SCV's Top Pony Team Sacrifices for Success at Nationals
August, 2006 - Issue #22
Photo by Lisa Ahrens
Photo by Lisa Ahrens
You could say 12-year-old Victoria Bauer was born to ride a horse. By the time she was 4, after seeing a picture of an equestrian rider atop a horse, she was asking Mom and Dad if she could do it.

By age 7, Victoria was riding regularly, her lithe body guiding an 850-pound animal over obstacles most adults five times her size wouldn't dare.

But the story of Victoria Bauer isn't really about a girl who rides horses, though she rides well enough to be going to next month's National Pony Finals in Lexington, Kenkucky.

Hers is a story about relationships.

It's a story about her and Dream Catcher, the Red Dun-colored pony of probable Spanish Mustang descent that has become her friend.

It's the story of a girl and her parents - parents who recognized a daughter's passion and then committed to help her pursue it by making sacrifices most of us wouldn't dream of.

On every level, this is a love story. Not a love story the way Hollywood might tell it. But one of genuine love - love forged in trust and reflected in sacrifice.

It's a story that began in earnest the day little Victoria turned 8.

That was the day Dream Catcher, whom she had already ridden for almost two years, joined the Bauer family for good.

"Dad said we were going to the barn to wash Dreamy," is how Victoria remembers the moment. "When we got there, there were 50 people standing around and Dad had a camera. Dreamy had a big sign on him but I couldn't read it. I was too blown away."

The sign, which included the words "Happy Birthday," informed Victoria that Dreamy was hers.

"The first words out of her mouth after, 'I can't believe you did this,' was 'Can we keep him?'" says Victoria's mom, Shannon. "Dreamy is Victoria's pet. He's part of the family."

The relationship between girl and beast, which had already begun to sprout, blossomed in the years that followed. Together, Victoria and Dreamy ascended the equestrian ranks.

"Victoria is one of just six riders in California to qualify for the 2006 nationals, where she will compete against a field of more than 225 riders. Dream Catcher, meanwhile, ranks in the top five nationally for his pony class. Together, they are undefeated in pony equitation competition."
Last year, Victoria and Dreamy finished in the top three in the Los Angeles Horse Show Association (LAHSA) 11-and-under Equitation competition. Atop Dreamy, Victoria also became the 2004 LAHSA Children's Pony Hunter Reserve Champion, the 2005 Reserve Champion in the Gold Coast Series Equitation (11 and under) and finished in the top five among medium ponies at the 2005 West Coast Pony Finals.

The pair's crowning achievement thus far came at the 2005 LAHSA Pony Medal Championships, where Victoria rode Dreamy to the championship.

Today, Victoria is one of just six riders in California to qualify for the 2006 nationals, where she will compete against a field of more than 225 riders, some as old as 17.

Dream Catcher, meanwhile, ranks in the top five nationally for his pony class.

Together, they are undefeated in pony equitation competition.

"Dreamy was never supposed to achieve what they have achieved together," Shannon Bauer says. "He was a handful. He was a runaway. He never wanted to work."

But Victoria did.

Day after day, the Saugus resident made the trek to Silver Gate Farm in Bouquet Canyon to work with her pony. Under the watchful eye of trainer Julie Van Loo, a special bond began to form.

"It's as if we understand each other," Victoria says. "If he didn't trust me, we wouldn't be doing this today. If there was no trust, we wouldn't be flying through the air together."

In equestrian circles, Victoria is known as an English hunter seat rider. She and Dreamy compete by traversing a course and clearing obstacles. But unlike pure jumpers, Victoria doesn't race the clock. Her events include a judge. Much like figure skating, hunter competition demands equal mastery of the technical maneuvers as well as artistic style.

"It's more difficult that an average jumper course," says Shannon Bauer. "They have to look good doing it. It's all about the combination of the rider and the pony - how well they communicate. They have to make it look easy."

And therein lies one of Victoria's greatest advantages. She and Dreamy, who is 13 years old, have spent almost half of their respective lives together. In a sport that depends on communication and trust, they make a perfect match.

"I love riding because of Dreamy," Victoria says. "We make a team and that team goes everywhere together, He's one half and together we make a whole."

Only love can explain Victoria's devotion to the sport, a devotion her parents insist comes solely from her. Five, sometimes six days a week, Victoria, who stands 4-feet-10 and weighs 73 pounds, is at Silver Gate Farms, riding Dreamy (13.1 Až hands) and at times, Trapper John (16.3 hands).

"It's scared me plenty of times," Victoria says of commanding such powerful creatures. "But my confidence in Dreamy is something that has built up over time."

Victoria won't say much about her chances in Kentucky, only that she would love to finish in the top 10.

The success she's enjoyed thus far suggests she might do even better.

"I'd really like to finish in the top," she laughs, after thinking a moment.

Victoria's success hasn't come cheaply, though. In addition to the hours of training, there's also the matter of expenses.

Even without attending a show, the cost associated with boarding and caring for Dreamy, combined with Victoria's training, run about $1,000 per month.

Shows can cost between $1,000 and $1,500 per month, and Victoria competes in seven to eight a year.

Photo courtesy of AC Custom Photo
Photo courtesy of AC Custom Photo
"People think you're completely rich if you do this sport. But that's not true," Shannon Bauer says. "But Victoria loves it."

One of the ways Shannon and her husband, Leo, have enabled Victoria to compete has been through private and business sponsorships. SCV residents, proud of what Victoria is accomplishing in her sport, pledge occasional support.

In June, Valencia Cigars and News held a fundraising event to help defray some of the $15,000 cost of sending Victoria to nationals.

"Sponsorships are going to allow Victoria to go," Shannon Bauer says. "If it's not enough, we'll be selling things."

The Bauer's Saugus home is already for sale. They own six-and-a-half acres in Bouquet Canyon where they can house Dreamy themselves.

"My parents pretty much decided 'you're going to nationals,'" Victoria says. "They said, 'you've worked too hard not to go.'"

And so Victoria and Dream Catcher will make the cross-country trip to compete on the biggest stage of their lives. From there, Victoria hopes to ride in college and one day, perhaps, in the Olympics.

She understands that Dreamy will not always be her partner. Even though ponies like him live into their 20s, Victoria will not always be a girl. She'll need to move into the horse category, perhaps as early as next year.

"But we're keeping Dreamy," she says.

Her Mom nods in agreement.

"He's her pet," she says.

And he's her friend.

Perhaps that fact is best illustrated by what happened the one and only time Dreamy tripped over an obstacle.

The pony's front knees buckled and he pitched forward headfirst.

He could have rolled to one side and escaped no worse for wear. But with Victoria on his back, he fought instead to remain upright.

He bore the brunt of the fall on his neck trying to keep the girl in her seat.

Sacrifice runs in the family.
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