Shetland pony steeplechasing is making its return to the Washington International Horse Show, including a stop at the historic Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania.
The steeplechases are run like professional racing events with a bugler, race caller and photo finish, but the jockeys are youngsters from seven to 14, mounted on Shetland ponies racing over a course of miniature hurdles.
“Last year the audience went crazy for the super cute, fluffy Shetland ponies and their tiny colorful jockeys racing around Verizon Center!” said WIHS President Vicki Lowell.
“We started talking right away about how we could bring them back in a bigger way. Devon is a natural fit as it’s such a special show with great spectators of all ages.”
Well-established in England, pony racing is growing in popularity in the US, thanks in part to Maryland-based US Pony Racing, LLC (USPR), organizer of the WIHS exhibition series, which about a year ago started running flat and jumping races for Shetland Ponies at racetracks in Maryland, including Pimlico.
Before entering the USPR program, every pony is evaluated for suitability for its rider and every child is fully prepared for race day.
“We don’t want them to be little racehorses, we want them to be good ponies that kids can ride,” said Regina Welsh, USPR founder and director. “We want well-rounded kids and well-rounded ponies.”
Charles Owen, sponsor of the inaugural Shetland Pony Steeplechase at Washington last year, will return as sponsor for the expanded 2014 series. No newcomer to pony racing, the Wrexham, England-based helmet maker has been a significant supporter of pony racing in Great Britain since 2005.
WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan said: “Very few people know that Kent Farrington, the winner of the WIHS President’s Cup Grand Prix in 2013, used to race ponies! It’s a fun event for spectators and a great way for kids to get into equestrian sports!”
The first stop in the 2014 series will be Memorial Day, May 26, at the Devon Horse Show, and it culminates with the finals at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. with races on WIHS Barn Night, Thursday, October 23, and on Grand Prix Night, Saturday, October 25. Additional venues may be added.