It wasn’t so much a stampede, but more like a polite, quiet parade of ponies that converged on the Missouri State Fairgrounds on Saturday for the first day of the annual Missouri Ponies of the Americas Club show.
The breed, known as POAs for short, is one of the best-behaved of any type of horse or pony.
“They’re good for adults and kids,” said Sandy Ellis, of Independence, as she hosed down her POA yearling, Ellie, after the show. “Their temperament is wonderful.”
Ellis and her husband, Rick, plan to get Ellie ready for their grandchildren to ride in a couple years. In the competitions, POAs must be 3 years old to be ridden, but younger ponies compete in the “in-hand” categories, where the handler guides the animal.
In her first-ever competition on Saturday, Ellie took second overall in the yearling category, although Ellis said with a smile as she patted the pony: “She should’ve gotten first.”
As with the ponies, the human owners and riders are laid-back at POA competitions.
“It’s still a competition, but everybody’s your friend,” said Casey Esser, 26, of Blackwater, who was showing 3-year-old Alvin for a friend who brought two ponies. “It doesn’t really matter who wins or who loses. If somebody falls in the dirt, you pick them up. It’s like a big family, and that’s what I really like.”
Esser has been riding POAs since she was 8. Her 4-H horsemanship leader owned POAs, and Esser — like so many farm girls at that age — fell in love with the breed.
The pop culture cliché of a girl wanting a pony for her birthday perhaps derives from the generally well-behaved POAs, which were originally bred in 1954 in Iowa. Although there were some boys competing on Saturday, most of the roughly 30 riders or handlers were girls. They came from about a dozen towns in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas.
“I grew up on paints and quarter horses, because that’s what my dad had,” Esser said. “When I got into 4-H, I got into POAs. I like them because they don’t get so tall. They can only get up to 56 inches, and I’m kind of short, so that’s nice. You can do all the events on one pony, instead of having one for this class, one for another class. It’s nice that they’re so versatile.”
Missouri POA Club organizer Stephanie Alderson, of Bowling Green, said POAs are “like appaloosas but shorter. They have color, spots, mottled skin, striped hooves, and their maximum height is 56 inches.”
Saturday’s competition featured three categories for children — ages 8 and younger, ages 8 to 12, and ages 13 to 18 — plus an adult category. Classes within each category included halter, conformation, showmanship, Western, pleasure, jumping and gaming. All the same categories and classes will be repeated on Sunday.
Competitions like this are crucial to building a pony’s resume.
“If you want to sell your pony, the more experience they have in the show ring, the better their market value,” Esser said. “The trainers are usually riding the ponies to sell to kids. So the more experience they have, the safer they are.”
The Missouri POA Club has been coming to the fairgrounds for more than three decades. The club does three or four shows like this every year in Missouri, and it also hosts an international competition in St. Louis.
“We love coming here,” Alderson said. “This is my family’s favorite place to show. The facilities are nice, the grounds people are good to us and have things ready for us. There are very nice barns here, a nice arena, and good people to work with.”
“I love showing here,” she said. “We’ve been coming here forever. It’s kind of historical and old-school a little bit. It’s a good facility.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Missouri Pony of the Americas Club show
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Coliseum, Missouri State Fairgrounds, Sedalia