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by Susan Winslow
Back in 1954 when he started the Pony Of the America’s Club (POAC), attorney and horse breeder Les Boomhower of Mason City, Iowa, had a vision. His goal was to produce versatile, durable, and fun-to-ride ponies with unique, eye-catching colorations. The original crosses from Appaloosa and Shetland bloodlines fit the bill, with coat patterns ranging from bright snowflake blankets to magnificent leopards. The breed organization focused on encouraging children to get involved by offering a family-friendly venue for competing with these truly American ponies.
As the breed has grown in popularity, it has evolved. The introduction of Arabian, Quar-ter Horse, and Mustang bloodlines has resulted in ponies that reflect the horse-like qualities of their forbearers, but in a smaller package. Measuring up to 14 hands, their appeal has spread to include youth and adult competitors. The registry now boasts over 55,000 POAs, and competition opportunities abound for children and adults in a wide variety of disciplines including English, Western, Driving, and even rodeo. With the advent of larger ponies, the organization now includes the Junior Pony Future Classic Program (JPFC) to encourage adults to show nominated junior ponies, thus ensuring a wide pool of well-schooled ponies. The 19-and-Over Program offers classes in Western Pleasure, English Pleasure, Trail, and Reining, giving parents a chance to become involved alongside their kids.
Like a successful Major League farm team, the POAC has been an incubator for talented, ambitious, young competitors. While the POAC has a strong, loyal membership, many former POA champions have also gone on to big wins in ApHC, APHA, NRHA and AQHA competition.
POAC Chief Executive Officer Joyse Banister explains how the tenets of the organization contribute to the future success of its members. “The mission of the POAC is to promote the POA, a versa-tile breed of equine, as a family breed that provides an avenue of par-ticipation for everyone. Because our kids start out at such an early age, they learn about discip-line, hard work, and accomp-lishment when they’re young.”
The POAC offers regional and national competition venues including the National Congress and International Futurity and Sale. Joyse explains the club’s focus on family combined with an expectation of quality in competition. She says, “The kids learn structure in competition – it’s intense but there’s a high level of fun. It’s not uncommon to see kids cheering each other on from the rail during a show, or a parent or trainer helping a youngster in need of a hand.”
The Equine Chronicle visited with some talented former POA competitors who have gone on to impressive success on the world stage in various breeds.
30-year-old Jenna Dempze is one of the many young, talented POA champions who made the leap to success on a grand scale. She has been riding with Gil Galyean of Purcell, Oklahoma for nine years, balancing an intense competition season with a career on her family’s cranberry farm, Gaynor Cranberry Company, in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Among her many accomplishments, she won a 2014 Congress Champion title in Amateur Western Pleasure, a 2015 Congress Champion title in 2-Year-Old Non-Pro Western Pleasure, and a 2015 NSBA World Champion title.
Jenna started her show career in the POAC, riding with Elaine Hahner. She recalls, “Elaine had several lesson ponies, and her family had been involved with the breed for a long time. She allowed me to show one of her ponies in 4-H. Then, a few years later, I had the opportunity to show a futurity pony for a good friend at the POA International Show. My family then purchased our first POA at their futurity sale in October 1999.” Jenna went on to train with Linda Schonfeldt and her daughter Tracy for several years before going solo, competing throughout the Midwest during her youth career. She has fond memories of her POA years, “I loved growing up and showing ponies. It’s a unique breed and really focused on the youth. I enjoyed the opportunity to do the work myself and explore all the different events. It really helped me find my passion for Western Pleasure and also taught me how to prepare my own horses. I think it’s given me a great foundation for what I do now.”
Jenna went on to win more than ten international titles and many year-end awards during her POA career, showing in Hunt Seat Equitation, Horsemanship, Western Pleasure, Showmanship, Hunter Under Saddle, Hunter Hack, Halter, Longe Line, and occasionally Barrels. She recalls, “One of my favorite POA memories was winning the 3- & 4-Year-Old Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle Futurities in the same year with the same pony, KSS Forever A Ghost. My favorite pony was a weanling colt we purchased at the International Sale. His name was Impulses Siri Gold, and he was very talented but very challenging. I showed him through his 2-year-old year and he brought me a lot of success, but he made me work hard for it.”
In addition to gaining a solid foundation in competition, Jenna found her soulmate through her involvement in POAC competition. She says, “My all-time favorite POA experience was meeting Denton DeBuhr. I had a major crush on him from the first time I met him in 1999. We started dating in 2001 and have been together ever since.”
The DeBuhr Brothers
Denton (31), Drew (26) and Dylan (20) DeBuhr of New Hartford, Iowa, are accomplished horsemen who excelled in POA competition before moving into successful careers in AQHA and NSBA. Denton is a trainer at Gil Galyean Show Horses in Purcell, Oklahoma; Drew is an assistant trainer at Heeley Pleasure Horses in Van Meter, Iowa, and Dylan works for a farm in the family’s hometown of New Hartford.
The DeBuhr brothers have won impressive titles in recent years including Denton’s coaching, training, and exhibitor wins at the Tom Powers Futurity, Southern Belle, Reichert Celebration, NSBA World Show, and the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Drew has won titles at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, and Dylan has won numerous futurities and titles in the POAC.
These talented young men come from a long line of horsemen. Drew says, “We were basically born on horses. My grandparents, Bev and Keith Davis, always had horses, and we learned a lot from my uncle, Mike Davis, who’s a great Reining horse trainer. Nobody met us at the in-gate and handed us the reins. We put in long hours on the farm working with the ponies, and it paid off at the shows.”
Drew recalls a favorite mare that all of the brothers started out on, Wimpy’s Desert Storm. This versatile mare earned a place in the POA Hall of Fame after winning multiple International and World Championships as well as State and Regional Championships. Drew says affectionately, “She could do it all, but we concentrated on Western Pleasure, English, Showmanship, and Equitation. My grandfather was really partial to the Wimpy P1 foundation lines and she was incredible. My grandfather only got one foal out of her, a colt named Lucky. He survived being one of twins. When he was a baby, he was in our barn when it took a direct hit from a tornado and he survived. He really lived up to his name, and he’s now owned by a dear family friend.”
Drew has fond memories of his POAC career. He recalls, “The lessons we learned through POAC competition have helped each of us in our careers. It’s easy to get caught up in the records and titles, and I’m grateful for all the success we had. The main thing I took away from our experience is that it was really fun for our family to be together doing this. The POAs really focus on family, and we had so much fun showing together. I learned really solid basics about how to be a good competitor, on the good days as well as the not-so-good days. I also learned that the relationship with the horse is the most important thing, no matter what the event, and that bond of trust formed through hours of practice and one-on-one time with your horse is what leads to success. My brothers and I learned early on about the importance of doing the hard work before going to the show. To this day, I thank my uncle for that.”
Multiple World Cham-pion trainer Troy Lehn of Paradise Valley, Arizona, had a banner year in 2015. His wins included Champion and Reserve Champion honors at some of the most illustrious venues in the industry. He has worked hard and paid his dues, and he credits the early years in POAC competition for giving him a solid foundation that helped propel him to success in the Quarter Horse world.
He describes his early love of horses, “I grew up on a farm. Ever since I was little, I always wanted a pony. Finally, when I was six, my parents got me pony lessons. When I was seven, my parents got me my first POA that I showed for a year, and then I got the pony that I showed for the rest of my POA career, Tooter Bars. I showed him in POAC competitions throughout my youth, and he was a great pony. He’s still the all-time winningest pony at the International World Show.”
Troy also started competing in AQHA competition as a youth, and he recalls the benefits of starting out in the ponies. “Competing in POAC competition gave me a huge advantage when I moved into Quarter Horse competition because I’d had a chance to do every single event. That’s where the POA is really good; you don’t learn to ride just one discipline, you have the chance to try it all and it’s really fun. When I was competing in POA, I did everything from Bareback, Western, and English to Jumping, Reining, and Barrels. That’s a huge advantage. When you’re ready to move on, you have a solid base of knowledge in a wide variety of disciplines.”
When he started showing Quarter Horses, that knowledge served him well. Just this past year, this dedicated trainer, coach, and competitor earned a unanimous win at the 2015 Tom Powers Futurity in Maturity Novice Horse Western Pleasure with A Chrome Cookie. He and A Chrome Cookie also won Green Trail and Green Western Pleasure at the APHA World Show. He won the Breeders Cup and was Reserve World Champion at the 2015 NSBA World Show with Looking Good in Red. Aboard Alexandra Chavez’s stunning bay filly, Pretty Assets, he also won big at the 2015 Tom Powers Futurity, the NSBA World Show, and the Quarter Horse Congress.
Troy’s plans are to scope out high quality futurity prospects and prepare his horses and clients for continued success in the show pen in 2016.
Chelsea Bain of Nashville, Tennessee is a former POAC champion and multiple APHA World Champion who is now a talented country music singer with her star on the rise. She credits many of the lessons she learned in POA competition with helping her deal with the challenges of competition in the upper echelons of APHA and her blossoming career in the music industry.
She says, “I’ve always loved horses. When I was thirteen, my aunt had a friend who said she would let me ride her POAs. At the time, I remember I didn’t really want to go, but I’m so glad I did. She had a POA named Cherokee. When I got on him, I fell in love. He was a sassy, fun, 3 year-old, and I learned so much working with him.”
Chelsea spent her first year of com-petition with the feisty Che-rokee paying her dues. She recalls with a smile, “That first year show-ing in Arizona, there were a-bout ten kids in every class. All I can say is I was consistent. My mom tells me now that she was impressed with my determination. Even though I came in last every time, I didn’t give up. The thing is, I just loved it. I kept working at it, and when I won my first blue ribbon in the last show of that season it was the greatest feeling ever. I’d worked so hard with that pony. It helped my confidence. When I was given the chance to ride a friend’s pony at the POA World Show, I won Reining. There was no turning back from there.”
Her family bought a POA, The Crimson Kid, and Chelsea went on to a stellar show career with him. She also got into Paint competition, training with Sara Simons of Simons Show Horses. For a time, she competed in both breed organizations before concentrating on the APHA with Zippos Redemption. The pair won numerous World titles including Western Horsemanship World Champion Youth 14-18; Showmanship World Champion Youth 14-18; Trail World Champion Youth 14-18; Western Pleasure World Champion Youth 14-18 and Number One Youth in the Nation in 2006. She says, “This horse is so smart and talented, but he’s been a challenge, too. I always have to stay three steps ahead of him. I’ve never had easy horses, but I think that’s made me a better rider.”
Chelsea also had tremendous success with her all-around mare, Sensational Blonde. Their honors include two-time Hunt Seat Equitation World Champion 14-18; Showmanship World Champion 14-18; two-time Western Pleasure World Champion 14-18; three-time Western Horsemanship World Champion Amateur 19-44; two-time Hunt Seat Equitation World Champion Amateur 19-44; Showmanship World Champion Amateur 19-44; Western Pleasure World Champion Amateur 19-44; Western Riding World Champion Amateur 19-44 and Number One Amateur in the Nation in 2008 and 2009. She says, “I’ve had to work my butt off, but when you do that the success means so much more. The lessons I learned showing ponies in POAC competition have stayed with me: focus, buckling down even when it’s hard, and never giving up. Even now, I still feel as excited when I go into the pen as I did at my first POA show.”
The lessons Chelsea learned through her involvement in POAC have also contributed to her success in the music industry. She just released a music video for her single, The Power of A Woman, to rave reviews as it climbs the charts. She says with a smile, “People ask me how I handle the challenges of life on the road in this industry, going from show to show with so much time on the road. I just laugh and say, ‘Are you kidding? I spent so many years in the dusty, back seat of a dually on the road to horse shows.’ This is easy!” She adds, “The truth is, I learned a valuable lesson while showing my POAs that has been the driving force in my life. You can’t waste time worrying about what everyone else is doing; you have to focus on doing your best. When you do, good things will come.”
All of these talented young competitors share the same work ethic and values learn-ed in the supportive family atmosphere of POA competition. To Joyse Banister, that isn’t a coincidence. She says, “The lessons young people learn through POA com-petition serve them well as they mature. Many are lifelong POA competitors, and we are proud of the many former POA competitors who have gone on to success in larger breed organizations. Often, when they have children of their own, they return to POA competition with their kids to get them started in the same way.”
For more information on Pony Of the America’s Club – POAC, visit their website at www.poac.org.