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Claire and Campbell and Brighton - Award 2.jpg

Hundreds of pony riders descended upon the Kentucky Horse Park Tuesday morning for the first day of the 2017 USEF Pony Finals, celebrating its 50th anniversary as the most prestigious and celebrated event of its kind for pony riders in the United States. After the model and under saddle phases of competition, Claire Campbell and Brighton emerged as the frontrunners in the Large Regular Pony Hunters, with Evelyn Walker and Captain Crunch taking the lead ahead of the field in the Small Green Pony Hunters.

The Large Regular Pony Hunters, the first division of the week, brought nearly 140 ponies and their riders to the Walnut Ring to showcase conformation and way of moving, each pair hoping to solidify a place at the top of the scorecard prior to Wednesday's over fences phase. Campbell and Brighton, owned by Maher Family, LLC, impressed the judges in the model, earning a score of 260.90 and the blue ribbon, followed by a promising showing in the hack, garnering a score of 251.72 to propel them to the head of the leaderboard with total marks of 512.62. Hot on their heels are Dominic Gibbs and his own GF Aurelia, who sit less than two points behind the leaders with a final score of 510.87.

Baylee McKeever and Cecilia D'Amore's Tantallon Co-Captain claimed the third position, with Libbie Gordon and Mia Albelo's Childs Play Hot Topic earning fourth place, followed by Augusta Iwasaki and Woodlands Picasso, owned by Hannah Rohrbach, in the fifth spot.

In the Small Green Pony Hunters, Walker, in the irons aboard her own Captain Crunch, captured the day one lead ahead of her fellow bow-laden riders. With two top placings - first position in the model and second position in the hack - and a cumulative score of 519.40, Evelyn and "Neptune" swiftly captured the lead with more than 16 points separating them from the current runner-up, Augusta Iwasaki and Bibby Hill's Thinking Out Loud, who concluded the day with a 503.10 score.

Lauren Reid and Ramble On Farm's Smoke Tree Starlet sit just behind Iwasaki in third position, trailed by Kierstin Antoniadis and Boca's Tommy Terrific, owned by Ponies & Palms Show Stables, LLC, in fourth place overall. Caroline Olsen and Lynne Dow's Farmore Charismatic rounded out the top five.

Both Campbell and Walker will enter Wednesday's over fences portion of competition as the last to go in their respective divisions as the leading pairs, each hoping to maintain their winning momentum. The Large Regular and Small Green Pony Hunters will both wrap-up following the third phase of competition, with the overall division champions eligible to be crowned as either the Regular or Green Grand Champions at the end of the week should their scores hold as the highest of the three size-based divisions.

The 2017 USEF Pony Finals, presented by Collecting Gaits Farm, will continue through Sunday, Aug. 13. The nation's best young pony riders will be tested in Small, Medium and Large classes of both Regular Hunter and Green Hunter divisions in the Walnut Ring, and the Alltech Arena will play host to Pony Jumper competition Thursday through Saturday. Sunday's feature will be the Pony Medal Finals, one of the week's highlight events.