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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Pony dressage goes distance on good ideas and hard work

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

ABOVE: Wilde Ballinger riding Nutcracker took a blue ribbon home. Picture: JANICE GORICK

A COMPETITION started more than two decades ago after a conversation about the lack of dressage events for ponies in Australia is still going strong today.

The Australian Pony Owners and Breeders (APOB) Dressage Championships have been held at Werribee Park since their inception and have just been run for the 22nd time.

The event continues to meet its aim of providing competition opportunities for ponies similar to that available in Europe.

Chris Hartigan, who with her late husband Gary founded the championships, said with support from EA, pony dressage is now on most schedules of competition.

“We are very proud that we were part of the initial charge but even in early days we were of the firm belief that to ‘tip your toe in the water and have a go’ should not be costly, that we also needed to encourage young people, and so was born the rules and requirements by which we run,” Chris said.

ABOVE: Tracey Gorick presented the Jaime Stroud Memorial Sash to Chloe Bourke. Picture: JANICE GORICK

Because APOB is a promotion group of the Australian Pony Studbook Society the event is covered by the society’s insurance policy, so that was one hurdle overcome quite easily.

“Secondly, we also understand that not all ponies are registered and that can be a hurdle to competing, and so our second most important rule –no registration required,” Chris said.

“We have been pushed to go official but that will never happen. We run EA Preliminary thru to EA Advanced tests and use EA qualified judges.”

The rules and requirements for pony dressage competitions are very simple. The pony must be 14.2 hands or under and competitors do not require membership of any organisation nor registration of the pony.

Essentially, it is a full-on competition, with many senior riders having used the event to introduce a young pony to the dressage arena.

Many have gone on to compete in the open ranks very successfully.

The APOB Dressage Championships has a special section that caters for the youngest riders.

“We call it ‘Tiny Tots’ and they ride in a smaller ring,” Chris said.

“We use the less complicated tests of the lower grades of the Pony Club Association of Victoria, with tiny tots split between led and solo.

“We are very proud to acknowledge that many of our tiny tot riders have gone on to become very successful EA dressage riders both on ponies and the bigger equines.”

This year at the championships, two previous tiny tot competitors, Caitlyn Porter and Tracey Gorick, adjudicated as judges in the open competition.

“An idea that was hatched 22 years ago was an exceptionally good one,” Chris said.

“It has provided fun without pressure, a chance to have a go on a pony of any type, it’s produced very good riders and now good young judges – not many other events could say the same.”


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