Equestrienne wins international competition

Pugh wraps up Annie Oakley's calves.

Saying life revolves around horses for Kelly Pugh would be an
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Saying life revolves around horses for Kelly Pugh would be an understatement.

With two recent wins, the 20-year-old equestrienne from Hollister has decided to take a year off from San Francisco State University to add to a trophy case that already houses a hefty collection of ribbons, show blankets, halters, saddles and bridles while pursuing her dream of riding for the U.S. Olympic Team.

“I was spreading myself too thin,” said Pugh, who typically competes every other weekend and spends 10 hours per day training. “I love school, but for right now, it’s too hard to do both.”

From age six, when she participated in her first competition at The Horse Park at Woodside, Pugh has dedicated almost six days of every week to grooming horses at Flying Tail Farms, a training barn on New Avenue in Gilroy owned and operated by her mother and former competitor Dayna Lynd-Pugh.

Pugh’s hard work paid off Aug. 15, when she earned first place with thoroughbred Annie Oakley III in the Woodside Summer Horse Trials. The contest involved competing against 17 top regional riders in the eventing disciplines of dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping.

“Kelly is an amazing competitor,” said fellow equestrienne Lindsay Connors. “She has such focus when things are good. When things are going poorly, somehow she’s able to pull it all together. She rarely disappoints.”

In dressage, the competitor receives a score based on the execution of particular movements performed by the horse in reaction to body signals by the rider inside a ring. Cross-country jumping occurs in a field where there are solid jumps such as logs, ditches and fences that must be cleared without falling. Show jumping takes place in a ring where there are jumps with rails that fall when hit. The competitor with the lowest overall score in all three categories wins.

It was those three events, which earned Pugh the title of Young Rider Gold Medalist at the 2010 North American Young Rider Championships in Lexington, Ky. Riders between the ages of 14 and 21 from throughout North America came to compete Aug. 1 in Kentucky, but Pugh and her gray mare Copycat Chloe came out on top.

“It was such a long process getting to Kentucky,” said Pugh. “To come back after winning the gold even with all that pressure, was really exciting.”

“She is one of those riders that you send out to compete and you never have to question if she will do the right thing. She always does what is best for herself and what is best for the horse,” said coach Shannon Lilley, who credits Pugh for keeping cool under pressure. “It’s great that she has been so well rewarded for all of her hard work.”

Pugh currently has her eyes set on The Essex Grant, a $5,000 grant set up through the United States Equestrian Federation to be put towards horse training and riding competitions. The results have yet to be released, but if she wins, Pugh plans to put the money toward training on the East Coast where the riding community is much larger.

For now, Pugh is focused on the 2010 Fall Horse Trials Sept. 24-26 at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles where the tentative plan, according to Lilley, is to move Pugh up to the advanced level. The Area VI Championships Sept. 10-12 at Copper Meadows Equestrian Center in Ramona, is also on her calendar.

Though there is some high-risk danger involved in her competitions, Pugh admits she is addicted to the adrenaline rush.

“I love working with horses,” she said. “There’s an incredible partnership that you create with the horse when you have to trust one another.”

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