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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Harness racing youngsters and their ponies are hot to trot

ABOVE: Madison Pengelly and her new pony trots partner TP Manhattan.

WHILE spectators are used to watching youngsters mounted on their ponies doing all sorts of things, pony trots is attracting more and more young drivers.

Pony trots is for children aged six to 17 years old with ponies who are no bigger than 13hh in height, and the races are conducted at meetings in the same way as the big guns.

The ponies are handicapped in a race on the metres per second that they can trot and this gets reviewed each race and changed accordingly for the pony’s performances.

A visit to Globe Derby while on Christmas holidays four years ago changed the equestrian pathway for Matilda and Madison Pengelly.

The Pengelly sisters have grown up breeding and showing Shetland ponies however, they returned home with the harness racing bug according to their mother Jo.

“They had the pony trots on that day at Globe Derby and the girls fell in love them,” she said.

“So we broke the saddle ponies into harness, bought the race carts and got involved with the pony trots here in Victoria."

Matilda and Madison are regularly sighted driving their ponies around the roads in Elaine, midway between Geelong and Ballarat.

“We take the ponies to work on the track at our friends Dot and Warren Greene’s place in Mount Wallace, but I must admit it took a bit to get them to the races,” she said.

ABOVE: Matilda Pengally and Country Cup champion Elliott.

Matilda, 12, partnered the 20-year-old pony Slim Dusty to win the St Arnaud Cup late last year.

“It's great fun to get out there with the horses on the track and race against your friends,” Matilda said.

Madison, 9, and her pony Elliott took out the Country Cups Championship last year on the back of five country cup wins.

“I love to go to the races and play with my friends Annabelle Stanley and Cohen Tindale in the pony trots,” Madison said.

Jo said Madison is keen to follow in the footsteps of leading reinswomen Ellen Tormey and Jackie Barker who have successfully graduated from pony trots to driving in races.

“Madison wants to drive in races when she gets older, while Matilda has said she wants to be a trainer,” she said.

Matilda and Elliot are leading this year’s Country Cups Championships and Madison is now partnering a new pony, TP Manhattan, who took out the recent Boort Cup.

ABOVE: Ajay Baker powering home along the final straight.

Ajay Baker is 13 and has been competing in the pony trots in Victoria since 2018 and currently competes with two ponies named Winx and Pretty Cool.

She got involved in the pony trots as her family has been in the harness racing industry for many years training and breeding trotters and pacers.

Her mother, Sherree Baker, trains a team of six horses along with the help of Ajay’s grandparents Steve and Debra Baker.

“I help out around the stables where I can as well as working my ponies,” Ajay said. “We have a Standardbred stallion, R Eleven NZ, who we stand at stud also so it is pretty much a family involvement.

“ I enjoy working my ponies and attending the race meetings having fun out on the track where racing can get very competitive at times.”

While many pony trot participants come from harness racing backgrounds, there is an accessible pathway for non-racing boys and girls to become involved through Harness Racing Victoria. Information is available on their website.

For assistance in sourcing a pony and racing cart or having a pony broken in to harness email Jenni Lewis at

All pony trot races are televised live and free to watch on Trots Vision along with the big horses.

ABOVE: The award presentation after the pony trots atat Geelong.

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