The Kentucky Horse Park has long been known throughout the horse world as a destination for equestrian events, including the popular Pony Finals competition held each year for hunter/jumper enthusiasts. Now these picturesque grounds have also become the home of yet another national showcase for pony power – in dressage.
Almost 100 entries from all over the country will gather in Lexington this weekend for the National Dressage Pony Cup, held September 5-6 in conjunction with the MSEDA Dressage at the Park I & II dressage competition. Hailing from New England to south Florida, enthusiastic competitors and their small but mighty mounts will pursue $15,000 in prize money and championship honors as well as special high-point, musical freestyle, and breed awards. But the biggest goal of all is to crush stereotypes that ponies are only for youth or are limited in their ability to excel in the international sport of dressage. In fact, in addition to juniors and young riders, the field includes 30 adult amateur competitors as well as 35 open riders, all showing off their skills from Intro to Intermediaire I.
In the eight years since the National Dressage Pony Cup’s inception in 2007, the popularity of this event has skyrocketed thanks to the dedication of president and founder Jenny Carol and vice president Tracy Gross. “I just felt so strongly that I could do something about this whole ‘pony problem’ of there not being enough enthusiasm for ponies in the sport,” Carol explained. “Ponies needed a show - a great show, where they would be taken seriously for what they can do and weren’t just an afterthought. A place where they could easily get measured, and win beautiful ribbons and trophies. A show where everyone felt welcome, where the hard work and dedication to the sport were valued and appreciated, and where there was a feeling of prestige for professionals, acceptance for adult amateurs, and encouragement for the junior riders.”
Lauren Chumley is one of many competitors who appreciate Carol’s efforts. She will be driving 12 hours from her home of Frenchtown, N.J. with six ponies in tow including Melissa Dowling’s Morgan gelding Avatar’s Jazzman, which Chumley will compete at the FEI Prix St. Georges level. “This will be the fifth time we’ve come to the Pony Cup, and we are always very excited!” said Chumley. “I truly believe in promoting ponies for adult riders and, of course, for young riders. I don't think every adult needs a pony but I do feel strongly that many adults would benefit immensely from riding, training, and competing on a pony. Many modern ponies are now bred with gaits comparable to the larger warmbloods and I do think they can hold their own in competition at ALL levels. And who doesn't love coming to the Kentucky Horse Park!?!”
Allison Wolff of Georgetown, Ky. may not have as far to travel to compete in the National Dressage Pony Cup, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less determined to excel in the First Level division with her 10-year-old Fell pony Littletree Born Supremacy. She’s competed in four previous editions of the Pony Cup with four different ponies, all of which have a special place in her heart. “I'm a small rider, and I'm very comfortable on something pony-sized. I also have a 16.1-hand Danish Warmblood, but the intelligence and reactions I can get from the ponies are very different. Most the ponies I've ridden are thinkers and I really like working with that. Once we go in the arena, my pony never lets me down,” she explained. “So I originally wanted to compete in the Pony Cup to show on a more even playing field, and then I kept coming back because it was such a welcoming environment. I've made some long-term friends there, and it's always been a good experience. I also find that the judges' feedback is more consistent across the weekend, which doesn't always happen at open shows when you ride a pony against the big horses.”
In addition to enjoying exponential growth with its showcase event, the National Dressage Pony Cup has created a nationwide Partner show program which grew from 27 shows in 2014 to over 100 shows in 2015, with all scores counted towards exclusive year end awards. In 2015, they also launched a NDPC Membership Program whereby members can have their scores tracked from any show at any level for additional award eligibility. “Going forward I see nothing but even more potential growth for the National Dressage Pony Cup,” said Carol. “I love this sport and I love ponies, and I hope the NDPC can a home for everyone with similar interests with our growing membership services and network of competitions. I will continue to work any way I can to help encourage more children and adults to compete with ponies in dressage, which I hope in turn will help the entire sport grow and develop well into the future.”
To learn more about how to participate in National Dressage Pony Cup programs, visit www.dressageponycup.com. For National Dressage Pony Cup championship show information including prize list, classes and ride times, visit www.showsecretary.com.