Disciplines Lifestyle

USEF Pony Finals Explained: How to Qualify, What to Wear, & What to Expect on Event Day

USEF Pony Finals Explained: How to Qualify, What to Wear, & What to Expect on Event Day

With summer right around the corner, we can’t help but get excited for the USEF Pony Finals. Every year, Kentucky Horse Park fills with ponies, junior riders, trainers, and proud parents seeking a champion title. Joining them are spectators and vendors, there to witness the impressive performances from these young riders.

Pony Finals is coming up, and we’re looking forward to the festivities and displays from a new generation of talent. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to qualify for the 2024 USEF Pony Finals, how to prepare, what you should wear, and what to expect.

What are Pony Finals?

The USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) Pony Finals is an annual championship for pony hunters and jumpers spanning over six days and held at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. With over 600 ponies participating in the competition, it is the largest and most esteemed event of its kind in the US.

What divisions are offered?

Hunter divisions: The hunter category is divided into six sections based on pony size and experience, with “green” indicating ponies competing for the first time at Pony Finals. A pony can only compete in one hunter division, and they are as follows:

  • Small Regular Hunter Pony
  • Medium Regular Hunter Pony
  • Large Regular Hunter Pony
  • Small Green Hunter Pony
  • Medium Green Hunter Pony
  • Large Green Hunter Pony

Jumper championship: In the jumper section, pony jumpers may participate in a three-phase individual championship or a team championship.

Pony Medal Final: The Marshall & Sterling/USEF Pony Medal Final challenges young riders with a technical course where they are judged on equitation.

How to qualify for Pony Finals

If you’re interested in qualifying for Pony Finals, there are several requirements you must meet.

Membership requirements

First, any rider seeking to participate in the Pony Finals must be an active member of the USHJA (United States Hunter Jumper Association) and the USEF on or before the first day of the competition.

Ponies are also required to be registered with the USHJA and have a valid microchip and current measurement card submitted to the USEF by the first day of the competition.

Point requirements

In the Regular Hunter Pony and Green Hunter Pony sections, the pony must win a Championship or Reserve Championship at a “AA” (Premier) or “A” (National) Rated show in their respective Regular or Green Hunter Pony division.

To qualify for the Marshall and Sterling/Pony Medal Final, riders need a total of 30 points between July 2 of the previous competition year and July 1 of the current competition year in order to qualify. Points are awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place results in USEF Pony Medal qualifying classes. Classes with more entries will earn you more points.


If you qualify for Pony Finals, you will need to submit an application through the USEF by July 1st of the competition year. From there, you will receive an email invitation by the end of July to register for the competition.

How old do you have to be to compete?

The Pony Finals is intended for junior riders under the age of 18, but there are a few specific age-related rules as well. To compete on a small pony, you must be 12 years old or younger, and riders 15 years and older must compete on a large pony.

What does it cost to go to Pony Finals?

Between show, training, and barn fees, as well as travel and accommodation costs, Pony Finals can be a significant investment. Of course, the total cost depends on factors like how far you are from the event, where you stay, and whether you rent a golf cart, but participants can expect to spend thousands of dollars on Pony Finals.

Budget ahead of time to plan the trip that makes sense for your family. You may consider coordinating with other families to share an Airbnb, splitting the cost of a VIP table, or even traveling together. There are plenty of ways to save on Pony Finals, and if you’re able to go, the experience is one you and your child will never forget.

If you’re interested in attending Pony Finals for the first time but need help getting there, consider applying for the USHJA Gochman Grant. Every year, three riders are selected based on their horsemanship, tenacity, and sportsmanship to participate in the USEF Pony Finals free of cost. Applicants must be USHJA members and have experience jumping 2’3” fences, and applications are due in mid-March of the competition year.

How to prepare for Pony Finals

If you’re gearing up for this year’s Pony Finals, channel your excitement into thorough preparation for the competition. Here are a few measures you can take to get you and your pony championship-ready:

  1. Prepare your pony for the heat. Your pony will perform better if they’re equipped to beat the heat. Add electrolytes into their diet to prepare them for trailering, as well as showing in the Kentucky August heat. It also may be a good idea to bring your pony to the competition a few days early to let them settle in.
  2. Groom your pony from head to hoof. You’ll want your pony to be in tip-top shape for Pony Finals. Wash the face, condition and pull the mane and tail, curry and brush the body, clip the whiskers, ears, and feet, and pick the hooves to ensure a shiny, healthy coat.
  3. Polish your boots and clean your tack. If it’s been a while since you’ve given your riding boots a polish or your tack a good deep clean, make sure they’re looking their best for the championship.
  4. Practice with your pony. The two of you are a team, so you should spend time training as a team. Talk with your trainer about a training program that will work best for you and your pony to ensure you’re both in great physical and mental condition to take on Pony Finals. Your program should include, but is not limited to, schooling over jumps, practicing groundwork for the model classes, and incorporating flatwork exercises to sharpen your skills, bond with your pony, and build muscle before you compete.
  5. Create a packing list. We recommend you bring a water bottle, sunscreen, and electrolytes to beat the heat, but you’ll also need personal items, tack, necessary documentation, and both competition and casual attire.

What do riders need to know?

It’s completely normal to have lots of questions your first time competing in Pony Finals. Here are a few things you should know to make the most of your experience and keep those nerves at bay:

  • The atmosphere will be different. Most Pony Finals classes occur in the Rolex Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. Despite a slight decrease in size for Pony Finals, the ring is still massive and may feel completely different from the show rings you’re used to. Keep in mind that you may experience a fishbowl effect because of the arena’s size, and there’s no coaching allowed on the course. Practice breathing deeply in every corner during training and competitions leading up to Pony Finals so you can maintain composure once you’re there.
  • Know the schedule ahead of time. As soon as the schedule of events is available, familiarize yourself with which classes you’ll be competing in and which days they’ll take place.
  • Relax with your pony around the Kentucky Horse Park. It’s open to all participants for flatting, so enjoy the beautiful scenery on a relaxing trail ride through their cross-country course.
  • Take advantage of clinics and other events. Pony Finals is a place to showcase your skills, but there are also plenty of opportunities to learn and meet other junior riders from all over the country.
  • Stay hydrated and fueled. It will be hot, and you’ll be working hard. Drink plenty of water and fuel your body with nutritional foods leading up to and throughout the competition.
  • Be prepared. It’s important to go into Pony Finals knowing you have the knowledge and tools you need to show your best. Talk with your parents and trainer about how you and your pony can be best prepared mentally and physically before you leave for the show. Consider arriving a week early to the Kentucky Horse Park to settle in or even get your feet wet by showing at the Kentucky Summer Classic that runs the week before. 

What do parents need to know?

The dedicated parents of these junior riders make competitions like Pony Finals possible. Here are a few things you should know in advance to make the most of your time there and ensure the week goes smoothly:

  • Have your rider change at the show. If you have a young child competing in Pony Finals, it’s best to bring their show clothes to the event so they don’t get dirty beforehand.
  • Sign up for free Pony Model clinics. In these clinics, junior riders have the opportunity to practice their skills for the Pony Model classes in front of judges who then provide feedback. These fill up fast, so be sure to sign up during the welcome meeting.
  • Attend other free USHJA clinics. Aside from Pony Model clinics, the USHJA offers clinics in sports psychology, as well as a scavenger hunt at the Wheeler Museum and pony arts and crafts. These events offer great learning opportunities and socialization with other junior riders.
  • Prepare to walk a lot. Many people bring golf carts or bikes to Pony Finals to get around the expansive Kentucky Horse Park. If you don’t, you should plan for a lot of walking between all the barns and arenas.

What should riders wear for Pony Finals?

Pony Finals isn’t just about your skill in the arena–you must also maintain a professional appearance. Make sure you come prepared with the proper show attire (it may be a good idea to pack extra show shirts and breeches), as well as casual equestrian attire for clinics, schooling and free time. For showing, you should wear the following items:

Jodhpurs or breeches

Junior riders 12 years old or younger may choose to wear jodhpurs, but breeches are required for older riders. Jodhpurs or breeches should be tan. For younger riders, we recommend the Collette Grey Label Jodhpur or the Avery Grey Label Breech, while the Gracie Knee Patch Breech is the perfect choice for older riders.

Learn more: Breeches vs. Jodhpurs: What’s the Difference?

A belt

All riders must wear a black or brown belt with their jodhpurs or breeches.

Paddock boots or riding boots

Paddock boots are permitted for riders that opt for jodhpurs, but older riders should wear tall black riding boots. Be sure to clean and polish your boots before Pony Finals!

Learn more: How to Choose the Right Riding Boots (+ 8 of Our Favorites)

White collared show shirt

All junior riders should wear a white collared show shirt for competition, but that doesn’t mean the shirt has to be boring! We offer judge-approved show shirts with expressive patterns hidden in the collar. Add some personality to your show look with the Tori Jr. or Tori Show Shirt in patterns like Grey Horses or Llamas, or beat the heat with the short sleeve Brynn Jr. or Brynn Show Shirt, offered in patterns like Horseshoes, Pink Leopard, or Stirrups & Bits.

Learn more: How to Buy Equestrian Show Shirts: Size, Fit, Style Guide

Dark show coat

A dark show coat is a staple for any competitive rider. Black and navy are classic colors, but dark green, gray, and brown are also permitted. Available in black or navy, the Skylar Jr. 37.5 Grey Label Show Coat is a great choice for younger riders. The Monterey Orange Label Show Coat is perfect for older riders and comes in Pine, Night Sky Plaid, Black, and Navy.

Learn more: How to Buy Equestrian Show Coats: Size, Fit, Style Guide


Younger riders typically wear their hair in two braids with show bows at the end, but be sure the bows are not so long that they distract the judges or cover the rider’s competition number. Riders older than 12 years should have their hair tucked into their helmet for a more polished, professional look.

What to expect on the event day

Depending on which divisions you’re competing in, your schedule and competition format will look a little different. Below, we’ve outlined what you can expect whether you’re competing in the Pony Hunter Finals, Pony Jumper Championship, or USEF Pony Medal.

Pony Hunter Finals

Each hunter pony division follows the same three-phase competition format:

  • The model phase is an in-hand class where riders pose and jog with their pony so they can be judged on conformation, way of moving, and soundness.
  • The under saddle phase requires riders to show ponies at a walk, trot, canter, and possibly an extended trot. Ponies will be judged on their quality of movement, seamlessness through transitions, temperament, pace, and adjustability through each gait.
  • The over fences phase involves a hunter course with eight or more fences at the height required for the pony’s size. Small ponies must clear 2’3” fences, medium ponies 2’9”, and large ponies 3’.

Pony Jumper Championship

This competition is held over four days, divided into three Championship phases:

  • The first phase is the start of the Individual Championship, which is conducted on a course with 1.05m fences. 
  • The second phase is when the Team Championship occurs, which is run in a modified Nations Cup format with two identical rounds over 1.10m fences. Each rider’s performance in the Team Championship competition also contributes to their Individual Championship standing.
  • Phase three is the final Individual Championship phase with 1.10m fences and a Time Allowed. 

The combination with the least amount of faults over the three days of competition will be crowned Individual Champion. In the event of a tie at the conclusion of phase three, a shortened course with jumps as high as 1.15m will be completed by the tied participants to determine a winner. For those not eligible or taking part in phase three, a Farewell Class is offered over 1.05m jumps.

USEF Pony Medal

The Pony Medal is an equitation class, so riders are judged on their position, control, and overall performance. The competition involves two rounds of fences and further testing if the judges decide. All qualified riders will compete in the first round, but the second round is limited to the top 20 competitors.

2024 USEF Pony Finals schedule

The 2024 USEF Pony Finals will be held August 6th to 11th at Kentucky Horse Park. The USEF has not yet released the official schedule, but the schedule for all USHJA clinics is posted.

For now, we hope you’ll join us in our excitement as you prepare for Pony Finals. Good luck to all the participants!

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