(first appeared in the March 2015 issue of The Equiery)
by Katherine O. Rizzo
If you ask 17-year-old Dulaney High School junior Anastasia Vialov what it means to be a Kiser Scholar, you are in for a long response, as this young jockey and show ring rider has a lot to say. And most of it is about what an incredible experience race riding has been.
“It felt really awesome to win this scholarship. It was such a great opportunity and a really cool experience,” she said
The Show World
Before Anastasia started race riding, the Cockeysville native got her first ride on a horse at Caves Farm when she was seven years old. “I took a break, though, after a few lessons and didn’t really get into it again until I was in seventh grade and started riding at St. Timothy’s School,” she explained. It was then through a friend that Anastasia was introduced to Betty McCue of EHM Stables in White Hall, where she has been riding ever since. “I started competing Betty’s horses that summer.”
Many of the horses that Anastasia was able to compete were off-the-track Thoroughbreds. “Both of Anastasia’s parents are from Russia and are non-horse people. She is just a sponge and wants to know everything about the horse world,” Betty stated. “She has had to work her way up from the start and has brought along a lot of green horses over the years.”
Anastasia has become an accomplished show rider and this past season won the Baltimore County Horse Show Association’s Pleasure Horse Championship with Betty’s OTTB, Prideland. They also earned that same year-end title in 2013.
Prideland was actually one of Anastasia’s steeplechase mounts as well this past year. She rode him to a third place finish in the Junior Field Master’s Chase at Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point and a sixth place finish in the Junior Field Master’s Chase, Thoroughbred Horse division at the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup. The 2002 gelding was bred in Maryland by Dark Hollow Farm and won nearly $160,000 on the flat track before being retired and finding his way to EHM Stables.
Anastasia found more success this year in the medium pony divisions riding Count Chocula, also owned by Betty. He was Anastasia’s first steeplechase mount. “I was introduced to steeplechasing through my friend Elizabeth Scully. She also does the BCHSA shows and invited some of us out to watch her ride in a pony race,” Anastasia said. “We all loved it and wanted to try it out for ourselves.”
In 2013, Anastasia and Count Chocula entered their first race, and won. That was the Medium Pony Flat Race at the Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point. Next they won the Medium Pony division at Chasin’ for Children and then again at the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup. The pair ended the 2013 season with a second place finish in the Junior Field Masters Chase, Medium Pony division at the Howard County Cup Races.
The pair came out again in 2014 to a nearly perfect winning season. They won at Green Spring, the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup and Potomac Hunt Races and finished second at Chasin’ For Children and the Howard County Cup Races.
In only two seasons of race riding, Anastasia has won six times, finished second three times and third once for a win percentage of 46.15%. Pretty impressive for a show ring rider.
Betty feels Anastasia’s show hunter background is what has helped her be so successful in the race world. “The flat work helps her to know the feel of the horses. She has also learned to have patience and to see where the horse is going to jump.” She added that by not having her own horse, Anastasia has actually become an even better rider by riding many different horses and ponies and learning how each one is an individual.
As part of winning the Kiser Scholarship, Anastasia earned free tuition for the Junior Steeplechase Camp put on by U.S. Pony Racing. The campers visited several steeplechase training facilities and tracks in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
While in Maryland, Anastasia had the opportunity to ride with champion trainer Jack Fisher. “He helped me with holding strong horses and getting them to go at the speed I wanted,” she said. Next was riding with Doug Fout in Virginia and then with Katherine Neilson in Pennsylvania. “I got to ride Super Saturday while there which was super cool!” Super Saturday, owned by Irv Naylor, won at Fair Hill, Howard County and Shawan Downs in 2014.
Although Anastasia has aged out of the pony races this year, she is still eligible to ride in some of the junior flat races and field masters chases. “We are looking for a horse for her to do that on this year,” said Betty who added, “She wants to keep racing. She’s just one of those all-around athletes who wants to keep going.”
“I’ll be at all the races this year even if I’m not riding,” Anastasia stated, explaining that she plans to groom for her friends and cheer them on. “This sport really is friendly competition. No one is mean to another. We all want each other to do well and have fun. All us girls at the farm are like a big family.”
Betty agrees saying, “Anastasia and these girls have made this a team sport. They help each other with the ponies and become each other’s trainers.” And that is really what being a junior race rider is all about isn’t it? Ponies, horses, friends and fun… and learning how to be a better jockey and horseperson all at the same time.