Holding onto the reins as a nationally ranked pony jumper
By: Jessica Clifford
Bleat, bleat. 5:30 a.m. Bleat, bleat. Saturday – the Pennsylvania National Horse Show awaits.
Parker Peacock begins her day, sliding into her Tailored Sportsman pants, dipping her arms into a Kathryn Lily jacket and placing a Samshield helmet on her head. The final touch to her attire: her late grandmother’s gambling card tucked into her riding pant’s pocket.
“It’s a lifestyle, not just a hobby,” Ashley Peacock said about her 9-year-old daughter, who ranks first in the North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association and 15th in the small pony division by the United States Equestrian Federation.
Before competing, crowds of young girls under the age of 12 primp their ponies – cleaning, manicuring and braiding the long hair of their athletic duo. As the day goes on, the crowd becomes a claustrophobic mass of various competitions, with instructors telling their riders to warm up their horses and ponies before they show.
Parker begins to concentrate, retracing the memorized course. Oxer, vertical, combination – the names of jumps arranging in her head. Her face is emotionless. She has competed since she was 4 years old. She has been riding since before she could walk.
When her turn arrives, Parker mounts Glen Haven Astoria, her 8-year-old Palomino pony that grew up as her companion on her family farm. Parker knows which angle Glen Haven Astoria should jump at and the way she likes to ride.
As she rides the maze of the course, she reminds herself “you’ve gotta get it right, or otherwise you don’t score,” says many judges and her grandfather, Bill Erickson. Parker counts her strides: one, two, three, four, five – jump. One, two, three, four, five – jump. In tandem, the pair makes it over barriers between 2.3 and 2.6 feet.
Parker’s dad, Jeff Peacock, her brother Finley, her mom and grandfather sit in the stands and watch nervously as their confident girl competes. Her mother religiously wants her daughter “to have a good experience and come out with a smile.”
When her round is over, she awaits results. Parker congratulates her pony with gentle pets of praise. “You can have your best day, and your horse can have its best day or worst day,” Ashley Peacock said. “You are only 50 percent of it.” And Parker knows. Her competitive mind wants to win, but her youthful facial features stay reserved, rethinking the positives and the negatives in both her and her pony’s dual-effort.
When the riders and their ponies are called, Parker does not place. “You are going to lose probably more than you are going to win,” Erickson said.
Before the end, another award is given. “Parker Peacock” is called by the judges – she has won the Emerson Bird Award, as a test of her knowledge in horsemanship. Her second win of the same award.
Congratulatory acts spread among the riders, adorning winners and finalists with handshakes and hugs. But, Parker is motivated to get back to her family’s farm outside of Winston-Salem to practice more.
Back home at Peacock Acres, Parker rides her current pony – Glen Haven Astoria – while testing out the pony she will replace it within a year. Though Parker knows she will soon be too big for her current companion and athlete, she is “traumatized” to lease or sell the pony to a new rider.
Two hours a day she is outside on her ponies, practicing her jumps. “A lot of kids might go home with their friends on the weekends,” Ashley Peacock said. “[Parker] comes straight from school and comes and rides.”
As a former rider herself, Ashley Peacock plays instructor as Parker’s own trainer. She is never afraid to tell her daughter to get off the horse when she is not riding it correctly, as Erickson has witnessed. “You can ruin a horse if you don’t train it properly,” he said.
With experience, confidence and positivity, mom and daughter work together. Though Ashley Peacock does not find the time to strap her own riding boots on, she loves watching Parker. “If I can give her another ride, I would do that,” she said.
Recently, Parker is preparing herself to place at other nationally ranked horse shows next year.
Parker dreams to ride in college, but as for now, she is just going to keep competing in higher levels of USEF.
Parker’s alarm will bleat on an early morning next February – only a few months before the uneasy day she will replace her present pony. She will wake up and attend Ocala HITS in Florida. Parker will brush and braid Glen Haven Astoria’s mane, competing with her partner for almost the last time.
Jessica Clifford is a senior at UNCG, majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in English.