Ten Tips for Horse Show Parents Heading to USEF Pony Finals

By Jennifer Rubin

Congratulations! Your petite equine has finally qualified for the big show!  But what can you do to help prepare yourself and your little equestrian for the upcoming trip to Lexington, Kentucky (besides winning the lottery to help you pay for it)?  USEF Pony Finals is held every year in early August at the Kentucky Horse Park. As a first-time Pony Finals Mom this past year, I created a checklist to help you plan for your upcoming trip!


  1. Secure accommodations as early as possible:   There are a number of excellent hotel options in the area, but I suggest that you consider renting a house through a company like Air B&B (or other similar short term housing rental websites) as soon as possible.  Sharing space with your trainer, friends and barn mates can make the event that much more fun and can significantly reduce lodging costs for everyone. Plus, it’s unlikely that everyone in the house will oversleep that 4:45 AM alarm!  Renting a house for the week can also give you access to a washer/dryer and a kitchen and act as a nice home base for the week to cool off (did I mention that the show was in early August?).  It may also allow you to bring your pet since it can be challenging to find available pet-friendly hotel options in the area.
  2. Be sure to complete your Pony Finals application as soon as possible:  Application packets for Pony Finals (and the Marshall and Sterling Pony Medal if your child qualifies) are typically mailed out starting in May every year.  Be sure to complete your application and get it in the mail along with your check (yes, all entry and stall fees are due with the application except for ticketed warm ups which are paid for later) by the deadline.
  3. Rent/reserve a golf cart:  Contact the KHP to determine who its golf cart rental company for the year will be (I understand that the golf cart vendor changed in early 2017 and that change confused some longtime attendees) and then contact that company to reserve a golf cart (that can typically be done online).  Yes, a golf cart is necessary for the week (unless you are in training to be a participant in American Ninja Warrior!).  If you have a golf cart, you can certainly bring your own.  If you do decide to rent, do not be afraid to ask the golf cart vendor to discount their advertised pricing if you’ll be renting your cart for more than just a few days.
  4. Reserve mats for your stall: The Kentucky Horse Park stalls are made of concrete.  That concrete (even deeply bedded) can be tough on tiny hooves.   Unless you bring along your own (heavy) stall mats, you can rent stall mats from Dever, Inc.  My cost to rent these stall mats was in the neighborhood of $100 for the week.   When it’s time to pack up, you just leave the mats in the stall (Dever doesn’t expect for you to dig them out of your shavings).  You can also use Dever’s website to pre-order shavings, hay and feed (and many other barn items if you need them).
  5. Buy seats inside the VIP tent:  This past year, a table for eight cost $2250 for the duration of the show.  Purchasing a seat at a VIP table included lunch on Monday, and then breakfasts and lunches from Tuesday-Sunday (through the Marshall and Sterling Pony Medal) including limited snacks.  It did not include any adult beverages or supper.  I personally struggled with whether or not to purchase a seat for myself, my trainer and my daughter inside the tent.  But I eventually worked it out to share a table with some friends. Unfortunately, you cannot purchase individual seats inside the VIP tent-except second hand from someone who has purchased a table and is looking to sell seats at their table. The food wasn’t exceptional, but being under the tent was convenient (and cool!) and allowed my little group to sit and comfortably watch the various classes with an excellent view of the Walnut Ring during the show.
  6. Shop at the various vendor booths:  There are several areas near the show and practice rings where vendors have set up shop.  Trust me when I tell you that one of your purchases might just save your horse show day.  This year, my daughter and I did a little shopping early in the week.  During that outing, I purchased a new hunt coat (on sale!) that I’d been eyeing for awhile for my daughter at one of our favorite equestrian vendors for a photo shoot I had planned the next day.  Following the photo shoot, my daughter promptly balled the new coat up and threw it into the back seat of my car.   It was only at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning (the day she was to compete in the Marshall and Sterling Pony Medal) that we realized that we’d forgotten to bring her equitation coat to the show grounds and we were too pressed for time to go back to our rental house to retrieve it.   We pulled the balled up -and surprisingly wrinkle free- coat out of my car and my daughter wore it to ride in the medal.   
  7. Decorate a golf cart for the golf cart parade:  Kids (and their trainers and parents) can get way too serious about competing at Pony Finals.  Keep things fun and focused on the kids by planning out how you’ll decorate your personal or your farm’s golf cart and then get as many folks as possible to join in the fun by dressing up as characters to support your theme, or just ride along in someone else’s cart.  Remember that Pony Finals is supposed to be a celebration of all of your little equestrian’s hard work, so let loose and be a little creative and silly.
  8. Be sure to have your child take the Emerson Burr Horsemanship Quiz when you get to Pony Finals:  Please encourage your child to take the horsemanship quiz.  It doesn’t matter if they’ve never taken it before at any show where it has been offered. They get a new chance during Pony Finals and it’s offered free of charge.  There is no pre-registration, you just show up at the USEF office on the Kentucky Horse Park campus during the times the quiz is offered during the show.  And while you’re at it, be sure to help your child sign up for the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge sponsored by The Plaid Horse!  It will help your child prepare for the Emerson Burr test (the USHJA Horsemanship is much more difficult and not age group specific), and also independently educates and recognizes exceptional horsemanship;
  9. Visit as many of the Kentucky Horse Park museums as possible:  In addition to several actual museums dedicated to horses, there are living museum exhibits on the Kentucky Horse Park campus.   Take time during the show week to explore (for free) the breed barn, or meet some of the Kentucky Horse Park’s gentle draft horse giants.   There are beautiful memorials, gardens and displays to enjoy so take some time to appreciate an entire living museum dedicated to horses!
  10. Visit Red State BBQ at least once: I am a huge BBQ fan.  I mean HUGE!  And I can assure you that Red State BBQ is exceptional.   It is only about 1.7 miles from the Horse Park and is not only a fun place to visit (think a diner- like atmosphere where you can write on the walls), but they also do a great job boxing things up for you to pick up if you’d prefer. Be sure to try the incredible sides like corn pudding and macaroni and cheese.  And don’t miss the bread pudding.

Good luck to all future Pony Finals participants!