Two sisters, Diana Detwiler and Erin Hails, bought Sonny this past January for the purpose of training him for the new competition of pony jumping. Sonny had never jumped before, but as Diana says, "he's pretty smart.'
The American Horse Association (AHA) just started the event of pony jumping last year. (Pony jumping is different from horse jumping. A pony is smaller than a horse and a rider must be 18 or under.) This past August was the event's first national competition - and Sonny was there. Diana, not just part owner, but also Sonny's rider, competed in competition after competition, weekend after weekend, from early May to mid-August (actually she's still competing regularly, just not every weekend) and, after placing first or second in nearly every competition - along with an impressive fourth and sixth at the American Gold Cup - Sonny and Diana were ranked third in their zone (which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York). The top four go to finals, so it was off to North Carolina.
Diana, a 16-year-old 10th grader (who acts much older) at Twin Valley Bible Academy, has been riding, according to sister Erin, "since she could walk.' Diana has competed with two other horses in the past, but never with so much success as Sonny.
Erin, who is 21 and too old to compete, takes very good care of Sonny, doing much of the maintenance and frequently grooming him. It helps that Sonny lives in Brickland Stables, the barn Erin has been running since she was 18. Despite doing much of her work in the background, it is obvious that Erin loves helping her sister ride Sonny to victory.
In fact, it seems that the entire Detwiler family has had a long love affair with horses. Both parents, Mark and Janet Detwiler, support their daughters and rarely miss a competition. Vicki Sweigart, their trainer and, according to Diana, "just as big a part of all this,' says that it is really amazing because the "parents are very supportive.' Mark and Janet have even bought their own pony for the girls to train and eventually to enter competition. Laura Detwiler, Erin and Diana's sister, also has been riding for a long time. Even Erin's husband, Clay, is involved with horses - he's a blacksmith and the one responsible for the shoes on Sonny's hooves.
Vicki has been a horse trainer for more than 15 years and has been training the Detwiler girls for about four of those years. She says she's "very excited' about Sonny and Diana's potential According to her, having a horse that is only six years old and has only trained for nine months do as well as Sonny is something to be "very proud of.' She said that they basically "started from scratch' with Sonny, but he is a "quick learner and a very intelligent and uncomplicated horse.' Vicki also thinks it is really nice to see how well Diana and Erin have been doing with Sonny because it was a "project they started' by themselves., Vicki works with Diana and Sonny about an hour a day - and that hour a day has really gone a long way.
Sonny stands 14.1 hands high (just a couple inches under five feet) and Diana says, "he loves to jump' and "the higher the fence, the better he jumps.' Diana loves to jump too, saying that it is "very exciting' and that "it really gets the adrenaline pumping.' Well, from Aug. 16-19, both horse and rider got to do what they love while competing in the national competition in Asheville, N.C.
The horses were split up into teams of four according to zone - each zone was its own team. There are about 11 zones and the top six placed. Diana helped lead her zone to a fifth place finish. Fifth out of 11, on first glance, may not seem that impressive. The national competition is a huge indoor event and through the eyes of a horse, an indoor event looks very different from an outdoor event. According to Erin, it is often very difficult for a horse to make that adjustment, but she says, "Sonny handled himself really well.'
So what is in the future for Sonny and Diana? Right now, Diana says she is only "(competing) for fun and experience.' But she is only 16 and still has two more years to ride Sonny and improve her skills. Vicki says that Diana is really coming along with her jumping. Vicki describes the exhilaration of jumping differently than Diana, saying that "it is as though it's effortless.' Vicki says that Diana has experienced a few of those effortless jumps, but it not yet having them all the time. But Vicki definitely sees a lot of potential in Diana.
And as for Sonny? Since he's only six years old, he could have as many as 10 years of jumping left in him. According to Vicki, "he's already a champion.' Just think what he'll be like in five years.