Equestrian competes on an unequal footing


Danny Slovis isn't living on borrowed time, but he knows how it feels to ride a borrowed pony. And to experience some difficulty, and pleasure, along the way.

Slovis, 16, of Severna Park, returned from Great Britain last week, where he competed for the U.S. contingent at The World Team Mounted Games Championships. Seven countries took part in the event, including Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland and Sweden.

But not everyone was on equal footing -- or hoofs.

"The U.S. and Canada were at a disadvantage, because we were on borrowed ponies. All the other countries were on their regular ponies," said Slovis, a senior at Severn School who has been riding for nearly 10 years.

"We weren't really supposed to be over there. The regular competition in Sweden was canceled. Sweden couldn't come up with enough ponies, or something like that. So we went to England instead."

The host team emerged victorious in the three-day competition, which took place through the Mounted Games Association. The United States tied for third with Northern Ireland, but lost out in a tie-breaker.

An accomplished equestrian who participated in the International Pony Club Games in Vancouver last July, Slovis was selected for the team at a November tryout in Howard County, along with two girls from Massachusetts, another girl from Delaware and a boy from the Delmarva area.

On the tournament's first day, Slovis climbed aboard a 20-year-old Welsh Appaloosa pony. Dispensing with the introductions, he hurried to familiarize himself with his new-found companion.

"We had to learn how our ponies acted," he said. "We didn't have any time to ride before; just a couple hours before the main competition started. But [the pony] was real good. Ponies can go forever in games, because they seem to love it so much, and this one knew all the games."

So did Slovis, though the names were different than what he is used to in this country. The teams engaged in eight games during a morning session, and repeated them in the afternoon. There were six sessions in all.

The games of skill included such odd-sounding titles as "Bang-A-Balloon," "Sock-and-Bucket," "Hug-A-Mug" and "Hula Hoop." There even was a jousting competition, but the intent was to pierce scattered targets, not other riders.

"I've done them all; they're just named different over there," Slovis said.

He proved most adept at "Agility Aces," where a rider hops off his pony, runs atop a row of stones and hops back on his mount.

"I went first in that one, and I got us a lead," he said. "And that's probably one I didn't mess up on, either."

Slovis will try out for the team again in November, "and if I don't make it this year, I'll be going over anyway to compete in the world individuals," he said.

In preparation for his next challenge, Slovis has spent manyhot days at a Millersville stable owned by Frank and Lois Bohdal. He is leasing a 13-year-old Scuball pony -- with the option to buy -- named "Applejack."

"This one's real good. He knows the commands. He just doesn't stop. So, if I mess up, that's the end of it. By the time I get back, everybody else is done," he said.

The Slovis family owns a 4-year-old Anglo-Arab pony being kept at Obligation Farm in Davidsonville, so Danny's travels through the county take him well beyond his Severna Park home. He also works at Rockyhill Stables in Millersville, assisting with various horse camps.

"All of this takes a lot of his time up, and it's a healthy thing," said Danny's father, Dr. Norman Slovis. "He doesn't have a lot of free time to get any problems. It's made him a much more responsible person."

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