Written by Betsy LaBelle – In Dressage Directory – Sunday, February 8, 2015

Established in the United States in 1997, the North American Sportpony Registry (NASPR) recognized the temperament, rideability, and conformation excellence of the newly-bred sportpony, a pony genetically-pooled of different breeds from the Arabian, Welsh, New Forest, Thoroughbred and some top European Warmblood bloodlines. Acknowledging Europe’s Sportpony competition successes, the North American Sportpony Registry was created to help these ponies be seen and acknowledged in the North American equestrian community and to provide a greater opportunity for the Sportpony to be a superstar. Since 1997, the quality and number of this breed being produced in North America has skyrocketed. (www.northamericansportponies.com)

Accepting strong educational direction from top European judges experienced with the Warmblood and the sportpony, the NASPR provides many incentive programs and sponsored classes to existing and potential breeders. With the mission of bridging the gap between breeders and riders, Sonja Lowenfish, NASPR’s President shared, “Our emphasis is to train young breeders to becoming the big time breeders of the future and we are training them and helping them make good breeding choices and if need be acquiring the appropriate breeding stock to reach this objective. We are teaching our breeders to consider all aspects of Sportpony breeding and sportpony ownership, promotion and appropriate training for the Olympic disciplines and driving.”

The North American Sportpony Registry - Valentino (Makuba x Leps Vanessa) owned by Stefanie Preisler

The North American Sportpony Registry – Valentino (Makuba x Leps Vanessa) owned by Stefanie Preisler

With the Hunters, 3-Day Eventing, Dressage and Jumpers programs for American-bred horses, the NASPR offers many benefits and worthwhile awards packages included in the Sportpony USDF All-Breed Awards, foal futurities, as well as other awards and recognitions. It has also created and developed new divisions for the breed shows. The NASPR plays a vital role in providing incentives programs such as sponsoring Dressage at Devon (DAD), the New England Dressage Association (NEDA) Fall Festival, the National Dressage Pony Cup (NDPC) in Kentucky and all USDF year end breed awards.

There are many clinics which are both fun and very educational. Training breeders young and old, the NASPR and the American Warmblood Registry (AWR) offer opportunities to compete at world competitions on their North American Young Breeders teams. This is a great chance for youth to get involved with the Registry and learn to be successful breeders and competitors. There are also seminars held throughout the year where the top individuals selected will make up the North American Team. In addition, they also help youngsters get experience abroad and recommend those who are interested to our European counterparts and send them to breeding farms in Germany.

The sportponies, in the general range of 13.2-14.2 hands, look and move like a small horse and are capable of competing in the Olympic disciplines of Jumping, Dressage, 3-Day Eventing, as well as in Driving. It is not a traditional type of pony, but rather is much more like an athletic small horse in ability but with the looks of a pony.

The movements of the sportpony, paramount to its quality, must include suspension and extension, articulation, impulsion and elasticity. In addition, as a nod to the American discipline of hunter ponies, it does strive for the traditional “daisy-cutter,” flat-kneed movement which is popular in the hunter ring today. The “hunter type” pony, especially one which excels in jumping and has the conformation and “look” of the hunter type can indeed be considered a North American Sportpony.

All ponies accepted into the Registry must undergo an inspection and be DNA-typed. It is in this way that pedigrees can be graded, documented, and promoted from that point forward, even with breeding stock which is of undocumentable parentage. Stallions accepted into the Registry undergo additional performance and progeny requirements.

The intent of the NASPR goes back to the 1980s. Sonja Lowenfish, NASPR’s President, grew up in the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany to a family of horse breeders. A Geneticist by profession, she completed an extensive university biology program in the United States in the ‘70s. In the mid-70s, she established the American Holsteiner Registry in the USA and, in 1981, created the American Warmblood Registry (AWR).

Copy of Makuba drive single

The famous “Makuba” owned by Klaus Biesenthal has sired more than 130 foals to date with the North American Sportpony Registry

She next formed the NASPR as a division of the AWR with the goal of forming a registry in North America that keeps the collection of its registry fees in North America. In 2003, the NASPR was officially launched as a separate entity from its AWR parentage. Sonja started the Sportpony Registry due to the fact that on her inspection rounds of grading and inspecting our AWR sporthorses, she kept noticing all these nice sport ponies and naturally assumed that they were registered somewhere.

These sport pony breeders that bred these sportponies could not be registered anywhere and were orphans, out of any recorded directory (primary stallion or mare books). The wonderful sportponies were something they bred for their children. That is when Sonja started developing the guidelines and procedures for an American Sportpony Registry which then became the North American Sportpony Registry.”

Explaining the NASPR’s purpose, Sonja said, “We are trying to educate the breeders through their own goals, to help them focus on the conformation, the temperament and rideability. We want to help guide them in a direction they need to go, to help them take a step back and put maybe a different angle of thought into their breeding of matching mares with stallions.”

Cesar and Sam

Sonja continued, “We want pony breeders to breed with their own breeding goal in mind such as breeding for hunters, jumpers or dressage for example. We just want them to also become aware of any potential problems. Breeding ponies takes years and the fruits of a breeders’ labor takes decades. If their mare has short pasterns, it’s worth looking for a stallion with a bit of a longer pastern to hopefully even out the offspring. Or perhaps the throatlatch area in a mare is tight, and choosing a stallion with more space there, will help in the future pony.” Sonja proudly stated, “We have very good ponies now in the program.”
Sonja’s development of inspection sheets 40 years ago has allowed breeders to be aware of their horse’s and Sportpony’s characteristics.

Thorough, extensive and NASPR database expansive, Sportpony breeders find the forms help to avoid making a regrettable long-term mistake with a particular individual. Sonja engaged European judges mostly from Germany for the inspections the first ten years. For the last few years American trained judges have taken their place. All American judges for the AWR and NASPR are trained by Sonja. There is never a lowering of standards.

In fact, some U.S. horses such as WakeUp, ridden by Emily Wagner-Miles have risen to the highest scores in the USA, and are now training in Germany under the grant of the US Dressage Foundation. WakeUp and all of Wally Woo Farm bred horses and Sportponies are registered and inspected with the American Warmblood Registry (horses) and NASPR (sportponies). Wally Woo Farm is owned and operated by Jana Wagner who is Emily’s mother.

The pony stallion Mushu owned by Jana Wagner is a successful dressage pony registered with the North American Sportpony Registry

The pony stallion Mushu owned by Jana Wagner is a successful dressage pony registered with the North American Sportpony Registry

Not only does NASPR have a working Sportpony breeding program, it also has the winning sportponies at the World Championship competitions. Last year in 2014, the pony Markus (Breeder: Klaus Biesenthal from Illinois, Owner: Harmony Sporthorses) competed on the Team USA at the World Championship in France. The black American Sportpony stallion competed at the Single Pony World Championships. We hope to see him back in competition in 2015.

Klaus Biesenthal shared, “We’ve been breeding horses and ponies for more than 40 years. For the past 15 years, we’ve been breeding ponies with the North American Sportpony Registry. Sonja knows what she’s doing. The inspections are the same as we would have in Germany. It just makes sense.”
He continued, “We breed ponies for dressage and driving. We used to breed as many as 30 ponies a year, but now that I’m 67 years old, we’ve cut back to 3 or 4 a year. I also grew up in the Schleswig- Holstein region in Germany and love the Holsteiner horses. We still breed some of the Holsteiner lines to our famous pony stallion, Makuba. The smaller dressage horses are just easier for the riders. Our horses are for ladies who want to ride for fun and really enjoy their horse, build confidence and be competitive at the same time.”

A sportpony filly named Amazing Gracie at her inspection owned by Stacey Sandstrom

A sportpony filly named Amazing Gracie at her inspection owned by Stacey Sandstrom

He continued, “Dressage Judges nowadays are quite fair on the smaller horses and ponies. They just want to see the movement like the larger warmbloods and the great temperaments. Our program works. And we are very proud of the NASPR. It has been building great pony recognition for years and helping North American breeders improve their breeding programs.”

Janet Johnson, a breeder based in Wisconsin affirmed, “It’s important that registries stay in American bred horses. Buy American.”

Johnson shared her own story about the NASPR, “Suddenly I needed mounts for my three young children. Sadly, what I found when I went looking was not what I wanted for my own children. We picked up many ponies only to put the time in and have them break down, or find they didn’t have the mind to be a sport pony. As my children grew up, I became more and more determined to get back to a better type of pony breeding.”

She continued, “And so began my quest to find a good minded, well conformed, athletic pony stallion. My HK’s Danny Boy pony was purchased as a weanling from a Connemara breeder in California. Living in Wisconsin, I purchased this foal via the internet, a few photos and several conversations with his breeder. What sold me were two things. First was the breeder’s description of Danny’s outstanding temperament, which both his sire and dam possessed. The second, which closed the deal, was reading his inspection report from the NASPR.”

She continued explaining, “These inspection reports, along with the NASPR inspection process, have become an invaluable tool to my breeding program. Each breeding is a learning process and each inspection is like looking into a crystal ball. We learn which matches work for a particular discipline, which do not and why! From here, a breeder now has a good basis to work with, and we know our stock, their strengths, their weaknesses, and that of their offspring.”

She concluded, “My vision for Dayton Ridge Farm is to produce ponies and pony crosses that I would put my own grandchildren on. Ponies that will go the distance, whether it be the Pony Finals, the Dressage Pony Cup, Pony Club or just a pony to ride. Success is in the memories made and making of one’s dream come true. The American Dream, bred right here in America, by North American Sport Pony Breeders.”

Megan Bittle, a California breeder talked a little about her history, “In 2008, I attended my first AWR/NASPR inspection with my young cremello stallion, Rubicons Moonlit Motion. He scored very well and I had big plans on inspecting the show horse in 2009, planning to host the inspection at my small farm I was in the process of growing called Blue Dreamin’ Farms, named from believing anything is possible with hard work, honesty, and chasing your dream. The sky’s the limit. Sonja Lowenfish, the NASPR founder and our inspection judge ended up loving Nevada Little Spark and gave her a 7.9 overall with an 8.5 for her jumping ability. Sonja said I had something special there and would love to see Nevadas Little Spark crossed with the top-notch pony stallion Makuba. That’s all it took, I was hooked on the ponies and had a direction to go and big dreams to chase!”

Last year in 2014, Bittle took second place at the United States Eventing Association Future Event competition. She shared, “Blue Dreamin Catadude “Dude” did spectacular, scoring the second highest score in the nation during the year, of 84.35 as well as another score of 82%. I have now been breeding NASPR ponies for 7 years.”

Explaining their appeal further, Megan continued, “Typical ponies can often have ‘attitudes’ and choppy strides. The NASPR ponies are anything but that. I want to breed a pony who is an all-around athlete, one who can easily cross over and compete successfully in eventing, dressage, driving, or hunter/jumper, as well as have the kind temperament to go out on the trail. Breeding an all-around athletic pony helps insure that it has the best shot at a successful future. Many petite riders and children need this kind of mount for themselves as they do not always have the funds to purchase several ponies for each different discipline or are ‘weekend’ riders and need a quiet pony.”

In order to be eligible for Sportpony registration, an owner must first fill out the required forms on the NASPR website (www.northamericansportponies.com), get the pony DNA-typed and then attend one of the many scheduled inspections held in the US and Canada. Ponies are graded on a number scale with 10 being the best in categories including breed, type, conformation, shoulders and withers, top-line and quarters, front legs, hind legs, correctness of movement, carriage and elasticity, loose jumping, jumping under saddle, and flatwork under saddle. These scores are then averaged for an overall assessment score which will appear on its registration papers. A pony who receives a score of 7.0 and above is eligible to get the NASPR brand on its left hip. Not all ponies have to complete all categories. Young stock and broodmares with foals at their side do not need to complete the jumping or under saddle phase for obvious reasons. Future stallion candidates will have to be brought before an inspection judge for preliminary breeding approval and again later for under saddle evaluation or prove itself in the show arena. In addition, the horse has to prove itself in the breeding shed through its progeny in order for the NASPR to grant the owner a permanent breeding license.

YB in Sweden 2013

Team AWR/NASPR NorthAmerica at the WBFSH World Championships for Young Breeders in Sweden 2013

The NASPR is open to all breeds which meet the inspection criteria. A pony must be of good weight and health, clean and have an understanding about what will be asked of it. Its mane should be in braids (so the neckline is easily seen) and leather halters and leads should be used. A handler should be dressed in light-colored pants with a NASPR polo shirt or one of similar color, with hair neatly upward. Handlers are asked to dress this way so as to not take the attention away from the pony during presentation. A pony will be directed to stand squarely for a short period of time to allow the inspection judge to access its conformation. The pony will then walk at the handler’s side along a triangle, and then trot the triangle. A triangle is used so the judge can stand at its apex and watch the pony move from behind as it walks away, from the side as it goes across and then straight on as it heads back to the judge. If a pony will be going through a jump chute, the judge will want to see that the pony has been properly trained to understand and willingly follow instruction. These key points of presentation can be learned by observing an inspection, attending a seminar/clinic or working with a trainer who has handled before.

A NorthAmerican Sportpony must always show under their NASPR name and owners must be members in good standing. (Lists of breeders for finding show partners and currently approved stallions are on the NASPR website.)

Now that the Sportpony has a registry to call its own, a broodmare can have a name on its foal papers to establish its own line of future stars. It is a great time to get involved with the NorthAmerican Sportpony Registry as a breeder, trainer and/or owner as we progress in making a big impact in the equine industry and doing it all in a small athletic package.

Join the fun and become a member of our growing organization and community of NorthAmerican Sportpony owners!

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North American Sportpony Registry in it’s 18th year in 2015