Gazing out at the sea of bay, chestnut, grey, pinto, and palomino hindquarters, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perfectly coiffed, dished-face ponies really do grow on trees. Spotless and shining, their tails braided into tightly wound pinwheels, the competitors of USEF Pony Finals presented by Collecting Gaits Farm (August 8-13)—equine and human, alike—are meant to look effortless. But their time inside the Walnut Ring of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky is anything but breezy.

Each year, pint sized competitors gather from around the country, vying for a tri-colored ribbon in divisions ranging from jumpers and equitation to green pony hunters and model classes. They’ve all worked hard to get here, and thus, there is never a shortage of emotion—be it post-ring tears or triumphant grins and neck hugs. For most young competitors, USEF Pony Finals is the highlight of their year, and for the youngest of the bunch, a first taste of equestrian competition on a major national stage.

They’ll learn lessons here about discipline and sportsmanship, about grace in victory and in defeat. And, if they’re very lucky, how to make those brief, few moments in the spotlight count when it matters. Finals is, yes, a showcase for the country’s most beautiful and talented ponies. But at the end of the day, it is also a training ground for America’s young riders, many of whom will go on to compete at all levels of the sport in years to come.

Here, we’re sharing just a few of our favorite images from the competition so far. Good luck to all this weekend!

-Photography by Erin Gilmore for NF Style. 

You can watch the live stream of USEF Pony Finals presented by Collecting Gaits Farm (August 8 – 13) on the USEF Network or keep up with the Championship on Facebook (@USequestrian@USEFNetwork, and @USEFPonyFinals) , Instagram, and Twitter (@USequestrian and@USEFNetwork).