The U.S. Pony Jumper final individual round couldn’t have had a more exciting finish Saturday when after four rounds of competition, the top three riders finished on a tied score. That called for a jump-off to determine who walked away with the gold, silver and bronze hardware.
Before the awards for the medium pony hunters ended Lynn Jayne’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Her daughter Natalie had just piloted Hannah Bernstein’s Woodlands Stevie Ray to the championship ahead of Hunter Champey and News Flash, and since the Bernsteins were in Chicago, they’d watched everything on the live stream.
“I’m sure they’re very excited,” said Lynn. “I’m sure that’s why they’re calling me right now.”
Just down the driveway from the pony hunter ring at U.S. Pony Finals there is another world of pony sport taking place: pony jumpers. No slow winding tracks over brush filled fences here—you can hear the pitter-pat of small pony hooves flying across the footing, their jocks calling out series of ‘whoahs’ and clucks, and the jumps are wider and taller than most of the ponies.
When it came time to pick out a pony for her daughter Bailey, Susie Lones knew exactly what breed she wanted to look at—Arabians.
Having grown up with an Arabian, the breed has a special place in Susie's heart. She found the right fit in Hearts Adrift, a purebred chestnut mare who took Bailey through the short-stirrup. But a tendon injury sidelined “Sunny’s” show career, so Susie kept her eye out for another potential partner for her daughter.
At this point Madeline Schaefer has ridden around the Walnut Ring more times than she can count. The 15-year-old has been coming to the U.S. Pony Finals since she was 6, bringing a rotating group of ponies from her mother, Stacey’’s Shadow Ridge Farm.
When Baylee McKeever trotted into the ring aboard Rosé at U.S. Pony Finals, her mother Erica watched from the in-gate.
Her father Lee, however, watched from much farther away. Lee tuned into the live stream of Pony Finals from Rio de Janeiro, where he’s caring for McLain Ward’s Olympic mount HH Azur. (Ward and his wife Lauren also joined Lee to cheer Baylee on from the live feed.)
By design, U.S. Pony Finals is the perfect pressure cooker environment. Ponies model and hack on the first day, are then ranked by scores and then have to wait another 24 hours before they have the opportunity to jump in reverse order.
That gives the riders plenty of time to start overthinking—especially if you’re near the top. Just enough time to watch other riders make mistakes and convince you to start rethinking your original plan.
Before the U.S. Pony Finals started and became many child’s yearly highlight, there was the International Pony Team Competition that had small and large pony teams from the United States competing against teams from England or Canada.
It all started back in 1959 when the British National Pony Society and the British Show Pony Society issued a challenge to the American Horse Shows Association for a team competition.