10 Tips for Trying Ponies at Pony Finals

Photo © Adam Hill


Pony Finals always leads to a flurry of people trying ponies. With all the children and ponies in the same place, it’s like the best of everything from a sales perspective. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, so many things, many of which can be preventable if sellers and buyers were more organized and respectful of each other up front. From a seller’s perspective, I encourage everyone to be organized with all of the pony’s information, bloodlines, and show records so that no time needs to be wasted on either side with unsuitable matches. On the buyer’s side, here are 10 tips from experience that can help you get the pony of your dreams: 

1. Respect a pony’s time. 

At the Kentucky Horse Park, the barns are far away and standing up at the ring is not fair. Be on time or communicate so that a pony can wait in the barn. It is not fair to the pony to have to be thirsty or have to pee while it waits. You might even miss a great one because they’re crossing their hind legs by the time you actually make it up there. 

2. Treat every pony you try like your own pony. 

If your child does not yet know how to ask correctly, do not let them try lead change after lead change on a green pony. You do not need three jumping trials three days in a row on three different ponies to know which one you like. You do not need to ride every animal in the ticketed rings. If you know it is not the right pony for you after you canter or jump a single cross rail, it is good horsemanship to get off and say thank you and save those jumps for another day. Plus, when you get tired and hot and exhausted from riding a ton of ponies, you might have a less clear picture of what you even wanted in the first place. Stick to your goals. 

3. Follow all horse show rules! 

Be respectful of those showing or planning to show and make sure you stay out of everyone’s way. Remember that people are at Pony Finals to show and being able to try a pony is a privilege. Follow all rulings regarding numbers, rings to ride in, traffic patterns, and remember that you are not the focus of attention at this event. 

Photo © Adam Hill

4. You are not trying a pony to see if it is perfect at that exact minute. 

You are trying so that your trainer can determine whether they can teach you to ride the pony in the future or not. You only need to ride it for long enough for your trainer to determine this. If you miss a lead change (see 2) or even fall off, it doesn’t mean that it is not the right pony. This determination applies double to any green ponies you might be trying—it is unlikely that they will be perfect as youngsters. A trial is your trainer determining if they can teach you to work together in the future and an evaluation of how successful that partnership could become if your child puts in the work to learn. 

5. Try ponies that are consistent with your current ability. 

If you are a novice rider, almost every pony in the Top 10 of all divisions will be unsuitable for you. Period. What makes them special—and ultimately shine in the ring—usually makes them just too sensitive or tricky for a novice rider. If your rider is novice, think about shopping in the “educated middle.” The ponies who do their jobs year after year, program after program, and always seem to know how to make it work. Or shop before or after Pony Finals for short stirrup or children’s pony specialists, who are probably not even at Pony Finals to begin with.

6. If you do a ticket round, don’t forget to pay for it. 

If you do a ticket round, immediately give the trainer or owner of the pony cash or venmo. It is not their responsibility to pay for your ticket rounds—especially if you don’t buy the pony. Plan ahead before you head to Kentucky and make sure you have as much cash as ticket rounds you plan to do in any given day. 

Photo © Adam Hill

7. Be ready to pay. 

Don’t try ponies you can’t afford. If you have special considerations or immediate payment issues, disclose this before you put your foot in the stirrup. The assumption if you sit on a pony is that you can wire the agreed upon purchase price or lease price that week as soon as a vetting is complete. 

8. Have realistic goals and expectations. 

Pony Finals is not always the best place to buy a pony. You will often feel pressured to make a quick decision because there are so many other buyers literally lined up waiting. If this is not the circumstance in which you feel comfortable buying a pony, sometimes you can arrange a trial before or after Pony Finals. If that is not something the seller is interested in, remember that Fall or Winter might be a better time to take something on trial when you can take your time to get to know a pony at home without the pressure of having to make the immediate decision on a pony you’ve never lived with. Prices can change and fluctuate dramatically based on performance, so locking in next year’s lease before you even go might be a better use of your week. Also, remember that “mom to mom” pony deals rarely work out in the long-term. They have no responsibility if the deal does go south. Stick to listening to your trainer. As long as you are in their barn, they will do everything in their power to make the animal they recommended to you work. 

9. Have your vetting set up ahead of time. 

If you fly in or arrive on a Tuesday, arrange to have a vetting scheduled as soon as you are able. You can always cancel if you don’t find the pony you are looking for, but it is hard to make a vet appointment at the last minute during such a busy and hectic week. Remember bloodwork can take a few days. As for any other considerations that you might be worried about, e.g. measurement on young ponies, be prepared. Bring your stick or pre-arrange to borrow one and conduct all assurances you need for purchase as rapidly and respectfully of the current owners as you can. If you need other people involved (e.g. a home vet on facetime or called), make sure all these appointments are set up prior to leaving for Kentucky. 

Photo © Adam Hill

10. Enjoy your new pony! 

It is a process of getting to know a new pony, especially if they are young or green. Creating horsepeople and lifelong friendships and memories is what Pony Finals is all about and you don’t want to miss a second of it by stressing over your pony deal. Stay calm and listen to your trainer’s expertise!

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