Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Let’s Reward All Excellence At Pony Finals

I watched hundreds of meticulously prepared ponies take to the Walnut Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park during the USEF Pony Finals National Championships (see p. 8).

I watched a composed 10-year-old sweep the championships in the regular divisions, and a precocious 9-year-old expertly pilot two green ponies to tricolors. I saw a 12-year-old bounce back after a bad day to beat out the fierce competition in the jumper ring.

Scores of other young equestrians put in admirable performances, but most left empty-handed, suffering an unlucky or unspectacular day.
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I watched hundreds of meticulously prepared ponies take to the Walnut Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park during the USEF Pony Finals National Championships (see p. 8).

I watched a composed 10-year-old sweep the championships in the regular divisions, and a precocious 9-year-old expertly pilot two green ponies to tricolors. I saw a 12-year-old bounce back after a bad day to beat out the fierce competition in the jumper ring.

Scores of other young equestrians put in admirable performances, but most left empty-handed, suffering an unlucky or unspectacular day.

With so many talented young equestrians and so few ribbons to go around, a single imperfect distance or a lead change a few strides too late broke the hearts of many youngsters.

Without detracting from the hard work and impressive performances on the part of the ribbon winners and their parents, trainers and support staff, I couldn’t help but wonder if by so handsomely rewarding one moment in the show ring we’re setting the correct tone for future equestrians.

As the premier championship for the youngest set of riders, shouldn’t Pony Finals reward all of the skills that will help budding equestrians become superior competitors?

Success in the show ring demands poise, concentration and lots of practice. But the best equestrians possess not only tremendous talent on horseback but also sportsmanship and horsemanship.

We do a tremendous disservice to young people we raise as junior riders, who hang up their half-chaps to attend college with only a box of ribbons to show for their accomplishments. They need more. They need to be rewarded for staying up all night with a sick horse or having the ability to accept elimination as gracefully as a blue ribbon.

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Two awards at the Pony Finals did recognize excellence in these realms: the Emerson Burr Horsemanship Award and the Buttons ‘N’ Bows Sportsmanship Trophy. 

This year’s winners of the horsemanship competition—Annie Bowling (8 and under), Carly Reinsel (9-11), Madyson Ward (12-14) and Arden Cone (15-17)—showed initiative by undergoing the two-phase test instead of socializing with their friends.

The top competitors in the test were invited to the hands-on phase. These top riders impressed the judges with their level of knowledge, showing that they did know how to take a horse’s heart rate and identify conformation faults.

Paul Gallo, 17, earned the Buttons ‘N’ Bows Sportsmanship Trophy for exemplifying “integrity, sportsmanship, honor, courage, good temper and unselfishness” as he cheerfully donned the pink shirt that his USEF Zone 6 teammates selected as their uniform. He also maintained his good humor despite an elimination in the first round of the pony jumper competition. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if winning the Emerson Burr Horsemanship test or the Buttons ‘N’ Bows Sportsmanship Trophy carried the same prestige as winning the grand pony championship?

Imagine a barn filled with top riders honing their bandaging skills as well as their equitation in preparation for their biggest show of the year. Wouldn’t this reward provide the encouragement to help our up-and-coming riders become better horsemen and better competitors? Let us, as parents, trainers, friends and fans of young equestrians, use the tremendous opportunity presented by Pony Finals to encourage young riders to excel in the saddle and on the ground.

Mollie Bailey

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