Pony Finals 101 with Patricia Griffith

Patricia Griffith first arrived at Heritage Farm in 1997 as a working student, and that year rode to the Reserve Championship at the USET Talent Search Finals. In the show ring, she has won four USHJA International Derbies, won multiple Leading Hunter Rider titles, was the winner of the World Champion Hunter Rider Professional Challenge at Capital Challenge Horse Show, won the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix, and received top ribbons in grand prix classes such as the Pfizer Million, the Harrisburg Big Jump, and World Cup Qualifier in Southampton.

In her work as a trainer, Patricia has coached 11 USEF Pony Finals champions, five USEF Pony Medal Finals winners, and has won the Emerson Burr Perpetual Trainer’s Award five times. Patricia holds her USEF “R” judges license and judges a handful of shows each year. 

The USHJA Digital Pony Challenge features a special “Review My Ride” class, a mini clinic opportunity where Patricia gives riders tips and feedback on uploaded videos through written and audio comments on the DHS platform to help them learn and improve their performance. 

Click here to compete or send your video in for Patricia to judge and give feedback!

Follow along below as we talk with Patricia and get the inside scoop on all things judging, training, and Pony Finals: 

Should kids prep any differently for Pony Finals?

PG: Yes. Pony Finals is held in a very large ring that is usually an unusual shape. We often practice in a grass field or someplace where it’s not a rectangular ring with a fence on all four sides. I find that the kids often have a lead change issue in a corner where they normally wouldn’t. There are a lot of long lines off of their eye- most of those lines are nine,10,11 strides instead of four or five. Just getting two good jumps is often harder than on a line that they can easily count.

They should absolutely practice. I would encourage riders to practice in bigger rings than they’re used to riding in, try different kind of jumps, and in settings where the ponies don’t feel so enclosed.

What are the key things you look for when kids present their ponies to model?

PG: The kids need to have a good understanding of how to stand a pony up. The pony needs to be turned out very well. It has to be clean- that doesn’t mean one bath, it takes hours of brushing, etc. The weight of the pony should be accurate, the tack should fit immaculately. The bit shouldn’t be all the way up in the mouth with no holes left, etc. It’s not about buying the most expensive tack; it’s about fit and suitability.

You also have to practice it more than once. Don’t expect to practice three days before the event or the day of and expect to have it go well. You need to live it a little bit; the pony needs to know what you expect of it. 

What is your favorite part about judging?

PG: My favorite part about judging is seeing animals that I wouldn’t normally see. I like traveling. I went to the west coast and did the Junior Hunter Finals, and I maybe knew three horses out of the whole group. I really appreciate seeing a different group of horses.

What is your most valuable piece of advice for a student heading to Pony Finals?

PG: Go there prepared. Watch videos so you know what it looks like if you’ve never been. Know the rules, know how it works. Practice preparing your own pony so you’re not showing up and all of a sudden don’t know how to get the pony ready. The kids need to be well versed on the rules, how it works, and what is expected of them as riders. It’s a little more than a normal show. Practice makes perfect. 

What are some of your favorite memories from Pony Finals and all of the success you’ve had there as a trainer?

PG: With each Championship, the feeling never gets old. It’s very hard to do that over and over again. It’s difficult to get in a position where if you win the round, you can win the whole thing. One of my greatest memories was when Lillie [Keenan] had won three regular championships, and she went back the next year and she won the three green championships- so this was six championships in a row- it was really emotional. She came back and won two more. It was big because that’s a lot of pressure for a kid, and I felt it, she felt it. A lot goes into it, and it was a really proud moment.

Photos Courtesy of Patricia Griffith.

For more information on DigitalHorseShow.com and to sign up, please visit DigitalHorseShow.com

DigitalHorseShow.com: Horse Sports for the New Normal. Founded in 2020 by a group of industry leaders with experience in video, show management, entry systems, sales, and marketing, DHS offers a place for equestrians to maintain their competitive edge and receive thoughtful feedback for themselves and their horses. Providing participants with the most affordable way to compete in front of USEF-Licensed Officials, DHS is the official sanctioned online horse show competition of the USHJA and also welcomes a variety of opportunities for other facets of the equestrian community.

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