By Sydney Flashman
U.S. National Pony Finals. Every pony rider’s dream. The most prestigious event available to any equestrian under 18 who’s partner in the ring is a four-legged beast under 14.2 hands. In my opinion, the best show ever.
The venue is gorgeous, the judges are reputable, the ponies are fancy and each and every rider competing in the finals is talented.
The competition itself is extremely difficult — the Walnut Arena, where the ponies compete, is only open to ponies the week of Pony Finals and only for hacking. There is never a chance to jump in the ring, and the ponies see the jumps for the first time when they start the course. The huge arena is surrounded by people watching, golf carts zipping along the road and ponies waiting to enter the ring for their one and only jumping round. One side of the ring is lined with waving flags — perfect for a pony to spook at on a windy day. To add to the busy scene, rain falls from the Kentucky skies at random intervals, introducing yet another challenge the skillful ponies and riders must face while attempting to complete a perfect course. It is the experience of a lifetime, no matter where a rider places.
For some, Pony Finals is a career changing event — winning a class or division at Pony Finals guarantees that the entire pony community will know your name. A pony could go from an adorable member of the barn family, not well known but well loved, to a pony recognized and loved by hundreds, even thousands of riders from across the country.
To win a class or division at Pony Finals is extremely difficult. Many riders go just hoping to have fun. Of course everyone wants to do well, but when there are 80 plus ponies in your class, you have to be absolutely perfect to be on the top of the podium, or even to place. Yes, you get four chances to ribbon and are offered many other awards — the top ten scorers in the model, under saddle and over fences classes earn ribbons, and ribbons through twentieth are provided to the overall high scorers in each division. Everything from sportsmanship awards, awards based on a pony’s birthplace or breeding, even awards for the best turned out pony are offered. If one does extremely well in their division, they may be in the running for the Overall Grand Pony Champion or Overall Grand Green Pony Champion award, which is given to the highest scoring green and rated pony at the show.
But even with all of the awards offered, it is very difficult to do well as many ponies at Pony Finals have it all — they are great in the model, they move beautifully and they jump a 10. With so many quality ponies, it is difficult to stand out, even if your pony is a triple threat. And even in the greens, a division for inexperienced ponies, one can find at least one example of a “green pony” that simply has more show experience than the others or one that refuses to be spooked by anything, even the chaos of Pony Finals. But 20 young riders in each division come home with more than fun memories from the experience of a lifetime — one or more rosettes from Pony Finals, earned by being a member of the top 20 overall in their division or divisions, and any ribbons earned from between the model, the first class, and the jumping round, the last.
That’s where I come in. My name is Sydney Flashman, and I’m from Zone 10 — California. I compete in both the pony jumpers and pony hunters, but at Pony Finals 2015, I’ll be returning to Pony Finals for a second time; this year on a Small Green Pony Hunter, Alliance Bowregard (Bo), and possibly a Large Green Pony Hunter named Miss Penny Lane, known around the barn as Nala. I will also be competing in the USEF Pony Medal Finals, but I have yet to choose my mount. With enough practice, determination, dedication and luck, I can bring home a ribbon or two from both divisions and do well in the Pony Medal.