Lexington, KY - It's an annual event that calls to the hearts of pony riders all across the country. And to compete in this revered series of championships is to say "I made it!" among a young rider's peers. It's the 2011 United States Equestrian Federation's Pony Finals National Championships, and it's once again time to sound the call for the country's very best pony competitors to gather at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and throw down their gauntlets as the nation's best ponies proudly make their marks. The excitement starts on Tuesday, August 9, and concludes with the awarding of the Equisport Insurance/USEF Pony Medal on Sunday, August 14.
Beginning some 53 years ago, the chrysalis was the challenge presented by the British National Pony Society to the American pony riders (under the age of 17) for an international pony hunter competition. The first event was held at the storied National Horse Show in New York City, and both small and large divisions were contested. In 1967, the United States Equestrian Federation (formally AHSA) created the Pony Finals as a national event, open to all members of the USEF who met the qualifying criteria. The current criteria specifies that a pony must win a championship in an "A" rated regular hunter pony section or a championship or reserve championship in an "AA" rated hunter pony section. A green hunter pony may qualify by winning a championship or reserve championship in an "A" or "AA" rated green hunter pony section. Today, U.S. pony riders from across the nation anticipate the opportunity compete in this championship series.
For the uninitiated, the hunters are judged based on their display of manner, way of going, conformation, and jumping form. There are two categories of pony hunters being judged at the event - green and regular. The green hunters are those ponies who have not competed over fences at a certain height, while the regular hunters are those pony/rider pairs with more experience. These divisions are separated by the height of the pony with the small group being those up to 12.2 hands. The medium ponies are over 12.2 through 13.2 hands, while the large group of ponies stands over 13.2 to 14.2 hands high. The heights of the jumps correspond directly with the height of the ponies (small - 2'3" jumps; medium - 2'6" jumps; and large - 3" jumps). There are three phases of competition - a judging of the pony's conformation, way of moving under saddle, and a final fence jumping test - determine the final outcome and winners named of the 2011 Hunter Pony Championships presented by Sallee Vans.
An equitation competition, known today as the Equisport Insurance/USEF Pony Medal, was added in 1984 to test the rider's abilities over fences. This class pays special attention to the rider's form across the course and their skills at guiding their mount effectively. To qualify for this prestigious battle, riders must win a blue ribbon or accumulate 30 points in a USEF Pony Medal qualifying class. A decade ago saw the addition of the National Pony Jumper Championships where only those pony/rider pairs that have placed in the top four of the respective zones according to highest points earned during the qualifying period are invited to compete. Challengers face a demanding course of fences that test their skills head-to-head as they navigate the technical test.
Across the next six days, many pony dreams will be realized as the 500-plus young riders from every corner of the country come to compete, have fun and make lots of new friends. Daily press releases will provide a recap of the day's action. Be sure to check out the additional coverage at http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/2011PonyFinals/.
Photo: Maddy Darst and Make Believe during the 2010 Pony Finals. Photo by Randi Muster.