Eleven-year-old Alpine Griffin (Fort Collins, Colo.) and her mom/trainer Suzanne Cox Griffin attended the 2019 USEF Pony Finals presented by Collecting Gaits Farm with a black and white pinto new to the pony hunter scene and a remarkable background. Always Chipper, Suzanne’s nine-year old pony gelding, is an exhibitor favorite everywhere they go but this is the first year he has competed at Pony Finals. They finished in the top 20 of the Small Green Hunter Pony National Championship and this fantastic result is particularly momentous for the Griffins because “Chip” was rescued after being sold at auction to a kill buyer just two years ago.
“I guess buyers don’t want to ship such little ones so they had a rescue organization advertise [Always Chipper] online and on Facebook. A dealer in Colorado bought him for $675 and when he got there, he was so sick that it took them six weeks to get him well enough to start to work him,” said Suzanne.
From there, Chip was sold as a lesson pony to friends of the Griffins. However, he was not well suited to his new role and they needed a small, yet strong and confident rider to help bring the 12.2-hand pony along. When asked to work with the opinionated pony, Alpine was up to the task and the Griffins brought him to live at their home.
“He came to live at our house and there were days we’d lunge him three times. [Alpine] would get on and he’d take off or he’d buck, we’d put him back on the lunge line and, sometimes, he would run so fast that he fell over. But pretty soon after some steady work, he settled in and started to behave,” Suzanne said.
Chip was a fast learner and began to understand what was being asked of him. Last summer, right before Pony Finals, Chip’s owners told the Griffins that they had an interested buyer. Hearing that news, Suzanne and Alpine knew they had to figure out a way to keep Chip with them. “We needed to sell our other pony, so we asked for two months to figure out a way to make that happen,” Suzanne said. “Alpine paid the board for Chip herself those two months and then we bought him.”
Earlier this year, Alpine competed in the small green pony hunter classes in Thermal, Calif., and the rest is history. “He was champion the first week out, he won almost every class the first day. He just goes in and goes around. He’s not the fanciest pony here but he’s got enough step,” said Suzanne. “He’d go in a circus ring; he doesn’t mind anything. Alpine rides him in the cross-country field at home, jumps him up and down the banks, and takes him in the lake every day.”
Alpine admits to being nervous to ride Chip in the beginning, but knows her experiences training and bonding with her pony was worth it. “At first we had the hardest time, like we couldn’t even pick up the left lead. He ran out at the jumps for a while but now he’ll jump anything,” Alpine said. “He’s sweet, but he still has opinions. He barely ever stops at a jump and he’s really fun to take in the water. He likes to go knee-deep and drink lots!”
With a gentle, eager expression, Chip tackled the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals with his trusted partner in the irons on Sunday. Suzanne proudly explained that Alpine does just about everything with and for the pony, from grooming and tacking up to getting to the barn at 4 a.m. for braiding and bathing. This experience surely helped her prepare for and win the 2019 Emerson Burr Horsemanship Test in the 9-11 age range at Pony Finals this year. Alpine also competed Royal Symphony, a nine-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding, in the Medium Green Hunter Pony National Championship presented by Sallee Horse Vans for owner Laurie Jueneman this year.
But it is so much more than that for Alpine. Chip is her happy place and a safe space whenever she needs him. “I love having him at my house. I like to walk to the barn [when I need to get away] and sit with him while he’s eating grass,” said Alpine.
The Griffins recognize his potential to do and be just about anything is endless. While competition plans for the rest of 2019 and 2020 are still in the works, Chip is a member of the family now and Suzanne and Alpine know that they will never let him go!