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Mid-south Young Riders compete at USEF Pony Finals

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Young Riders is Sponsored By: Meadowthrope Farm and Memphis Youth Equestrian Team

What could be more fun than over 500 hundred immaculately turned-out ponies and their oh-so-cute junior riders? Considered by many to be the pinnacle of Hunter Pony competition, the 55th annual United States Equestrian Federation Pony Finals presented by Honor Hill Farms was held at the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Ky on August 9-14, 2022. Mid-south riders competed in 2 of the 3 championship competitions offered: Hunter Pony National Championship and the Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Finals. The Hunter Ponies are shown in three phases: Model (conformation), Under Saddle (way of moving under saddle), and Over Fences. Ponies are divided into Small, Medium, and Large divisions based on height, and further into Green or Regular within each size division. Juniors show their ponies in Model and Under Saddle one day, then go the next day into the famed Rolex Arena for the over fences portion of their competition. Three judges give each pony a numerical score for all three phases, with the high point pony/rider combo winning the coveted tri-color neck ribbon. The Pony Medal Championship is an Equitation competition held on Sunday, the last day of the event.  Qualifying for USEF Pony Finals is a great accomplishment as it requires a championship or reserve championship at a “A” or “AA” rated Regular of Green Hunter Pony USEF show.

The mid-south was well represented, both in riders and ponies, this year. Following is a look at young riders and ponies from the mid-south region.

Three delightfully, chatty, young ladies from Spring Mills Farm in Eads, Tenn stopped by the media area to talk about their road to Pony Finals. All three are first time competitors. Ellis Chin, 12 years old, is the elder in the group. She and her pony, Flyer Miles, qualified to enter Pony Finals at her first show this season. Penelope Sugg, riding Sunshine Kid, is the youngest at 9 years old. She has 3 ponies currently and plans to bring another home at the end of the competition week. The weeks surrounding Pony Finals are for pony shopping since there is such a large number of ponies on the grounds and at area farms. As riders grow older and taller they often look for a larger pony to lease or purchase. Saying good-bye to a pony can be hard, but the girls note they do keep up with ponies that have moved on to the next rider. Mia Duke, riding Fairywoods Tomboy, celebrated her 10th birthday the week of Pony Finals. She says the Kid Jump area is a fun place to hang out when not riding or doing barn chores. It’s a small jump course set for kids to jump on foot. There has several kid areas to entertain competitors and siblings alike during the competition week. There’s also a vendor village with pony and young rider merchandise. Watching other ponies go, chatting with friends and playing in the hotel swimming pool also fill their non-pony time. 

When asked, they note some challenges they tackled this week are getting correct strides and lines to jumps, keeping their equitation smooth, and managing transitions correctly.  To prepare for Pony Finals, all three riders ride six days per week and take regular lessons. When asked if all the hours and work were worth it to get to Pony Finals their faces erupted in mile-wide smiles and giggles.

They are quick to credit their trainers Allison Alder, Claudia Billups, Naomi Gillen, David Pellegrini and finish with, “We love Caden Gill,” the newest trainer.

Two years ago 12-year-old Turner Kitchens began riding The Roan Ranger, “Blaze”, an 18-year-old small pony, with the goal of someday qualifying for USEF Pony Finals. She knows her hard work paid off this season when she had three qualifying shows on the road to Pony Finals. This is her first pony finals and she’s soaking it in. Turner notes, “Blaze did pretty good in the Model class (conformation) and very good in the ridden class.” She says standing still is not Blaze’s favorite thing and he much prefers to be ridden or jumped. When not riding and practicing for her rounds Turner likes the shopping and watching the other ponies compete. Turner has ridden 4-5 times per week throughout the summer as she prepped for the Pony Finals. When asked what she would be thinking as she goes into her over fences class she says, “finding a good distance, keeping a good pace to the fences, and having fun!” In addition to qualifying for the Hunter Pony classes, she also qualified for the Pony Medal Finals held the last day of the event.

Also a first time Pony Finals competitor is 13-year-old Brooke Buras riding Blue By You, a 12-year-old pony. Brooke, who has been riding Blue since Oct, 2020, has dreamed of competing at Pony Finals for several years. This spring she rode at 2 “A” shows and then got her qualifying show at the Germantown Charity Horse Show in Germantown, TN. She notes the environment at Pony Finals is much different than other shows. She especially likes the “real wash racks” for bathing her pony. There are a lot more ponies than she expected and the jumps weren’t nearly as scary as what she had imagined they’d be. Of her over fences round on Wednesday Brooke says, “Blue takes care of me and never does anything bad on purpose. He always finds the spots for me.” Brooke takes lessons 3 times a week and hacks out several times a week. “I like to take Blue on hack walks.” Brooke gave Blue the day off on Thursday but practiced Friday in the indoor arena in preparation for the Pony Medal competition on Sunday. Turner and Brooke’s trainers are Beanie Cone & Catie Beth Varian of Hunters Edge Stables in Collierville, Tenn.

Well-known Olive Branch, Miss Welsh pony breeder, Rollingwoods Farm, had several registered Welsh ponies competing. Some are leased by the farm, and others were purchased. Rollingwoods California Cookie, Rollingwoods Knee Deep, Rollingwoods Top Brass, Rollingwoods Lemony Sticket, Rolingwoods On The Up And Up, and Rollingwoods Rock My World all gave their best effort for their junior riders. 

The Welsh Pony & Cob Society awarded first thru sixth place neck sashes for the top registered Welsh, Half Welsh, and Part-bred Welsh ponies.

Results for Small Regular Ponies; 119 in the division

Mia Duke 39th,  Ellis Chin 48th, Penelope Sugg 89th, Turner Kitchens 112th (Turner had to withdraw before the over fences round)

Results for Large Regular Ponies; 153 entered.

Brooke Buras 105th

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