Mia and her pony Kismet have enjoyed hunting with Keswick Hunt and hope to compete in the North American Junior Field Hunter Championships. Photo by Warner Granade
From his humble beginnings as a byproduct of nurse-mare farms, Kismet, the pony with a bottomless tank, has shown a junior the thrill of her life in the hunt field.
For her eighth birthday, all Mia Valdez wanted was to jump something. She had just ridden for the first time at summer camp with her best friend. That November, she popped over cross rails for the first time on her birthday. “Best birthday gift ever,” she exclaimed. It was only the beginning.
Now 13, Mia lives with her twin brother Aiden, older sister Jessica, parents Britta and Carlos Valdez in Goochland, Virginia. They have a farm with a few acres and a run-in barn with two stalls, one of which is home to six-year-old Welsh/Arabian pony Kismet. This ever-ready pony, adopted by the Valdez family as a three-month-old nurse-mare foal, is now known to the Keswick Hunt Club as “the pony with the bottomless tank” out in the hunt field. It just took him and Mia some growing time to get there.
Mia’s mother was born in Germany and showed American Saddlebreds when she was younger, but had been out of the saddle for 20 years when her seven-year-old first asked to attend riding camp.
“She was a bit nervous, since she had never ridden before,” Britta remembered. “So, we took a lesson together. A few months later, I adopted an old fox hunting mare and started riding every day.”
Meanwhile, Mia trained with a barrel racer named Jessie Clise, who oversaw the blossoming of Mia’s hopeless obsession with horses. “Jessie allowed me to come along on an old Woodland’s pony, Snoopy,” Mia recalled. “The show barn visited many small hunter shows, but I quickly realized that my heart was in the jumper ring.”
The further she jumped into the horse world, the more opportunities presented themselves.“She was very dedicated to her riding and took any opportunity she had to ride and learn,” Mia’s mother said. “She worked at the barn to earn extra lessons and explored every avenue.”
Mia earned a ride on a young Thoroughbred named Jack (When In Rome) at the Thoroughbred Incentive Program Championships held in Kentucky, where she won the stakes class and the High Point Junior Rider title. She continued polishing her prowess in the saddle with her Paint, Tempe (Perfect Storm), which included the Vieva Perrin Memorial Award for Horsemanship for their equitation round at the recent Pony Club Championship.
Taking another path, Mia got her first taste of hunting with Clise, who was a member of Deep Run Hunt Club in Manakin Sabot, Virginia.
“She had a little rescue pony, Mary, who was blind in one eye, but as game as they come out in the hunt field,” Mia remembered. “She gave me my first foxhunting experience and I loved it. That’s when my mom recommended that we try Kismet at hunting.”
Mia and Kismet share a quiet moment. Photo by Britta Valdez
Their neighbor, Courtney Hyer, also a member at Deep Run, invited Mia to a junior meet. Kismet, who had been dabbling with Mia in Pony Club and the hunter and jumper rings, showed up ready to run, jump and then some.
“At our first outing we ended up completely submerged underwater because he jumped into a wide creek and it was way deeper than he had anticipated,” Mia said in retrospect, now able to laugh about the incident. “It was pretty cold that day, but we still continued hunting for a while.”
It was a lesson one only learns in the hunt field, but it certainly didn’t dampen either of their spirits. While her heart may have skipped a beat that day, Mia’s mother believes hunting has made Mia a stronger, more confident rider.
Kismet (the bay pony with the blaze) discovered a newfound joy in the hunt field with his junior rider, Mia Valdez. Photo by Warner Granade
“I believe her riding ability has greatly benefited from foxhunting,” Britta said. She cares for her horses and has learned common-sense safety hacks from her outings.”
In addition to improved riding skills, Mia’s mother believes the sport promotes conservation awareness. “I am also a huge environmental protection activist and hope that her appreciation for land conservation will continue to grow with her knowledge of foxhunting: No land, no hunting. I also hope she will learn to value the simple pleasure of riding through beautiful country without any competitions or ribbons to run after.”
Family friend Elizabeth McDade introduced Mia and Britta to Keswick Hunt and it has become the family’s second home. “I could not ask for a more supportive group of people,” Mia said. Keswick members often gush over Kismet and his pure, unadulterated love for following the pack over hill and dale.
“I am learning so much. Everyone is so helpful. My current trainer is [event rider] Laine Ashker and she helped me to get Kismet over his reservations with water. He now goes through any water, any time.”
“He is very game and excited out hunting,” Mia added of Kismet. “We are hunting first flight now and he definitely enjoys the jumps. His least favorite part is waiting. He is impatient.”
Mia said she is grateful for the opportunities Keswick has provided her and that she hopes to represent the hunt club well in her tryout for the North American Junior Field Hunter Championships. “I would love to give a shout out to Keswick Hunt Club for the excellent job they have done during the pandemic of waiving capping fees for juniors and accompanying adults,” said Mia. “This allowed so many juniors to become involved and enjoy foxhunting
Mia and Kismet (left) competing during this year’s Warrenton Hunt Night. Photo by Britta Valdez
While Mia hunts as often as she can and has actively recruited some of her friends to join her at Keswick, she’s also polishing her dressage skills in pursuit of her eventing C-3 rating in Pony Club.
“I am still trying to explore if I want to pursue jumpers or eventing,” she said. “I love the clear, unbiased world of jumpers but there is something to be said for competing at dressage, cross country, and show jumping. I have been told that I’d make a great lawyer because I can argue with the best,” Mia joked. “But I am hoping for a career that keeps me in the horse world.”
As for Kismet, the pony with the bottomless tank, Mia’s mother gave high praise to him and his mount Mia on their recent outing at Warrenton Hunt Night, in Warrenton, Virginia. “Kismet was such a trooper all day long showing in teams and pairs, junior hunters and the junior hunter hack,” Britta said. “Those who know of Kismet’s beginnings as a byproduct of nurse-mare farms were just in awe of how far he has come and what a first-class hunt pony he is.”