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“Height Doesn’t Measure Heart” as the National Dressage Pony Cup & Small Horse Championships Kick Off at Lamplight Equestrian Center

Pony power has literally taken over the picturesque grounds of Lamplight Equestrian Center as the 2018 U.S. National Dressage Pony Cup (NDPC) and Small Horse Championship Show gets underway this weekend in Wayne, Illinois.

Kate Phillips is one of 225 enthusiastic entries at this weekend’s National Dressage Pony Cup & Small Horse Championships. She will compete her Lipizzan gelding Neapolitano Gloria at Fourth Level in the Small Horse division. Photo via Facebook.

Founded in 2007 by Jenny Carol in order to showcase and promote ponies competing in dressage, the NDPC has continued to grow in size and enthusiasm each year and this weekend’s event is no exception. With a whopping $25,000 in prize money and a wonderland of prizes up for grabs, the response has been overwhelming: starting Friday, 225 total entries from across the country including New England, Florida, North Dakota, Texas and California will compete in 51 NDPC divisions across all seven rings of the Lamplight Equestrian Center. In addition, 26 different breed organizations have signed up to sponsor special pony and small horse breed awards. So no wonder riders can’t wait to get started.

For the first time, the NDPC will also include the Small Horse Championships to highlight the talents of mounts under 16 hands. “I think the idea of the small horse division is brilliant and could be huge for our sport. Hunter shows have small hunter divisions and they’re very popular, so it just makes sense to do this for dressage,” said show manager William Solyntjes, who is also a USEF “S” dressage judge. “Just like the Pony Cup did for ponies, I think these new NDPC Small Horse Championships are such a great way for people with smaller mounts to also have a chance to shine against their peers.”

Kate Phillips of Sauk Rapids, Minn. agreed. A USEF “R” dressage judge and breeder of Lipizzan horses, she will compete this weekend with her 15.1-hand Lipizzan gelding Neapolitano Gloria in the Fourth Level Open and Freestyle divisions of the Small Horse Championships. “I think it’s incredibly important to have something like this, and I applaud the Pony Cup for taking this initiative,” said Phillips. “As a breeder, the demographic I primarily serve is people who want a mount of a reasonable size, and increasingly I’ve seen a big push towards embracing that type of horse. I’ve had wonderful and big upper-level horses in the past, but at this point in my life, and like many other riders, I want a partner who is suitable in size and power to me.

“We don’t all need to have a Verdades – these small horses are mounts who can do the work and are talented, while still being safe and fun to ride, and I think these championships will showcase this,” Phillips continued. “I believe this event is filling a niche that is so needed: some of us want something a little bigger than ponies, but don’t want to swing a leg over a 17-hand youngster any more. I also think the perspective from judges is evolving too: I feel that more and more judges are now rewarding horses with good gaits who are correctly ridden, regardless of size.”

This year’s Pony Cup has found a new home on the stunning grounds of the Lamplight Equestrian Center, which will also play host to 14 USEF National Championships as part of the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in August. And even though as a competition manager Bill Solyntjes is no stranger to large shows, the scope of the exhibitor response to the NDPC surprised even him. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” he laughed. “When we offered to take on the Pony Cup this year, we might have well have taken on saving the world. There’s been so much enthusiasm and appreciation from the competitors, and it’s wonderful to experience.

“We’re very proud of the world-class facility we have here at Lamplight, and so we’re thrilled to welcome riders from all around the country to see it for themselves,” Solyntjes continued. “We have millions of dollars-worth of footing, great stabling, an experienced management team, and of course it’s just incredibly beautiful here – the grounds are like nowhere else. And the response from NDPC exhibitors couldn’t be better: we have every single ring full from 7am into the evening each day – if this gets any bigger we’ll have to add days to the schedule, but what a great problem to have. Jenny (Carol) has built this whole thing from the ground up over the years, and how wonderful it is to see what it’s become. We’re delighted to be a part of it.”