By Sydney Flashman
Qualifying for Pony Finals is difficult, whether you’re a pony hunter or a pony jumper.
To qualify in the hunters, one must be champion or reserve champion in an A or AA rated show. Oftentimes, it can take multiple tries to earn high enough placings in one show to be champion or reserve. To earn either qualifying title, one must jog within the top three in pretty much every single class—sometimes, a rider can jog lower to be reserve, but often the difference between champion and reserve is just a few points, sometimes even half or a portion of a point. One point could make you or break you—it could be the point deciding whether a rider is reserve, qualifying for Pony Finals, or just missing the qualification title. As long as the pony is qualified for the finals, any rider can compete in the finals on it, not just the rider who qualified it. Hunter riders have until July 1, 2015 to qualify for the prestigious finals this year.
In the pony jumpers, qualifying is a bit different. In each jumper class, points depend on where a rider places, what height a rider jumps, the number of faults a rider picks up, and how many competitors are in the class. To earn points to qualify for Pony Jumper Finals, the rider is required to compete in a pony jumper class where the fences are set no lower than 1.05 meters, or about 3’4”. However, pony jumper classes can be set up to 1.15 meters or higher, which earns the rider the most points. A competitor can earn points towards qualifying for Pony Jumper Finals 2015 until June 1, 2015, meaning that as of a few weeks ago, riders were unable to collect and add points to their numbers. However, ponies and riders can start earning points for next year. To be considered to represent their zone in the championships, a pony jumper must submit an application, which was also due on June 1. Each zone picks three riders to represent them at the finals, which means that the difficulty of being accepted varies from zone to zone. In Zone 10, there were not as many pony jumpers, so it was easier to get accepted to Pony Finals. But on the East Coast, pony jumper classes are much more popular, so there are more pony jumpers, making it that much more difficult to qualify. No matter where a rider competes, qualifying for pony jumper finals is difficult and complicated.
For the USEF Pony Medal Finals, a rider must earn a minimum of thirty points to be allowed to compete in the finals. In the medal, six riders must complete the course for the points to count, which sometimes creates a problem around where I show—often, it is difficult to find six riders who will do the medal and will make it around the course. If each rider does make it around the course, the points count towards the medal finals. If a rider wins first, they earn thirty points. If a rider is second, they earn fifteen points, and if they are third, they earn five points. Because it is a medal, and is judged on the rider, a rider can compete on any mount, though they can only ride once per USEF class. Riders have until July 1 to qualify for the medal finals.
Around April or May, riders who qualified for the Pony Medal or Pony Hunter Finals are sent a letter from USEF explaining that they’ve qualified for the finals. Along with the letter comes a packet containing information about the finals and other papers that advertise clinics, activities, and horsemanship tests that take place during the week of Pony Finals.
Pony Jumpers receive an e-mail about a week after the final points are tallied stating that they’ve been accepted into the final, asking the riders to RSVP by a certain date.
When I received the email and letter, I was extremely excited. Even though I competed in Pony Finals last year, it still seems surreal that I could actually have a chance to go to Kentucky and compete in the national finals. Being able to physically open the letter and realize that I had been accepted into the finals was a great feeling, especially because last year I had qualified right after the letters were sent, so I never received one. Opening and reading the letter and email got me super excited for Kentucky, and every time I reread them, the same excitement washes over me. Seeing and reading the letter is a constant reminder that Pony Finals is getting closer every day!