October 2019 - Meg Pellegrini & Ganymede
Written by article & photos by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 03:34
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“Boss pony” and young rider are in it to win it.

article & photos by Kim F. Miller

At their first competition together, Meg Pellegrini and the Connemara Thoroughbred pony Ganymede started off with a 23 dressage score in their Beginner Novice test. That was in 2015 when Meg was 11. They finished on that score to win the division and since then the dynamic duo has been in the winners circle, up to Preliminary and CCI2*, more often than not.

“Everybody sees the ribbons and success all these years,” notes Meg’s trainer Lisa Sabo. “What they don’t see is the work that’s behind it.” They didn’t see the solid hour of energy-burning warm-up that preceded that first dressage test and they didn’t see tear-filled early days at their home stable when run-offs were a regular occurrence. “It’s not just that the pony is so fantastic – which she is – but it’s the really hard work that Meg has put into figuring her out,” the coach explains.

Meg with RF Eloquence & Ganymede.

The accolades piled high in 2017. US Eventing Association Pony and Junior Training Rider and Area VI Pony, Reserve Mare and Junior Training Rider were their “of the Year” honors. They’ve continued their ascent, this summer making the Area VI Young Riders team at Rebecca Farm in late July and then contesting the American Eventing Championships in Kentucky. There, Meg rode both Ganymede, aka “Luna,” and her relatively new horse, RF Eloquence, in the Preliminary Junior/Young Rider Championship, finishing 11th with Luna.

Finishing ahead of her “big” brother has become a habit for the now 16 year old Luna. “Luna had been doing well at Preliminary,” Meg shares. “She would regularly finish in the top five or 10. But when ‘Bobby’ came into the picture, she really took it up to another level. She’s always been in it to win it, but now she really goes into the ring or out on course and does her work. Even if she nicks herself or something, she won’t show it.”

Luna’s prideful attitude was obvious during The Preliminary Challenge at Woodside this past spring, when Meg won the 40-pair rider division on Luna and finished third with Bobby. “Both of my horses always put in 100% effort, but I think Luna just got a little jealous and she had to come up and show what she could do,” Meg said after the win. “She feels and acts like a big horse. She acts like she can jump the moon.” Leading the victory gallop ahead of horses two hands taller than her, Luna was clearly in her happy place.

“Luna is the smartest horse we have in the barn,” Lisa adds. “She knows what’s happening with everything and she’s aware when Meg is riding another horse. She’s jealous and she comes out saying ‘I’m going to do better!’”

Meg & Ganymede.

A Good Detour

Lisa and Meg met Luna at Nicolette Meryl Smith’s program in Virginia on a trip East to find a first horse for Meg. An ad for Luna, who Nicolette had campaigned up to Intermediate, seemed a worthy detour from their full-size horse quest.

Meg had proved her mettle riding a hot, spicy pony at Brian and Lisa Sabo’s Sabo Eventing at the Orange County Fairgrounds Equestrian Center. To the extent that a 10-year-old knows what they want in a horse, Meg was looking for the “big, slow type that I like.” Luna was neither: she was a handful from the outset. “She took off with me the first time I tried her, so I was a little scared of her and I also loved her right away,” Meg recalls.

Then and now, Luna is happier to listen to Meg at shows than at home.  Wherever they are, the priorities are to first burn off a little energy, then ensure that Meg has the mare’s attention so she can harness all that go and talent. “Dressage is the hardest phase for her because she doesn’t like to focus for that long,” Meg explains. “In the warm-up ring for jumping, she’s always asking me ‘what’s next?’ and when we put her cross-country boots on, she is ready to run with her ears pricked always looking for the next jump.”

Luna is a savvy competitor, but as the pair tackles progressively higher levels, she knows to tune into Meg for guidance.  Campaigning two very different rides for a year now, Meg is increasingly capable of giving seasoned direction. Striding questions are a constant challenge on the 14.2 hand pony. Meg has learned to “ride for the balance, not the stride,” Lisa explains, enabling adjustments as needed. Luna is careful, scopey and quick. She can “add a stride like I’ve never seen if she gets in trouble,” Lisa reports.

Meg & Ganymede.

Using Luna’s energy to competitive advantage exemplifies Meg’s growing abilities. “Sometimes I can use it to get a little bigger, fancier trot in dressage.” Whether that works out or not, Meg trusts Luna to behave even with excess energy. “Even when she’s a bit too hyper, she’d never be naughty or blow up in a test. She knows what she’s doing.”

Student and coach have an open mind about Luna’s future. A step up to Intermediate is a possibility, but the priority is keeping Luna happy and healthy. Fate will play its part, pending whether Meg follows in her mother or father’s footsteps height-wise. Her mom Molly is petite, like Meg, and her dad, Hank, is 6’2”. If Meg has a big growth spurt in the near future, Lisa hopes that Meg’s younger brother Charlie might become interested in taking over the reins.

Whatever awaits, Luna will always be the “boss pony” at Sabo Eventing, kind and gentle to all passing people, and not-so-much to equine stablemates who generally get short shrift. She might have a soft spot for her 7-month-old daughter, Callisto. She was sired by Andrea Baxter’s Coronado, carried by surrogate and is growing up at Jennifer Wooten Mascouzet’s stable in Santa Ynez Valley. “She’s so much like her mother,” reports Meg. “Already walking around with her head up and acting like she already knows what’s going on.”

The filly, Callisto, is named after Jupiter’s second biggest moon. Appropriately, Jupiter’s biggest moon is Ganymede.

Who you calling “pony”? - Waiting to lead the victory gallop at the Preliminary Challenge at Woodside.

What The West Coast Can Do

Lisa was a champion of California eventing long before she became leader of the US Eventing Association’s Area VI this year. Although she admits to bias as Meg’s coach, she sees Meg’s accomplishments as a prime example of the West Coast’s ability to produce and nurture top talent.

Meg started riding in a hunter/jumper program in Oklahoma, where her family lived prior to California. “She could easily have gone down that path,” Lisa observes. “I believe we have the best grass roots system, the best trainers and the best events out here. If you go to the East Coast, including Florida, and look at the Beginning Novice and Training riders there, our riders are just as good in terms of style, technique and ability. We look good! California is breeding riders like Meg and bringing them along really well.”

She makes the most of opportunities to ride with the sport’s best. Meg jumped at the chance to be coached by Boyd Martin during the AECs and looks forward to his California clinic in December at Sabo Eventing. She’s cliniced with Buck Davidson and with USEA young rider chef Leslie Law as a participant in the association’s Under 18 development program.

As teachers go, Luna trumps all. “She has taught Meg so much,” Lisa comments. “I would love for every student to ride a horse like her. You’ll always be better.”