Palm Coast girl qualifies for Pony Finals in Kentucky.
In December 2010, Isabella Rodrigues and her family were on their way to P&L Stables, a horse boarding stable in Bunnell where Rodrigues had spent the last few years learning to ride on rented ponies.
They told Isabella they were going to a Christmas party. The 10-year-old didn’t think anything of it. But when she first set foot in the stable’s barn, she lost her breath. She was in shock.
Standing in the middle of the barn, complete with a big, red bow fastened to her neck, was a 6-year-old American quarter horse. Her name was Badger, and she was Isabella’s new best friend — a gift from her parents.
“She works hard. To see her come this far, and to be able to push the pony a little bit and push her a lot and have everything turn out this way is amazing.”
Isabella's trainer, Elizabeth O'Grady
“I was so happy,” said Isabella, now 14. “I love horses. They’re like big dogs. They’re your friends. They’re like family.
“Badger, she’s my best friend.”
Isabella and Badger, now 10, have been competing in show jumping ever since. Last year, Isabella and Badger won Grand Champion in her class for the Zone Finals. And at the end of March, the duo qualified for the Pony Finals after winning Grand Champion in the Large Green Pony division in Ocala.
Qualifying for the event was a dream of Isabella’s ever since she started riding at the age of 5.
Her trainer, Elizabeth O’Grady, has been integral in helping Isabella achieve that dream. O’Grady has trained Isabella twice a week for the last three years, working on a variety of skills, including course work, jumping gymnastics and no-stirrup work.
The pony has the skills, though, she said.
“It’s just being able to tune them,” O’Grady said. “It’s not just getting over the jump. It’s how they look and how they get to the jump.”
The Pony Finals take place Aug. 7-12 at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. And when her pupil rides for the first time on the biggest stage of her life, she wants her to remember one thing:
“I want her to perform as best as she can,” O’Grady said. “But when she gets in the ring, the last thing I say to her is, ‘Go have a good time.’”