The background of this image—fleets of golf carts, tons of bedding, parking lots of trucks and horse trailers, plus busy grooms and working students—is a good reminder of the effort that goes into the equestrian experience happening in the foreground.
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.
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.
Rails for jumps, likewise, were stacked up and ready to go.
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.
Achieving victory in the model has a lot to do with conformation. Front legs should be even with one another.
When the class ended, the competitors exited beneath the massive Rolex sign.
Just outside the Arena was an area for warm up and golf-cart parking.
…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.
While some ponies were in the ring, others were in the schooling ring for trials.
With horses and ponies involved in all kinds of activities, the Horse Park had a festival atmosphere.
Small ponies look even smaller in front of big signage.
And the huge Rolex Arena looks even bigger with a small pony in it.
At the end of the day, though, this is ultimately about what pony and rider can do together in the ring.
Fences on fences on fences.
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.
A bird’s eye view of the warm-up ring.
So many ponies are on the grounds that tents are used to supplement stall space.
Bath time outside the tent. Drying off the pony after washing is important to prevent overheating on humid summer days.
Back at the cottage, the trailer rests before another day as “pony taxi service”.
Breakfast with ponies is the best way to start the day—but it’s only possible for me when we stay in Kentucky, where they can sometimes come home from the Horse Park in the evening.
Though the cottage’s paddocks may be the charming/rustic remains of enclosures for goats, that doesn’t lessen the beauty of a sunrise over its tree-lined rim.
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.
Will’s family dog, Slick the corgi, joined us in Kentucky this year.
Rider Lexi Miller was out schooling ponies in the shadow of the Rolex Stadium.
Maya Thomas likewise had her ponies to school. I really like this pony’s mane, which prefers to stick straight up.
Piper Klemm was jumping Reuben in the schooling ring. Her trainer, Emily Elek, looks on from the background.
Lexi relaxes around the barn on a step ladder…
…Or on a trunk.
Piper heads out on Reuben for a class.
A father and daughter have coffee-and-phone time in the morning.
This horse’s whiskers were caught perfectly in the morning light.
Piper tightens Reuben’s string girth, a signature of Balmoral.
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.
Back at the barn, boots need last-minute polishing before heading to the ring.
Will wait to ride. The step ladder gets a lot of use for both climbing onto horses and waiting to do so.
This horse is drying after a bath; the curly mane is a sign that braids have recently been removed.
Julia Rossow, here watching action in the schooling ring, is an assistant trainer at Balmoral.
That schooling ring can be an exceptionally chaotic place.
Following an under-saddle class, the winner is called forward to receive her ribbon while the rest of the large field watches.
A Gucci belt is quite the warm-up accessory.
Piper gets some training advice from Emily Elek.
David Vega is an incredible horseman; Piper was honored that he made it to the ring to watch her show.
Hard work pays off with a wall of ribbons.
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.
The warm-up is also a place for horses to shake out some energy and get any necessary attitude adjustment.
Dapples mean a healthy horse.
That preparation time made for positive results in the ring. Trainer Emily Elek congratulations Reuben.
It’s bath time for a sweaty horse done with showing.
Compress-air-powered airbag vests are increasingly common on younger riders.
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.
Cell phone videos of warm-up make an exceptionally valuable tool for improvement.
Reuben very occasionally sticks out his tongue and I find it funnier than I should.
A close overlap between conversation-walk and warm-up-canter in the warm-up ring.
Piper on Reuben.
The pattern of planting boxes reminded me of the pacing of strides riders seek to find approaching a jump.
Junior rider Lexi Miller relaxes between rounds.
Kentucky Horse Park has a bit of a “Jurassic Park” vibe, but going for a stroll on a spring afternoon is far less likely to result in being devoured by a velociraptor.
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.