Tabitha Okitsu and Avery Kim, incoming sophomores at South Pasadena High School, led a group of four Californian girls to a gold medal in team competition at USEF’s National Pony Finals in Lexington, Kentucky last Friday, before finishing first and second, respectively, in the individual competition the following afternoon.
The girls competed against seven teams that were composed of the best 18 and under pony riders from around the country. Okitsu and Kim were joined in the team event by teammates Sydney Flashman (a Pasadena resident), and Caroline Mawhinney. Flashman trains alongside Okitsu and Kim at San Pasqual Stables in South Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Park.
San Pasqual trainer Caroline Sterckx chose Kim, who finished a team best fourth in the Pony Finals last year, to ride last in the team event. Representing the Zone 10 team, the girls were tied for gold entering the final ride of the competition. “It reminded me of running the anchor leg in a track and field relay race,” said Kim, adding, “I knew we had a really good team, but I wasn’t expecting to win.”
Okitsu never allowed another rider/pony team a chance on Saturday in the individual competition, completing four rounds without committing a single fault (a deduction earned by knocking down a rail or pulling up at a jump). Kim earned the silver medal safely, her total of only four faults giving her four less than the third place finisher.
Afterwards, Okitsu credited her pony, Spoot de la Joulais, with her success, telling reporters that “[Spoot is] the best pony I could have asked for…I think [the victory] was mostly my pony. We got a lot of tough spots that he just carried me through.”
Winning gold was especially emotional for Okitsu after her disappointing performance last year in Lexington, when her last horse, Mario, began to pull up at jumps. She did not place at last year’s competition.
Nobody has watched Okitsu more closely this past year than Kim, her barn mate at San Pasqual. “I’m so proud of her,” said Kim, “To come back and clear everything, to be the only one of 31 riders not to get a fault, that is really, really special.”
Sterckx also heaped praise upon her riders, saying, “It’s amazing to think that out of the thousands of riders and thousands of barns in California, three riders came from San Pasqual Stables.” Located across from the Little League fields in the Arroyo Seco, San Pasqual is currently bidding against four other candidates to retain ownership of the stables.
Sterckx stressed the importance of the facility to the girls’ success: “I want the City to see how happy this has made these young girls. All because they have a great place to train. I hope that everybody can see that this is what we work towards every day at San Pasqual Stables.”