Tiny steeplechasing Shetlands hit the big time this weekend

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Above: one of last year’s championship series races at the Washington International Horse Show.

Shetland jumps racing in the US is to be live-streamed from the historic Devon Horse Show and Country Fair in Pennsylvania this weekend.

The race is the first in the Washington International Horse Show Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series. The series, presented by Charles Owen, features pint-sized jockeys in colorful silks racing the cutest, fluffiest Shetland Ponies to the cheers of spectators of all ages.

Shetlands_steeplechasersThe first stop in the series is Devon on May 24 and May 25, and it conclude with the finals at the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) in October at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Introduced in 2013 and expanded last year, the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase races, dubbed “D.C.’s newest–and cutest–sport” by Gillian Brockell of the Washington Post, are run like professional racing events with a bugler, race caller and photo finish, but in miniature – the jockeys are youngsters from seven to 14 mounted on traditional Shetland Ponies racing over a course of mini-hurdles.

The Devon races will be streamed live by EQSportsNet (eqsports.net) and archived on WIHS.org.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response to the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Series,” said WIHS Executive Director Bridget Love Meehan. “It’s been so much fun to create and build a fresh, fun and exciting event for spectators of all ages. Pony racing is also a great way for kids to get into equestrian sports. Not too many people know that Kent Farrington, one of the world’s top-ranked show jumpers and a frequent competitor at Washington, used to race ponies!”

Well-established in Britain, 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 runs flat and jumping pony races at events throughout the region, including at Pimlico.

Before entering the USPR program, ponies are evaluated for their suitability and every child is fully prepared for race day. “We don’t want [the ponies] to be little race horses, 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.”

Ongoing sponsor Charles Owen is no newcomer to pony racing. The Wrexham-based helmet maker has been a significant supporter of pony racing in the UK since 2005.

“Charles Owen is delighted to continue its support of the WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series,” said Roy Burek, Managing Director of Charles Owen. “With our long association with pony racing in the U.K., we’re especially excited to be a part of its growth in the US. Devon and Washington offer an ideal showcase for this sport and we encourage equestrians and non-equestrians alike to come out to experience and enjoy it.”

The 57th annual Washington International Horse Show will be held October 20-25, 2015, at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Washington International Horse Show

The first race in the 2015 WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series, is at the Devon Horse Show this weekend.
The first race in the 2015 WIHS Shetland Pony Steeplechase Championship Series, is at the Devon Horse Show this weekend.

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