Driving Versatility in Small Packages

Written by Amy Robert Clark on Wednesday, 16 November 2011. Posted in Press Release

Driving Versatility in Small Packages
It’s no secret to American Shetland and American Show Pony (ASPR) enthusiasts: these dynamic, athletic and versatile smaller pony breeds make excellent driving partners.  Their driving panache is proven at numerous shows and competitions across North America each year.  

Driving options for American Shetlands and American Show Ponies are diverse. Roadster and fine harness spring readily to mind to those familiar with society pony show driving.  Beyond those divisions, these small equine thrive in several pleasure divisions and as hitch and carriage animals as well.  Obstacle driving is another venue where Shetlands especially excel.
On any given weekend from April to late September, you can find ponies proving their performance chops at any of the 150-plus recognized events the American Shetland Pony Club, Inc. (ASPC) sanctions each year in United States and Canada. The largest of these competitions is the National Congress for American Shetland and American Show Ponies.  The 2011 Congress offered more than 100 different driving classes and crowned 22 national driving grand champions.  Entries at this year’s Congress were up nearly 25% from the previous year, and many exhibitors and spectators were especially pleased to see those numbers translate into more driving competition.
(photo by E.Carlson)

Congress exhibitor Michelle Legrotte Barcus from Missouri was impressed with the versatility displayed at this year’s pony championship.  

“What I like most is that you find a nice pony you can drive and do well with no matter your level.  I also think their size makes them less intimidating,” said Barcus.

Trace Anderson, a Shetland and Show Pony exhibitor from Minnesota, added, “There is room for the amateur to learn, grow and compete in both the Shetland driving classes as well as the Show Pony driving classes.”

The size and scope of competitive small equine driving has grown over the years.  This year, the ASPC Congress marked its 65th birthday. Although no driving classes were part of the first Congress in 1947, soon fine harness classes in which Shetlands demonstrate brilliant animation and superb carriage were added. Thrilling roadster competition that puts entries through three speedy gaits while maintaining proper form came next.  Both fine harness and roadster expanded over the years and today feature targeted classes for youth, amateur or lady exhibitors as well as specialized areas for young ponies or those with limited ring experience.

Driving options for Shetlands were enhanced with the creation of the Classic American Shetland division in the 1980s.  The Classic division fosters competitive opportunities for ponies in hitches and carriage driving.
Photo: Terry Young©
Used with his permission/Courtesy of the ASPC

In draft harness classes, utilitarian usefulness is emphasized, giving sturdy ponies a place to demonstrate their affinity for work.  Draft multi-pony hitches are shown to suitable four-wheel vehicles with traditional heavy harness that includes collars, hames and breeching.  Crowds love to see draft hitches put through their paces turning figure-eights, backing and swinging to the left or right, much as teams making a delivery to a dock might have done in the late 1800s.  

The Classic division’s carriage-driving offerings provide another outlet for Shetlands to demonstrate their suitability as pleasant driving companions. Carriage-driving classes are judged on manners, quality, performance and conformation and antique or reproduction type vehicles are encouraged.  Carriage-driving classes at rated shows might also include competitive opportunities in precision driving or reinsmanship.

At the 2011 championship, spectators were treated to a variety of multi-pony wagon hitches as well as to ponies pulling beautifully crafted specialty carriages. 

Photo: Terry Young©
Used with his permission/Courtesy of the ASPC

At the Congress and other shows, American Shetlands and Show Ponies demonstrate their natural style and movement as well as their penchant to be trained for superb manners in two different pleasure divisions: Formal Pleasure and Country Pleasure.  

Equally stylish but slightly less animated, Classics and their Foundation Shetland cousins also offer driving in pleasure and roadster in a more manageable package in terms of pony size and temperament.

New to the pony driving mix this year was the Roman Chariot class.  Patterned after similar classes within ASPC’s Miniature Horse Registry, this offering was a huge hit at the Congress.  Roman chariot competitors display good horsemanship as they first parade majestically and then strut their stuff at a walk and collected trot before finally stepping things up to a slow canter and then an amazing hand gallop! 

Photo: Terry Washburn©
Used with her permission/Courtesy of the ASPC

In honor of the historic nature of this year’s ASPC/ASPR Congress, the Show Pony breed committee sponsored a special demonstration of the once-popular fancy turnout with its fairytale costuming and animated but well-mannered harness ponies for children.   Fancy turnout was a favorite class for Shetlands in the 1950s, and long-ago Congress shows sometimes even featured both a qualifying class and a championship stake, both with many beautiful and crowd-pleasing entries.

Fancy Turn OutOf course, in classes such as fancy turnout and with so many youth and amateur classes, manners can be tantamount for Shetlands and American Show Ponies.  Often, part of a judge’s consideration in final placings may be whether the ponies before him or her appear to be “a pleasure to drive.”

ASPC and ASPR entries often excel at just that:  pleasurability, no matter the division.  However, sportsmanship is not limited to just the ponies.  Jason Prince, a professional ASPC trainer from Illinois, noted the courtesy and showmanship of the small equine human participants as well.

Photo: Terry Young©
Used with his permission/Courtesy of the ASPC

“Most of the drivers in these divisions are courteous to other drivers in the ring. We have a tendency to look out for each other while still driving our ponies to their best drive,” said Prince.

Anyone can drive an ASPC or ASPR ponies.  Exhibitor Michelle Koster from Texas noted, “Shetland Ponies adapt so well to individuals.  It says something of the breed that a pony can go from being handled by a professional trainer to the youngest child and still do well according to the ability of the handler.”

Because of their proficiency in a buggy and their willingness to work, Shetlands also shine in obstacle driving.   ASPC members put ponies through their paces on interesting and often challenging courses at ASPC sanctioned shows in the Pacific Northwest, throughout the Midwest and on eastward through Ohio.  Obstacle driving demonstrates ponies’ capabilities and allows Shetland driving enthusiasts to perfect their own reinsmanship skills.  

“Good training, patience for the obstacles and coordination are necessary skills for those who drive these classes,” said Judy Howard, a Shetland enthusiast from Oregon.

“In many ways, obstacle driving is like doing driven dressage,” said ASPC member Lewella Tembreull from Minnesota. She pointed out that Shetlands that are steady and focused but are yet supple and soft on the bit do exceptionally well.  This kind of finely tuned partnership helps a driver navigate a pony through an obstacle whereby the cart tire must past smoothly through narrow ground poles.
(photo by E.Carlson)
At sanctioned ASPC events, obstacles are likely to be anything from such ground poles to tight turns around cones to driving through a waterfall simulated by mylar streamers!

The driving suitability of Shetlands and Show Ponies is not limited to their own association events and local club activities. Small equine have recently found their driving capabilities expanding into other venues as well. Within the last 10 years, opportunities for these game and willing ponies to compete in Combined Driving Events have increased dramatically. Given the versatility Shetlands display within their own circles, many pony enthusiasts are finding CDEs another perfect fit for them.

At some of the first CDEs, the vitals of small equine were closely monitored, and many were surprised to see the small equine coming in with better pulse and respiration rates than their larger counterparts!

Of course, to Shetland and Show Pony enthusiasts, further proof of the heart and endurance of their favored ponies comes as no surprise.  Anderson noted that Shetlands and Show Ponies have “Not only beauty [and] conformation, but agile minds, excellent work ethic and loyalty to the job at hand.”

From stylish show classes to versatile obstacle competition to simple pleasure driving to hearty endurance at three-day events, small equine offer something for every type of driving enthusiast. To the credit of Shetlands and Show Ponies, they do it in an easily cared-for, convenient sized package available at economical prices.  

Although the majority of sanctioned competitions is over for the year, some driving opportunities for Shetlands and Show Ponies continue throughout the fall.  Some stables will finish their breed show seasons in southern locales where you can find pony handlers hitching up for everything from speedy roadster to graceful pleasure to skilled obstacle driving.  Other Shetland driving enthusiasts will participate in Combined Driving Events such as the VSE Driving Trials scheduled at Happ’s, Inc., in Washington in September.
Photo: Terry Young©
Used with his permission/Courtesy of the ASPC

Even in areas where all manner of competitive options have ended for the year, pony owners and trainers will begin to school new Shetland or Show Pony prospects to prepare for next season.  Many will begin planning for their national championship runs at the 2012 Congress or make their plans to expand into obstacle or roman chariot options.  With the new partnership between the ASPC, Inc, and the American Driving Society, more ASPC members will undoubtedly consider carriage driving or combined driving. Some pony enthusiasts will participate in winter driving activities such as the sleigh parade in Minnesota.  No matter the time of year or area of the country, you can be sure that Shetland and Show Pony driving is never far from the plans of pony enthusiasts!

For more information about the ASPC/ASPR National Congress, the American Shetland Pony Club, the American Show Pony Registry or other programs involving American Shetland Ponies and American Show Ponies, visit www.shetlandminiature.com.

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