For decades, the Governor General’s Cup and the Lieutenant Governor’s Cup classes at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair have been the country’s most prestigious showcase for Canadian-bred three-year-old horses. Now Canadian-bred ponies will have the chance to strut their stuff under the bright lights in the Royal’s Coliseum in Pony Cup classes.

“After seeing Canadian breeders producing better and better quality ponies, we thought about what we could do to celebrate their achievements,” says Michael Ward, president of the Canadian Sport Horse Association, the organization that administers the Cup class qualifiers.

One of those he worked with on the proposal was breeder Darlene Morton of Morton Stables in Sharon, Ontario, who initiated the Sport Pony Star Search in Ontario 17 years ago. “We submitted a proposal in January and the Royal accepted it. We are really excited. It’s a pilot project, so we hope it’s well received and well attended. If it becomes a regular event, we’ll expand it.”

Morton continues, “Sport ponies are small versions of sport horses and my plan has always been to mirror the Cup classes for sport horses. The Pony Cup classes will be good for the industry and for breeders. I only see this as a success.”

She says the quality of Canadian ponies has improved dramatically since the introduction of the Star Search, and good ponies command prices similar to quality horses. She expects the bar will be raised even higher as breeders will aim to produce registered quality ponies specifically for the Cups, as many horse breeders do.

Like the horse Cups, the Pony Cups will include a line class and under saddle class. Criteria are similar to the horse Cup classes:

  • must be foaled and registered in Canada
  • accepted breeds include (but aren’t limited to) Canadian Sport Pony, Welsh, half-Welsh, Connemara, British Riding Pony, German Riding Pony
  • should be capable of excelling as a hunter, jumper, eventer or dressage mount

The line class will be judged 50 per cent on movement and 50 per cent on conformation/type, while the under-saddle ponies will be judged with 60 per cent of the score based on performance (athleticism, impulsion, balance and rideability) and 40 per cent for conformation/type.

Ward says specifically in the hunter ring, adults can’t ride ponies and for the most part, it’s hard to find children with the skills needed to ride green three-year-olds. To address this, adults will be allowed to ride ponies in the Pony Cup under saddle class, which “is a great way to advertise their breeding programs. Quite a few people who will participate are breeders.”

Ward notes that interest in Sport Pony Star Search classes in Ontario “has gone through the roof. A lot of people are going to those classes. Interestingly enough, there are a lot of young breeders involved in ponies as well as long-established breeders.”

A blonde woman holding a newborn pony foal.

Find a pony, pick it up… Jenna Ponzo with the gorgeous colt Crown Ridge Legendary (Delami Red Legend x Kaiser’s Passion Flower). She notes that the demand for Sport Ponies is strong among kids and petite women riders. (Jenna Ponzo Facebook)

Jenna Ponzo of Crown Ridge Farms, a Welsh and hunter pony breeding farm in Collingwood, is one of the young breeders Ward cites and she’s enthused about the pilot. She plans to take at least one of her own ponies, and one belonging to a client.

“It’s special showing in the big ring at the Royal and I’ve been mentioning for a number of years that there should be Pony Cup classes,” she says. “The pony market has grown so much and I must give credit to Darlene Morton for boosting the Sport Pony Star Search in Ontario.”

Ponzo says the pony market for kids is doing well and there is also a growing demand among petite adult women who don’t want to ride big horses. “There are quality ponies that can hold their own against warmbloods. They are beautiful and some of them feel like you are riding a small horse, especially the German Riding Ponies.”

She believes the Pony Cups will “encourage more people to buy ponies young and hold onto them until they are three. Breeders and owners will have somewhere to showcase their lovely three-year-old ponies and doing it at a show as prestigious as the Royal is a huge selling feature. There are very few recognized venues where adults can show ponies under saddle, especially for the hunter ring.”

While the Sport Pony Star Search classes are well established in Ontario, there are key differences with the Pony Cups. Star Search classes are held for all ages of ponies, but are structured so three-year-old ponies compete against older ponies that look more mature and may have extensive under saddle experience. Ponies don’t need to be Canadian-bred or have to be registered to show in the Star Search.

“The Pony Cup will be good for breeders to compete against ponies that are all in the same age group, and good for spectators and trainers to see what a group of three-year-old looks like. Canadian ponies are really nice and a lot end up getting sold to the United States,” says Ponzo.

The Pony Cup classes will immediately follow the Governor General’s and Lieutenant Governor’s Cup classes in the big ring at the Royal, and Ponzo says it will be interesting to see the similarities between the top three-year-old horses and the top young ponies.

Morton will also be watching to see how closely the Cup ponies mirror the Cup horses, and while she won’t be showing herself, she expects at least two three-year-olds that are products of Morton Stables’ breeding program (North American Sport Pony, British Riding Pony and Welsh) to be at the qualifiers.

Ponzo says with the addition of the Pony Cups, pony owners have up to three opportunities to show their three-year-olds, as the Welsh show is on Friday, the Cup classes on Saturday and the Pony Star Search on Sunday.

Ontario Pony Cup qualifiers will be held at the Royal Canadian Riding Academy September 8 (same weekend/venue as the Canadian Sport Horse Association Breeders’ Show and the first horse Cup qualifier) and October 1 (along with a Sport Pony Star Search qualifier). While in the horse Cup qualifiers the top 20 with the highest scores qualify for the Royal, just 10 Ontario ponies will be chosen at the qualifiers. Three ponies from outside Ontario may qualify, if there is documented proof they’ve shown in hand and have been judged on conformation, movement and suitability as a pony for sport. Those with the best results will be selected.

Ward says another goal of the Pony Cups is to encourage people to be a more selective when breeding ponies, and to register their ponies. To be eligible to be registered with Canadian Sport Pony, at least one parent must be CSP registered or have been inspected and approved as breeding stock. Other Canadian-bred ponies registered with accepted registries are also eligible for the Cup classes.

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