As of the beginning of 2019 I have been sponsoring a young rider, named Hannah Penney, based in Hampshire.
On this page there will be regular pieces written by Hannah on her riding life.
To Pony Club or Not to Pony Club, That is the Question…
Hi there and welcome back to my latest blog edition! Wow – it feels like forever since I last shared anything with you! Those who know me will know that, being a massive perfectionist who wants to give 150% to everything I do, I have always been a bit hopeless when it comes to balancing everything equally! It’s been an absolutely crazy few months here but I’ll attempt to give you a quick rundown on the basics! Bella is currently undergoing several months of treatment and rehab after picking up a suspensory injury, right before her first event – something I will no doubt go into in more detail soon. It’s safe to say I’m gutted but feeling very lucky to have a wonderful vet practice behind me as well as Lucy’s support and endless expertise in this area! On the non-horsey side, I have officially moved out and am now living on my own in Southampton, ready to beginning studying human Physiotherapy at the University in early October, having received my A Level results last month. I’d actually got around to drafting three different blogs for you a few weeks back, following some topic suggestions on Instagram but unfortunately a poorly laptop led to me losing pretty much everything I’d done since lockdown, including those… but hey ho, new blog here we go! Better late than never right?!
This month, I thought I’d dip my toe in the water of a question I’ve seen mulling around for a while now. With more and more young riders turning to the path of affiliated competitions earlier and earlier, is there still the same place for Pony Club in today’s equestrian world as there was twenty years ago? If you ask me, yes! There absolutely is, or at least there should be… But if that is indeed the case, why is it then, that Pony Club seem to find subscription numbers dwindling significantly year on year with members leaving at an earlier and earlier age while books becoming increasingly difficult to balance? To answer that, I think you have to look at how the horsey world – in particular the wants of riders – have changed over the past several decades.
So what exactly is Pony Club? If like me, you were ever obsessed with the Pony Club Secret or Rivals books when you were younger, they certainly create quite the impression as to what it’s all about! However, it’s safe to say they seem to miss out an explanation on the basics. Such as the fact that a rally is just a group lesson – took me far too long to figure that one out!! Pony Club organisations exists in over 30 countries and have provided a training foundation for top stars such as Piggy French and Oliver Townend. It was founded with the objective of encouraging more people to get into horses, promoting the highest ideals of sportsmanship, horsemanship, strength of character and self-discipline. Pony Club prided itself on the riding instruction it provided and the emphasis it placed on correct care of one’s horse. From an organisation previously centred around the world of hunting, it has becoming progressively less traditional and more accessible over the years.
Last month, I finally got around to sitting my Pony Club B Horse and Pony Care – albeit nearly three years later than originally planned – at long last completing my full B test and providing me with the rather snazzy felt upgrade from beige to red. For those who might not know much about the Pony Club Efficiency Tests System, it starts with the optional E test that you generally take when you’re tiny. Then you progress to your D, D+, C, Ride & Road Safety, C+, B, Lunging test, (Optional B+), AH and lastly the highly prestigious A Test that only about a handful of people nationally seem to hold. The tests assess a combination of both riding and stable management knowledge, becoming increasingly extensive and more difficult as you progress through the levels. Oh, and if you’re the kind that likes to get competitive, there is always the Horse and Pony Care Quiz too! Unlike trigonometry, Pythagoras and all the other rather useless things I seemed spend a lifetime studying in GCSE maths, there’s never been a single thing I’ve learnt through the Pony Club tests that hasn’t proved useful in at least one or more horsey situation I’ve found myself in (bar maybe their desire for you to tie the belly straps up on rugs every time you take one on or off – let’s be honest 9 times out of 10 I’m running late and hardly going to be faffing with that…). Having kept the horses on private land since I was 14/15 – being fully responsible for them (including spindly legged, self-harming Bella) myself – being taught proper equine management, first aid and given an in depth understanding of how to correctly feed and get a horse fit (among numerous other things) could never have been more useful! Yet, fewer and fewer people seem to ever take a pony club test these days, particularly anything above C/C+ level. Sure, anyone attending Pony Club camp will receive at least the odd stable management session regardless, but what about those outside the Pony Club system all together? As more and more money seems to be pumped into to the equine world, there appears to be a developing shift in the way young jockeys approach riding and how seriously they take the sport. Something that, whilst positive, is equally not without its flaws. With horses and competing costing more and more, there’s an ever-growing pressure to achieve. The highest level of detail is paid to fitness and nutrition for both rider and horse, often even at the amateur level. Gone are the days of getting smashed at an event the night before your show jump round! When it comes to the slightest hiccup, nowadays there is at least one supplement, piece of kit or specialist out there to ‘solve’ every problem. And if that doesn’t work, clearly it’s time for a new horse. I feel as though the basic, traditional principles of management have been lost. Whether your horse is on full competition livery or at your home, a good baseline knowledge of care is just as important! One thing I have always really admired about Pony Club is the independence it encourages from its riders. Your horse is your responsibility. Whether you’re 11 or 21, if you want to take your horse or pony to senior camp, it’s your job to look after it - there’s no groom to do everything for you! But anyway, more on the rider vs horseman debate next month!
So, what’s it actually like being in pony club (beyond the odd stereotypical pony club mother!)? Well, as someone who’s actually been in three different branches in my life for various reasons, I feel I’m in a relatively unique position to answer this one. I first joined a Pony Club branch (as opposed to a centre at a riding school) when I was 13, shortly after getting my first pony. I hated the first branch that I joined. Most of my peers had been riding in Pony Club since they were about 6 or 7, if not earlier and it’s safe to say the cliques were well and truly formed both among parents and riders alike. I felt like a complete outsider and left after just two rallies. The second branch I transferred to could not have been more different! It was so relaxed, friendly and had a whole host of rallies and teams to suit anyone and everyone! I made some of my best friends during my time there along with so many wonderful memories. I then changed branch again as most of my friends were giving up or leaving PC and we were moving yards. This time I was joining a slightly stricter/more traditional branch in terms of set up and rules but again it led to meeting some of the loveliest people and has been a fantastic, affordable training resource for Bella. Each branch is really different and very individual so if you’re thinking about joining or transferring, definitely take your time, do your research and ideally do a couple of trial rallies with them (if you can) before you commit. But once you find the right one for you I promise you will love it!
Of course, Pony Club is not just about the training! Something I think is absolutely fantastic about Pony Club is just how many disciplines it exposes you to from pony racing to endurance to polocrosse and mounted games, I really wish I had joined earlier as I would have loved to have given more of their nine sports on offer a go! Whatever discipline you choose to favour, Pony Club really does give you the most brilliant, well rounded equestrian education and you’ll be sure to meet a whole host of different people! As I’ve got older, I’ve participated in more and more training sessions organised by my area as opposed to my branch. Not only is this the perfect way to meet even more people but these sessions are held by a variety of fantastic external coaches including sessions by the well renowned Nick Gauntlet and Caroline Moore, all for a fraction of a normal clinic price! However, as member numbers have decreased and costs risen, rallies are no longer quite as cheap as they used to be.
When it comes to competitions, Pony Club run a number of events throughout the year. I’m constantly seeing requests for more unaffiliated events on social media, so I’m always a bit baffled when so frequently, Pony Club ODEs in our area seem to really struggle to gather sufficient numbers to run. Whether it’s something to do with a social media trend or just jockeys becoming increasingly competitive, I see more and more riders starting BE and BS earlier and earlier. Don’t get me wrong, both are a fantastic experience and having a record on a horse can be incredibly useful, but when you, the horse or the pair of you are still learning, Pony Club or unaffiliated competitions are a great way of getting some more low-pressure mileage under your belt first. What’s more, a far more affordable entry fee won’t leave you feeling bankrupt if it all goes tits up before the XC, or even the SJ – let’s face it, we’ve all been there! Not to mention, the lack of a record helps prevent any green mistakes being held against you or the pony for years. They’re also often a lot more relaxed and you’re likely to be competing against a number of friendly faces, sure to help put any nerves at ease. For those looking to set themselves a goal, it’s time to prepare the parents to swap out the annual family holiday for a week in the rain and mud at the Pony Club Championships. Whatever the classic British weather decides to throw at you, this week is always the highlight of the calendar and the perfect excuse for a 6/7hr road trip each way to Cheshire! That being said, the higher the level you compete, the easier it is to qualify (due to less people). Though, I’m not sure this is the most sensible of systems given you can go double clear round a Novice ODE with a good dressage and miss out, yet one can have a cricket score SJ and some miscommunications XC at open and still qualify to tackle Cholmondeley’s challenging tracks, hmmm…
As for out growing pony club, well I think that’s down to the individual, the branch and area they’re in, as well as what they’re looking to get out of it but I won’t be hanging up my badge and tie just yet. Whilst I’m not sure I’ll attend another senior camp, I hope to sit my AH test at some point and fully intend on taking advantage of all the chilled flat and pole rallies they have to offer as Bella slowly returns to work later this year. Who knows, maybe I might be able to aim her at the dressage areas. At such a cost-effective price, it’s a no brainer on a student budget!
That’s all from me this evening! Stay safe and enjoy your wonderful horses and ponies.
Facebook: Hannah P Equestrian