Junior Mint, aka “Patti,” is the kind of pony little girls dream about—short, plump and button-cute, with an appetite for carrots and treats and a high tolerance for all manner of snuggling, kissing and any other displays of affection.
Throughout her life, the 15-year-old mare has carried many budding young equestrians through the show ring as they make their way up the competitive ranks, but her most recent partnership with 9-year-old Southampton resident Olivia Bruyn has been something special.
During the 2008 show season, Bruyn and Patti were nearly unbeatable in the Small/Medium Children’s Hunter Pony division, winning top honors among all competitors in Zone 2, which includes New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Throughout the show season, riders are awarded points according to how high they place at each show. At the end of the season, the rider with the most points is the overall champion.
Bruyn and Patti qualified for the Zone 2 finals, which took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 2008 and the duo also qualified for the Marshall and Sterling Medal Finals, an equitation division in which the rider’s form rather than the horse’s form is being judged. Bruyn placed in the ribbons at the zone finals but chose not to compete in the Marshall and Sterling final because of her already packed show schedule.
The partnership between Bruyn and Patti was struck by Bruyn’s trainer, Kristina Muse, of Two Trees Farm in Bridgehampton. After a successful campaign in the short stirrup division on another pony, Little Rascal, Bruyn was ready to move into the Small/Medium Children’s Hunter Pony division, where the jumps are higher—ranging from 2 feet to 2 feet 3 inches—and the horse’s form is being judged rather than the rider’s position. Muse said she knew right away that Patti and Bruyn would be a perfect fit, based on her experience training other riders on the pony.
“I knew it would be a great match,” she said during an interview with Bruyn and her father, Wayne Bruyn, at Two Trees in December. “Olivia is an incredibly beautiful rider. She’s talented and gifted and I just knew these two would go far together. It was a gut feeling.”
Muse’s hunch proved to be correct immediately, as Bruyn and Patti won champion at their first show at Salt River Farm in Center Moriches in March 2008. The show season runs from December 1 through November 30, meaning that Bruyn had somewhat of a late start by doing her first show in March. But because she was able to place consistently high at each show, she accumulated more points than several peers who had more shows under their belts. Toward the end of the show season, several other riders in her division beefed up their show schedules, “chasing points” in an attempt to catch Bruyn, but none of them could pull it off.
Muse credits Bruyn’s success to both the experience that Patti brings to the ring as well as Bruyn’s exceptional talent as a rider.
“A lot of children you can train and explain to them how to sit properly, but when somebody is naturally talented, that’s a big part of it,” Muse said. “Olivia listens well, she’s determined and she’s passionate. Olivia was born to ride.”
And while Patti is now a seasoned pro in the show ring, she’s far from a push-button ride. Patti, a Chincoteague pony by origin, has her moments of stubbornness, like most ponies do, but Muse says that Bruyn proved right away she could overcome any misbehavior.
“She’s a tester,” Muse said of Patti. “But Olivia learned how to deal with her. Junior Mint is a great show pony, but she’s not as easy to ride as you might think. But when you click with that pony, she’ll take you to the top.”
At one show, Patti took a particular disliking to one jump, refusing to go over it. When asked how she dealt with that situation, Bruyn shyly but matter-of-factly stated, “I just kicked her and made her go over it.”
Asserting herself as a rider was something Bruyn learned before she ever met Patti. Her first pony, Lily, did not possess the experience or skill of Patti, and putting together a good-looking and technically sound ride required even more from the rider.
“She wasn’t fancy and she was hard to ride,” Muse said of Lily. “That was the start of what made Olivia very determined.”
After her successful campaign with Patti, Bruyn will move on to yet another mount as she works her way into the large pony division. With that move will come bigger jumps and more challenges, but if her career thus far is any indication, Bruyn will make the move seamlessly. Patti, meanwhile, will become available to another young girl ready to make her move into the small/medium division. Muse and Bruyn agreed that the parting with Patti will be emotional, but Muse said she’s hoping that Patti’s new rider will remain at Two Trees.
Once she finds the right pony, Bruyn will move into the large pony division and, according to Muse, will also continue to compete in the equitation division.
Bruyn keeps her life balanced away from the barn as well, dedicating time to playing the piano and playing softball in addition to her equestrian pursuits. With such a busy schedule at such a young age, Muse wondered out loud what her young student does in her free time. Bruyn, shrugging her shoulders, simply said: “homework.”