BY Piper Klemm
Is now the time to divide the Pony Jumpers into sections— small, medium and large?
While the Pony Hunters at Pony Finals have absolutely exploded with 6 divisions that are exhaustingly robust, this year’s USEF National Pony Jumper Finals only found 9 entries to take on the Claiborne ring in a competition that was, actually, still very exciting to watch.
The Pony Jumpers division has been a hard sell in the United States since its inception. In the early years after they added to USEF National Pony Finals in 2001, the outlook was optimistic. But the jumps were big, and as our sport caters to its weakest link, jumping a pony 1.15 m certainly isn’t that.
For many years, I have surmised that the lack of Pony Jumpers was due to a lack of a pipeline. In the hunters, starting with cross rails, there is a pipeline through Short Stirrup, Children’s Pony, and then finally the regular pony hunter division. Both on the way up and on the way down, children and ponies have many opportunities and outlets for wherever their talent may be at that exact moment.
Without pipeline divisions, the Pony Jumpers have left only those who are not only peaking currently, but also didn’t need any step ups to get there. It is a rare pony and a rare child that can accomplish this.
Additionally, given that the combinations are set on a large pony stride, most small and medium ponies, whether they could jump the jumps or not, are not exactly eligible. There have been some exceptions, such as 13.1 h Miracles Happen, who has alternated adding and stretching in the combinations over the years to clinch many Gold Medals, but it’s not really sustainable.
Which brings us to the moment we are in right now. The Winter Equestrian Festival added itty bitty jumpers of 0.60-0.65 m in 2022. There are puddle jumpers of 0.70-0.80 m at shows all over the country. These jumpers are breathing life into starters of all sizes, including small and medium ponies. This is a moment to use what horse shows are organically adding to create a pipeline.
Let’s have a Small Pony Jumper division at Pony Finals, a Medium Pony Jumper division at Pony Finals, and a Large Pony Jumper division at Pony Finals.
Team competition can feature one of each size, all bound together for a team championship that can cheer for and support each other. Let’s ask the horse shows to put Pony Jumpers back into regular competition and just like the Pony Hunters, when combinations are necessary, jumps can move in and out to be correct for all heights. We don’t need to ask wild heights and spreads of the littlest ones; we can start at 0.70-0.80 for the smalls, 0.90-1.00 for mediums, and 1.05-1.15 m for the larges. If that requires adjustment due to entries, safety, or other considerations, that can all be adjusted.
A pipeline into the 1.05-1.15 Large Pony Jumpers will serve us all. The medium and small ponies who have made themselves ineligible for a successful pony hunter career can find their place. We can keep a spot in the sport for rugged youths who we want to see in this sport. Write your Pony Committee, call your representative, or communicate with each other if this is a change you want to see in this sport!