Shetland Pony Racing

Manes and tails flying, hooves churning the turf course, the herd comes thundering over the final brush fence, jockeys crouched low over pumping shoulders. The winner reaches the finish line by a nose, and the jockey grins and pats the victorious mount. This could be just another steeplechase, if you left out the fact that the four-legged competitors are Shetland Ponies, and their riders are all between the ages of nine and thirteen.

The Shetland Pony Grand National is the ultimate dream for many young riders, but becoming one of the pony and rider teams to compete is no small challenge: The annual race, held each December at the London International Olympia horse show, is limited to a field of ten.

Riders must fall within the required age range, and have to stand 5’1” tall or shorter. Qualification for the race is specific and demanding: Riders must compete in dressage, jumping, and eventing for a year before being considered for the National. After a year of competition, riders must pass inspection by jumping their ponies over fences at speed at Windsor, proving that they are skilled enough to compete safely in the Shetland Pony Grand National. After qualifying through Windsor, riders may then compete at races held throughout Great Britain – victories in these races then qualify the riders to compete in the Shetland Pony Grand National, and child riders must win at least one qualifying race to earn a spot in the Shetland Pony Grand National.

Run since 1981, the race raises money for a different charity chosen each year.  Ponies and jockeys gather in a small “paddock” outside of the course, then progress on to the course. During the race, which is held in a riding ring, ponies and their jockeys travel two-and-a-half laps around the ring, leaping the fences positioned along the way. The child jockeys wear (small) silks reminiscent of the real silks worn by jockeys, and programs are even printed. A highly televised and well-attended event, it’s a crowd-pleaser for spectators and a dream come true for many young riders.

Do you know a young rider with a love for speed and jumping? The Shetland Pony Grand National might be just the thing for them!

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