When it comes to sports involving riding animals, there are few that you can’t watch. The likes of ostrich racing takes place in the United States of America, for example, so it isn’t just typical things such as horses that get ridden in order to take part in races.
Another good example of this comes in the form of pony racing, which has taken place for a long time but only formally began in 2004. Since then, it has gone on to become one of the United Kingdom’s fastest growing sports, playing a pivotal role in training and developing young riders.
The Pony Racing Authority was formed in 2007, taking on the responsibility for maintaining the integrity and safety of the sport. This includes governing the sport not only at the racecourse level, but also at its grassroots with events such as point-to-point racing.
There is a strong link between the horse racing industry and pony racing, as demonstrated by the fact that Racecourse Association, the Point-to-Point Secretaries Association and the Jockey Club are all shareholders of the Pony Racing Authority, working hard to ensure that. The two industries can work hand-in-hand.
Pony Racing Explained
In essence, pony racing is something of a gateway to introduce people to the world of horse racing. Events take place in numerous different locations, including licensed racecourses around the United Kingdom, including the likes of Cheltenham and Ascot.
The reason it is considered a gateway experience to the more challenging world of horse racing is that it is only open to people aged between nine and 17, with participants needing to be nine-years-old on the first of January in their participating year and being allowed to carry on racing on ponies until they turn 17.
There is also an age limit in place on the ponies that are being used for the races. They need to be at least five-years-old, with those taking part allowed to be no older than 20. Regardless of their age, they need to be fit to take part in events and can measure no more than 148 centimetres.
This is the case irrespective of whether it is point-to-point or traditional races that are taking part, which is where the Pony Racing Authority comes in in terms of actioning inspections of pony racing events to ensure that the rules are followed.
Getting Involved In Pony Racing
If you’re within the required age bracket and think that pony racing might just be something that you’ll be good at, there are different session types that you’re able to take part in in order to get a taste of what it’s like. These tend to be run by the Pony Club, which works closely with the Pony Racing Authority in order to provide opportunities to young people.
The following are examples of the sorts of things that you can do to experience pony racing for the first time:
- Doing some balance and fitness exercises
- Getting onto the Equicisor, which is a mechanical horse that gives you the chance to practice your positioning before getting on an actual pony
- Riding a pony in an enclosed space and getting it to canter
- Practice galloping in a safe environment
- Taking part in a training day. These are usually organised by the Pony Club in association with the Pony Racing Authority. Doing one of these counts towards qualification for a race day
- Race days themselves provide people with the opportunity to take part in races at some of the country’s most prestigious racecourses
Once you’ve taken part in an introductory session or two, you can progress to the point that you take take part in a race day proper. In order to do so, you need to meet one specific criteria which is as follows:
- Have at least one training day under your belt and have passed it
- Attended two qualifying rallies, training sessions or coaching sessions
- Passed a British Racing School or National Racing College Level 3 training day, having attended in full
If you meet the criteria, you can then get your entry form signed by a DC or a Centre Proprietor. At that point, your requirements will have been confirmed by someone that is a current member of their local Pony Club branch or centre, giving you the chance to take part in pony racing events on a more disciplined and noteworthy scale.
Point-To-Point Pony Racing
The Pony Racing Authority refers to point-to-point racing as the sport’s ‘bread and butter’. It takes place on most weekends of the year between February and June, with more than 70 point-to-point courses welcoming in excess of 160 pony races during this time. It is the best way to understand the sport and to get involved in it, with races taking place outside of the weekend from time to time. The PRA’s Point-to-Point Pony Racing Committee is responsible for the organisation of such events, which are run under regulation.
Those that wish to get involved with point-to-point pony racing are able to do so in accordance with the Point-to-Point Racing Fixture list, which sees the country broken down into 13 areas. The areas are as follows:
- West Mercian
- South Wales & Monmouthshire
- South Midlands
- Devon & Cornwall
- South East
- East Anglia
Area Organisers are responsible for the running of each set of Pony Races every day. The types of races on offer range from Open to Intermediate, via Novice, Maiden and Conditions. This means that everyone has a chance to take part in a pony race that is at their level, even if that level is inexperienced.
If a rider wants to take things to the next level, they are able to do so courtesy of the likes of local championships and a National Championship, which are open to riders of both 138 centimetres and 148 centimetres.
If point-to-point is the industry’s bread and butter, the racecourse series is when things are taken to the next level. These races take place on actual racecourses, including the likes of Cheltenham and Ascot, and tend to be either before or after a full race card. Two races take place at a time, with both the riders and their ponies having qualified to take part in them.
Whilst it might sound like a thing aimed at children, it is not uncommon for people to mistake what’s taking place on the course for real horse racing, such is the fast and frenetic nature of the action.
These races usually take place between April and October, with the Racecourse Series Pony Races culminating in the finals, which are points-based. Indeed, the idea of the entire thing is to mirror proper racing in order to give all those involved a taste of what professional horse racing is like.
This is the showcase for the sport, up to and including the use of British Horseracing Authority starters, judges and clerks of the scale. If you want to get a sense of just how good pony racing can be, such events are what you want to be attending.
Why Pony Racing?
An obvious question that you might ask is why pony racing has become so popular. The first officially regulated pony race took place at Newton Abbey Racecourse in 2004. The Pony Racing Authority became official three years later, growing in popularity at an incredible rate since then.
By 2017, 185 of the jockeys that held an official licence to ride or a Rider Certificate from the British Horseracing Authority had started their careers in pony racing. Perhaps most importantly for a sport that often has problems with access is the fact that the riders came from all sorts of different backgrounds.
Names such as Harry Cobden, Hollie Doyle and Bryony Frost have pony racing to thank for their first experiences of competitive riding. Little wonder, then, that the likes of the Master of Foxhounds Association and the Jockey Club have strong ties to the Pony Racing Authority. There are also representatives of the British Horseracing Authority and the Pony Club that sit on the PRA Board, taking up observer positions.
The Pony Racing Authority, meanwhile, is limited by guarantee and any and all funds raised is invested straight back into the world of pony racing in order to ensure its long-term future.
In short, the reason why pony racing is seen as such an attractive proposition by people involved in the world of horse racing is that it allows young people to get a taste for riding on the back of an animal without the need for said animal to be a horse. This might seem strange, but horses tend to be much bigger and stronger than ponies, therefore meaning that much more damage can be done by a fall from a horse for a young person.
Anything that can give young people an introduction to the sport of horse racing is seen as a good thing by an industry struggling to otherwise attract the young.