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

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

Minibikes of the Kentucky Horse Park

These miniature dirt bikes are absolutely ubiquitous at Kentucky Horse Park as easy runabouts when a “full-sized” golf cart would be overkill. (And yes, I appreciate the humor that a tiny golf-cart is the three-row SUV of the horse world.)

Kentucky Summer Classic 2017 I

Even these tiny bikes are more commonly seen with two riders—particularly in the vicinity of the snack bar.

Kentucky Summer Classic 2017 XI

Passengers are invaluable for coffee-handling duties.

Kentucky Summer Classic 2017 XII

Helmets, mandatory when on horseback, are evidently not à la mode for minibikes.

English Riding

Every sport has its distinctive style—just has Western riders are known for cowboy boots, chaps, and denim, English riders have their own garb. Though the style is very formal when in the ring, I’m particularly interested by the array of patterns and colors hidden under collars and sleeves that are revealed when in the barn.

English Riding