Pony Finals Mega 2021/2020

The start of August marked Pony Finals 2021 (and a partial re-do of the aborted Pony Finals 2020.) Unlike recent years in the Walnut Ring, this year’s Pony Finals was held in Kentucky Horse Park’s dramatic Rolex Arena—and I was there with media credentials for The Plaid Horse.

Pony Finals in the Rolex Arena

Getting the show up and running meant moving a lot of resources, like the stack of bedding here, around the Horse Park… But the result was occasionally some unfortunate traffic jams.

Fork(Lift)ing Traffic

Rails for jumps, likewise, were stacked up and ready to go.

Rail(s) Down

The pony model classes happened relatively early on in the competition. Though spectators crowded the rails, stewards monitored them carefully to prevent any coaching of the young competitors.

Watching the Model

Carleton Brooks and Piper Klemm were among the spectators.

Mutual Respect

Achieving victory in the model has a lot to do with conformation. Front legs should be even with one another.

Pony Finals in the Rolex

When the class ended, the competitors exited beneath the massive Rolex sign.

Exiting the Rolex

Just outside the Arena was an area for warm up and golf-cart parking.

Golf Cart & Warm-Up Ring

Riders stand at attention during an under saddle class.
Awaiting Judgement

…Then exit the Arena in an orderly fashion when the class has ended. The pool of competitors in some divisions was so large that they were broken into multiple groups.

Under Saddle Complete

While some ponies were in the ring, others were in the schooling ring for trials.

Ride on Blake

With horses and ponies involved in all kinds of activities, the Horse Park had a festival atmosphere.

Walking Past the Warm-Up Ring

Small ponies look even smaller in front of big signage.

Warm Up with the Big Sign

And the huge Rolex Arena looks even bigger with a small pony in it.

Wide Rolex Stadium View

At the end of the day, though, this is ultimately about what pony and rider can do together in the ring.

Over Fences at Pony Finals 2021

Fences on fences on fences.

In and Out

The list of what pony is in what class… While this board might be small at some shows, here most divisions number in the dozens.

Order of Go

A bird’s eye view of the warm-up ring.

Close Golf Cart Parking

So many ponies are on the grounds that tents are used to supplement stall space.

Temporary Barns

Bath time outside the tent. Drying off the pony after washing is important to prevent overheating on humid summer days.

Squeegee Landscape

Back at the cottage, the trailer rests before another day as “pony taxi service”.

Trailer After the Rain in Kentucky

Kentucky Summer

We’ve finished Kentucky Summer at the Kentucky Horse Park and I thought it was time for a mega-post of my favorite shots from the week.

A lot has to happen around the barn to get the horses and ponies ready to compete… But everyone needs a break from time to time. The ponies seemed interested in Will’s snacks.

Prince of Ponies

Will’s family dog, Slick the corgi, joined us in Kentucky this year.

Slick the Corgi

Rider Lexi Miller was out schooling ponies in the shadow of the Rolex Stadium.

Warm-Up by the Rolex

Maya Thomas likewise had her ponies to school. I really like this pony’s mane, which prefers to stick straight up.

Horseback Thumbs Up

Piper Klemm was jumping Reuben in the schooling ring. Her trainer, Emily Elek, looks on from the background.

Jumping Practice with Reuben

Lexi relaxes around the barn on a step ladder…

Lexi on a Ladder

…Or on a trunk.

Trunk Nap

Piper heads out on Reuben for a class.

Out of the Barn

A father and daughter have coffee-and-phone time in the morning.

Morning Coffee at the Horse Park

This horse’s whiskers were caught perfectly in the morning light.

Whiskers

Piper tightens Reuben’s string girth, a signature of Balmoral.

String Girth

In a parallel to the “dogs look like their owners” trope, I like photographing cases were riders match their clothes to their horses. Unsurprisingly, this seems to happen most with gray horses.

Horse Matches Clothes I

Horse Matches Clothes II

Back at the barn, boots need last-minute polishing before heading to the ring.

Pre-Ride Prep

Will wait to ride. The step ladder gets a lot of use for both climbing onto horses and waiting to do so.

Will

This horse is drying after a bath; the curly mane is a sign that braids have recently been removed.

Drying in the Aisle

Julia Rossow, here watching action in the schooling ring, is an assistant trainer at Balmoral.

Julia

That schooling ring can be an exceptionally chaotic place.

Warm-Up Ring Chaos

Following an under-saddle class, the winner is called forward to receive her ribbon while the rest of the large field watches.

Stepping Out as Winner

A Gucci belt is quite the warm-up accessory.

Tank Top

Piper gets some training advice from Emily Elek.

Training Advice

David Vega is an incredible horseman; Piper was honored that he made it to the ring to watch her show.

Reuben, Piper, and David

Hard work pays off with a wall of ribbons.

Lexi Hangs the Ribbons

Carleton Brooks

Today’s subject is trainer Carleton Brooks of Balmoral, here training his newest hunter, Carleton Z (coincidental naming).Old School Rider

Chaps are not common English riders—britches are more common. The back of his chaps, where one might normally put identification information, is instead emblazoned with the phrase, “You Know My Name” in red. Click through to the full-sized version of this image to see for yourself.

YouKnowMyName

This particular weekend was a bit of a miniature family reunion, as Carleton’s brother (far right) was up to visit from Indiana.

The Family That Rides Together

Scenes from the Kentucky Horse Park in Spring

Though “one day, one photograph” is my typical style, the images from my springtime trip to the Kentucky Horse Park (mostly taken while hanging around at the warm-up ring) make a charming slice-of-life set.

Let’s start things off with The Plaid Horse‘s publisher, Dr. Piper Klemm, with Sundae.

Preparing SundaeWhile the warm-up ring is ostensibly a place to practice prior to showing, it also often the location of impromptu meetings and morning strolls.
Morning Walk and ConversationPiper Klemm on Sundae in the warm-up ring.

Schooling Ring Up to Speed

The warm-up is also a place for horses to shake out some energy and get any necessary attitude adjustment.

Chestnut Attitude

Dapples mean a healthy horse.

Dapple Energy

That preparation time made for positive results in the ring. Trainer Emily Elek congratulations Reuben.

Winning Sandwich

It’s bath time for a sweaty horse done with showing.

Bath Time

Compress-air-powered airbag vests are increasingly common on younger riders.

Vest

Early in the morning, the golf carts waited in lines outside the barns—mimicking the positions of nearby horses in their stalls in the barns.

Golf Carts Between Barns

Cell phone videos of warm-up make an exceptionally valuable tool for improvement.

Shade by the Ring

Reuben very occasionally sticks out his tongue and I find it funnier than I should.

Stroll with Tongue Out

A close overlap between conversation-walk and warm-up-canter in the warm-up ring.

Horse Trio

Piper on Reuben.

Surveying the Ring

The pattern of planting boxes reminded me of the pacing of strides riders seek to find approaching a jump.

Box Rhythm

Junior rider Lexi Miller relaxes between rounds.

Trunk Seating

Off the Track

The world of English riding has a history of recruiting Thoroughbred horses rejected from the race track to be hunters and jumpers. Though the preference for warmbloods has made this practice a bit less common than it used to be, Thoroughbreds continue to make it into the hunter world. This particular horse was just a few weeks away from time on the track.

Off the Track

Hurry Up and Wait

When it’s time for their rounds, riders have to be ready to head into the ring and perform. Being late is not an option, so “hurry up and wait” is the standard: Lots frantic action to prepare, followed by lots of waiting. The sense of stillness amid chaos that goes with that waiting are captured well, I think, in this image.

Hurry Up and Wait

Riding in New York City

Last fall, we traveled to Governors Island, just off Manhattan, to see the Longines Global Champions League competition. Teams from all over the world ferried horses to the weird little island to clear some serious jumps.

Riding on Governors Island

And here is the likely reason for the League’s stop in New York City: Georgina Bloomberg, owner of the New York Empire

Hometown Rider

Horse Friend // Winner

Anyone who says animals don’t have individual personalities has been spending time with the wrong animals.

Horse Friend

Walking across the heat-shimmered horse park with a blue ribbon, the ultra-long shot maybe puts me in mind most of… the Mandalorian? That makes Reuben a very large Child.

Winner

Jumping at Woodside

I spent Saturday at Horse Park at Woodside on the peninsula, photographing jumper events for The Plaid Horse. Sunburn aside, it was a productive weekend. I happened upon a particular angle near a jump where riders were forced to make a tight turn immediately after landing. That transition sideways meant some dramatic direction changes.

Turning In

Some riders were even looking to the next jump around the bend while they were still in the air.

Thinking About the Jump