Hundreds of ponies descended upon the Kentucky Horse Park once again for the first day of competition during the annual installment of the 2019 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, to mark the event’s 52nd year. The most celebrated event of its kind for pony riders in the United States, the USEF Pony Finals is a three-phase competition judging the pony’s conformation, way of moving and jumping ability. With blue ribbons in both the model and under saddle phases, Samantha Takacs and Brighton emerged as the early frontrunners ahead of a pack of nearly 150 pairs in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, while Olivia Sweetnam and Clovermeade Pop Secret topped the leaderboard in the Small Green Pony Hunters.
Samantha Takacs and Brighton. Photo by Phelps Sports
Hailing from Oldwick, New Jersey, Takacs is no stranger to the winner’s circle or the pressure of leading a division head into the over fences portion of competition. In 2018, the now-14-year-old rider modeled and hacked Galianna to the day one lead in the Medium Green Pony Hunters, eventually securing the overall championship following an exemplary over fences performance.
“I was coming into this a little nervous to be honest because he did so well last year and I had such a great time last year, as well,” shared Takacs. “I just wanted to do the best that I could with what I had. I did really well and I was so excited with the results.”
Similarly, Ellie Sadrian’s Brighton is a returning champion, boasting two major accolades from the 2018 event. With the highest cumulative score of the six divisions, Brighton reigned supreme with rider Kat Fuqua to capture the Grand Regular Pony Hunter championship title, along with the rosette in the Large Regular Pony Hunters. The partnership will jump last Wednesday as the current leaders with 544.27 total points, comprised of their scores of 266 in the model and 278.27 in the under saddle.
Olivia Sweetnam and Clovermeade Pop Secret. Photo by Phelps Sports
In the Small Green Pony Hunters, 10-year-old Sweetnam, of Wellington, Florida, nabbed the top spot on the overall scorecard with Clovermeade Pop Secret, owned by Jill Shulman and Sweet Oak Farm. Earning 247.50 points in the model, the duo was awarded eighth place out of a pack of 44 challengers and later returned to the Walnut Ring to improve upon their efforts with a score of 257.87 and second place in the under saddle. Sitting on a cumulative tally of 505.37 points, Sweetnam and Clovermeade Pop Secret lead the division by just a handful of points ahead of a hotly-contested field and will aim to retain their momentum during Wednesday’s third phase of competition.
“He is so fun and the easiest green pony ever,” an excited Sweetnam said. “He has an amazing gallop, is so comfortable and he just stands there in the model. He doesn’t move and stands with his ears up. He is perfect and so fun.”
The 2019 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, will continue through Sunday, Aug. 11. The nation’s best young pony riders will be tested in Small, Medium and Large classes of both Regular Hunter and Green Hunter divisions in the Walnut Ring, and the Alltech Arena will play host to Pony Jumper competition Thursday through Saturday. Sunday’s feature will be the Pony Medal Finals, one of the week’s highlight events.