New Haven sisters taking home gold

NEW HAVEN — A horse named J.Lo — and the two New Haven sisters who ride her — have been causing quite a stir on both the local and national horse show scene as of late.
The horse and her riders, Hailey and Brooke, daughters of Kelley and Scott Perlee of New Haven, took home the gold in six different classes at the 2010 Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show, held in Oklahoma City in October. Horses in these competitions are judged primarily on appearance and gait.
Hailey, 16, was named the 2010 World Youth Hunter Pleasure Champion and Brooke, 9, came away with two titles: the 2010 Walk-Trot Hunter Pleasure World Champion and the 2010 Walk-Trot Hunter Equitation World Champion.
Two years earlier, in 2008, Hailey had won two World Champion titles at the same competition riding a horse named Howard, but this year, both she and her younger sister decided to give J.Lo a chance.
“She was mom’s trail riding nag,” Hailey said. “I pulled her out of the field when Howard was leaving for Oklahoma in 2008 and I was bored. I didn’t have anything to do so I pulled her out of the field and was like, ‘Hey. I’ll check you out.’”
Hailey knew that J.Lo would have a long way to go before she was competition ready.
“She was already kind of trained,” she said. “But her canter was fast and she literally couldn’t walk 10 straight steps. And when we bought her, she was butt ugly. Seriously. Her head was huge. Oh, it was bad.”
Over the course of the next two years, as J.Lo grew into her oversized head, Hailey continued to train the horse that she swears she didn’t name.
“We have no idea where it came from,” she said of the horse’s moniker. “We bought her with it, trust me. Oh, what a horrible name that is.”
But despite being named after the pop diva famous for such hits as “Waiting for Tonight” and “I’m Real,” J.Lo the horse soon proved the she, too, could be “real” in the ring, where she goes by the show name She’s My Calendar Girl.
“She ended up going in six classes and she won all of them,” said Hailey’s mom, Kelley. “So it was just really cool because most of these horses go down there and go in three, maybe four. And she went in all six and won all of them. It was really cool.”
Unlike most horses in the competition, J.Lo lives at the Perlee home, rather than at the trainer’s.
“Most people that show on that level have them at a trainer’s 24/7,” Kelley Perlee said. “It’s pretty cool that she was basically trained by a kid 11 months of the year.”
The Perlee sisters do go to a trainer, though, for lessons once or twice a week. Bonnie Sogoloff of Cedar Spring Farm in Charlotte has given lessons to both Hailey and Brooke, and saw them both through the competition, along with help from her daughters, Keely and Wendy Sogoloff.
Just before the horses left on their journey to the October competition in Oklahoma, Keely Sogoloff called her horse-psychic friend to gain a little insight from Howard and J.Lo. This tradition is just for fun, though she is “always right on” and knows “exactly what they are thinking,” according to Kelley Perlee.
“J.Lo said that Brooke has giggles in her and that she can read my mind, which is totally true,” Hailey Perlee said.
The female horse served both her masters well once she reached the Oklahoma City ring, adapting to the different levels and types of competition.
“The mare can’t be like she is with me,” Hailey said. “That’s what’s special with her. She has to step it up and be hot and pretty and her eyes have got to open and she has to work really hard for me. And for Brooke, she’s got to be cute and slow and easy and quiet — and she can do it.”
J.Lo’s versatility allowed her to sweep six different classes, scoring titles for both Hailey and Brooke.
Hailey rode both Howard and J.Lo to win both the qualifier and the championship rounds and become the 2010 World Youth Hunter Pleasure Champion beating out 21 other competitors and their horses.
Early on in the competition, Hailey and Howard came out on top after trotting, walking, cantering and presenting around the ring, and off in another class, Brooke and J.Lo scored a win.
“I actually didn’t get to watch (Brooke’s) first class because I was driving Howard,” Hailey said. “Bonnie came out to head me and I was in the cart with Howard and she said, ‘Brooke won it!’ And of course I was freaking out.”
Both Hailey and her mom couldn’t be more proud of Brooke and her first showing at the Oklahoma competition.
“I was shocked because Brooke’s pretty young,” her mother said. “But she went down there and smoked them and never got nervous or anything.”
With both her daughters named World Champions, the elder Perlee hopes that they will be able to compete next year, but due to the expensive nature of showing horses, she says that is still up in the air.
“Anything in the horse show world sort of relates to money which is hard,” she said. “If we can afford it, I’d love to do it again next year, but I don’t know if that’ll be feasible.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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