Shetland Ponies Race for Ribbons and Charity

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by Kristin Berkery

A 2008 qualifying race for the Shetland Pony Grand National. Photo by Peter Facey

What could be more adorable than Shetland ponies running full speed over jumps with kid jockeys astride wearing real racing silks? It’s no publicity stunt — it’s an annual fund raising tradition held at the Olympia, London International Horse Show every December.

The jockeys are children aged 9 to 13 who’ve competed for at least one year in eventing disciplines and must run qualifying races to earn one of ten spots in the pint-sized steeplechase race. All mounts must be registered with the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society.

The Shetland Pony Grand National was first run at the Olympia show in 1981 as a miniature version of the famous full-sized Grand National steeplechase race held at Aintree near Liverpool, England. (Most Americans are familiar with the Grand National from the 1944 film National Velvet starring Elizabeth Taylor.) The Shetland race was so popular that the show’s founder decided to make it an annual event.

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Individuals and businesses sponsor each of the ponies in the race and the money goes to a charity selected by the showholders. The nonprofit chosen for 2011 is Starlight, a charity that’s very similar to the Make A Wish Foundation. In the 30 years the race has been run, the Shetland Pony Grand National has raised close to £500,000, or almost $800,000, for local charities.

The ponies run at top speed for two-and-a-half laps over two-foot-high fences designed to look like steeplechase obstacles. The race requires ponies and riders to be fast, agile, and tough — but fortunately it’s not anywhere near as dangerous as the Grand National race at Aintree, which has an average of three equine fatalities each year.

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Considered a prestigious event, the Shetland Pony Grand National has turned out several riders who’ve achieved success as adults in equine sports.

Enjoy the 2008 Shetland Pony Grand National below. In the video you’ll notice that the ponies’ legs are shaggy — most of them are given a “hunter clip” where their bodies are closely clipped except for the saddle area and the legs, which keeps the saddle from sliding off and the legs are protected from scrapes while going over the jumps.

 

About Kristin Berkery

Kristin is a digital marketing expert and voiceover talent in Sacramento, California, with a life-long passion for horses. In her spare time she's active with her daughter and son. See Kristin's marketing agency and LinkedIn profile.

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