Come ride, no pony required

Aidan Rayner of Clinton soars over a fence with his horse, Buddy, during a jumping competition last summer.  - Submitted photo
Aidan Rayner of Clinton soars over a fence with his horse, Buddy, during a jumping competition last summer.
— image credit: Submitted photo

South Whidbey Pony Club is a 25-year Island tradition that has been helping young people, ages 8-21, learn horsemanship, horse care, safety, good sportsmanship and English riding skills at a reasonable cost.

With warmer weather on the way, the pony club is looking for more riders.

Rooted in England, the term “Pony Club” proves to be a bit misleading for the organization. It’s not about riding ponies, yet refers to the younger riders. Mounts may be horses or ponies but must be deemed suitable for the rider’s size and riding ability.

Pony Club began in Great Britain in 1938 with 700 members. Today, Pony Club is in 60 countries and has 12,000 members world wide, and is the largest junior equestrian organization in the world.

“We are lucky to have such a vibrant group here on South Whidbey,” said District Commissioner Joanne Keefe, who leads the South Whidbey Pony Club. “We have talented riders who truly care about their horses and the sport.”

Although owning a horse is not necessary to being in Pony Club, having access to one when needed is required.

Mounted club activities include lessons in dressage, cross-country, show jumping, mounted games, polocrosse, fox hunting, vaulting and tetrathlon. Pony Club instructors have graduated from the Pony Club by achieving their “A” ratings and are professional riders themselves.

At unmounted meetings, members learn about establishing responsible routines for the sake and health of their horse. There are lessons on daily care – grooming, shoeing, nutrition and feed, stabling and pasturing – and basic veterinary care. Safety in and around trailers and on group rides is taught, as well.

As with any club, camaraderie between all members is a bonus. Mentoring by more experienced riders in the club spur inexperienced riders on to greater accomplishments than what a rider could accomplish on their own.

“Bonding as a team and working toward a common goal is a memorable time for club riders,” Keefe said.

Rider Maya Black agrees.

“The responsibility, commitment, leadership and independence that I have gained from pony club could never have been taught to the same degree from any other source,” said Black, a South Whidbey High School student. “I will use the knowledge that I have learned for the rest of my life.”

Learning progresses along a continuum of levels or “ratings.” Standards for riding proficiency and horsemanship knowledge and practice are set for each rating, which are established internationally throughout Pony Club. A person who achieves a C-1 in the U.S. is a C-1 in New Zealand or Great Britain.

Local artist and equestrian Georgia Gerber was recently recognized for her achievements in leadership both within Pony Club as a rider and for her accomplishments since completing her training.

South Whidbey Pony Club offers their members two lessons each month and occasional learning opportunities to focus on a specific discipline as a club or with the Northwest Regional Pony Club. An annual summer camp has been a tradition of the club for many years. Members have a chance to have two lessons each day, mounted and unmounted horse activities in the evenings and a camping experience with the club. For many, Pony Club camp has been the highlight of their Pony Club year. In the spring and summer, Pony Clubs throughout the region come together and compete in specific riding disciplines and horsemanship.

“Riding can be frustrating, repetitive, fun, tiring and rewarding, as in the moment when a team of horse and rider compete together as one, entering at ‘A’ for a dressage test, or galloping out of the start box for a x-country course filled with jumps,” Black said. “The feeling that the world around you stops and waits is unfathomable.”

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