Thoroughbred racehorses, and he would take me to the track almost every morning,” said Fowler, 13. “When I really started getting into riding, I was a show jumper. This is my second year doing the pony races.”

Lawrence Fowler, whose father owned Thoroughbred race horses, led the Sunday afternoon victory gallop at the Devon Horse Show.

Similarly, Harry McMahon, who took victory in the Shetland Pony Hurdle Stakes at Devon, is the son of Thoroughbred race horse trainer Hugh McMahon, and it was through their family’s racing connections that they were introduced to Welsh and the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series.

Race winner Harry McMahon (pictured with his family) is trained by his father Hugh McMahon, also a Thoroughbred race horse trainer.

Now, the younger McMahon, Fowler, Brockett, and Perri will all be looking to make their families proud at the 2017 Washington International Horse Show. The WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship series that kicked off at the Devon Horse Show concludes during WIHS Barn Night on Thursday, October 26, and President’s Cup Night on Saturday, October 28, at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.

You can bet that Welsh will be there cheering them to the finish line. Like Howard before her.

Learn more about the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series, presented by Charles Owen, at www.wihs.org, and U.S. Pony Racing at www.usponyracing.com.

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