The organization has a renewed focus on the basics.
The past few years have brought many innovative changes to what some might consider a very traditional organization, the U.S. Pony Club.
The upper-level rating system has been revamped and now includes the option for members to rate in show jumping- and dressage-focused tracks. The age limit for membership has been increased to 25 from 21.
USPC Riding Centers have been operational for two years and are allowing kids without their own steeds the chance to experience Pony Club. The rules and attitude governing horse management—particularly as it’s addressed in the rally atmosphere—have been simplified and redirected.
In keeping with this forward-thinking approach to addressing the needs of its membership and having developed what they hope will be solutions for some of the concerns of older, upper-level members, now the USPC is focusing more closely on the lower-level members who constitute the vast majority of the organization.
At the USPC Annual Meeting, held Jan. 23-27 in Boston, Mass., USPC officials introduced the “Back to the Barn” initiative. BTTB is intended to encourage and help clubs to find ways to make Pony Club work for their individual circumstances and the growing issues facing the horse world.
“At the national level, 80 percent of our time is spent on 20 percent of our membership—those rated C-3 and above. We cannot continue to overlook our Ds,” said USPC President Art Kramer, explaining the need to help clubs establish better tools and curriculum for educating their less-experienced members.
“What’s new for 2008? How about no new programs, no reinventing the wheel? Let’s grease the cogs and make what we have more user-friendly for our membership.”
In conjunction with their newly implemented membership database, which now enables statistical history to be maintained on members—such as dates and outcomes of rating and rally participation—USPC officials plan to rework the somewhat cumbersome www.ponyclub.org website, including capabilities for online, paperless form submission in 2008.
With 85 percent of USPC’s membership comprised of riders rated C-2 and lower, the organization has found that they’re losing members from their core group—between the ages of 11 and 14.
“There have been a lot of changes in the last few years, and for a lot of [District Commissioners and Regional Supervisors] it’s been kind of like an earthquake,” said Christie Campbell, the D-1 to C-2 program chairperson of the USPC Instruction Council. “We’ve focused a lot on the upper-level ratings, and we need to bring the lower levels into the new world as well.”
Although the acronym is new, the concepts it represents aren’t all that different. Essentially, BTTB is an effort to help and encourage clubs to develop a program for these members that is fun and works for the families and kids in the club, while still reflecting the mission of USPC.
“Today’s club is small and suburban, rather than rural, with horses boarded out. More D.C.s and other parents are not horsemen,” said Campbell, explaining that recently there has been a striking decrease in practical horse management skills in some Pony Clubbers, who have never had to clean a stall, let alone care for their horse by themselves. “The 2006 and 2007 championships underscored that some kids are not learning at home, and testing shows the same.”
Campbell discussed the need to take advantage of resources within the horse community, developing mentor and instructor lists within clubs or regions and getting upper-level kids involved as peer teachers. Right now, some clubs are so bottom-heavy, their kids may have never even seen an upper-level Pony Clubber, so regions need to band together to create opportunities. Camps, clinics and rallies are “the perfect lab to teach, practice and measure skills, become empowered and self-reliant, practice horse management and have fun!” said Campbell.
In order to foster more, and more willing, involvement and support from parents, who are increasingly strapped for time and unclear about how and why Pony Club works, Campbell advised utilizing the skill sets they have—perhaps website design, concessions, sewing or fundraising—instead of forcing them into roles with which they’re uncomfortable.
New Programs Gaining Steam
Newer Pony Club programs have shown marked development and growth in the past year and are promising indicators of the organization’s willingness and ability to adapt. At the 2006 annual meeting, the board of governors approved the first two USPC Riding Centers; there are now at least 33 approved centers in 21 regions, 25 of which were active and providing the Pony Club experience for more than 375 members.
A Riding Center is a recognized facility that has entered into a contract with Pony Club to provide their program to kids who, generally speaking, wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate because they don’t have access to their own mount.
The facility essentially purchases the Pony Club educational framework in order to offer it as part of their teaching program. It’s an excellent way for kids just entering the horse world to get an early introduction to USPC and foundation in horsemanship before they get their own horse.
Between December 2006 and 2007, overall membership at centers more than doubled. Dominated by unrated members who are new to horses or at least the rating system, centers have made great strides in educating and rating their members. Numbers of D-2 through C-1 center members have tripled over the past year, and there are even three nationally rated C-3s that call a center home.
Rita McConnon, owner of Hybid Farm in Acton, Mass., was quick to apply when she heard about Riding Centers. “I’d always loved the Pony Club program but couldn’t really do it without a horse. When we
started, I didn’t even know where to go and who to ask questions about Pony Club—we didn’t even know what questions to ask!” she said.
“I really encourage existing clubs to reach out to starting centers near them. Mentor the centers and develop a reciprocal relationship. Centers can supplementwhat they’re already offering, not be competition.”
Getting Them Young
The Junior Pony Club concept also seeks to introduce kids to horses Pony Club-style, but its target audience is in the 4- to 6-year-old range—it’s like pre-kindergarten for USPC.
Former Pony Club president Marylou Anderson developed the concept in the late ’80s for Wayne DuPage Hunt P.C. (Ill.), and it was revamped several years later with restructured lesson plans and mandatory parental involvement by Audrey Troyer, mother of a graduate A.
The fun, simple 14-week unmounted program contains short lesson plans intended to introduce kids and their parents to different aspects of horses and their horse community, such as visits to a riding stable and tack store or meeting with the vet and farrier.
“It also teaches the parents about the concepts of being a Pony Club volunteer,” said Mary Pierson, USPC communications director and a champion of the program. “The learning is shared between the adult and child. It’s not a drop-off situation.
“Current Ds can often be the ones teaching. New parents can see this and it shows the value of peer-to-peer teaching,” she continued. “You can bring in an H-A or a C to talk about their experience, and the parent can realize how the education develops.”
A Junior Pony Club program has the ability to feed back into the horse and Pony Club community. A tack store owner likely won’t mind sparing 20 minutes to talk about helmets and boots to 10 kids and parents who are devoid of all equipment.
Likewise, a stable owner probably wouldn’t think twice about showing a group of families around their place, particularly if they’re poised to sign up for their first lessons. “Older” Pony Clubbers have yet another opportunity to practice teaching skills and strut their stuff as a D-2 leads a lesson about grooming their pony.
The program must be run as part of an existing club, and participants join as full-fledged members of USPC for insurance purposes.
On the other end of the spectrum, after five years of ad hoc status, Horsemasters has become a recognized program and serves as a way for adults to be involved in Pony Club through education and volunteerism.
Susan Poulton, the liaison for the Horsemasters group affiliated with Eno Triangle Pony Club in the Carolina Region, led a workshop at the annual meeting.
Though it was formed in large part to educate adults and provide knowledgeable, enthusiastic volunteers for local clubs, Horsemasters has developed into a keen social opportunity for like-minded adults who want to spend time together while improving their riding and horse management skills.
The spectrum of those involved can be wide, and the program can be adapted to suit those involved. “I have a graduate A and three Bs in our program—they just want to be involved in Pony Club again,” said Poulton, explaining that Horsemasters is a self-supporting entity that really only serves to benefit the clubs and regions with which they’re affiliated and shouldn’t cost them time or energy.
Talia Martin, the administrator of Jordan Stables, a USPC Riding Center in Marlborough, Mass., started a Horsemasters group after adults saw the Pony Club program at work with their kids.
“We have 10 members; six don’t ride. We have parents who want to know more about horses and Pony Club. We have two boarders who wanted to learn more, who didn’t know how to clean tack, and one who’s taking lessons with us,” she explained. “One member is a local Western rider who’s been riding for 50 years and used to clean her bridle by dunking the whole thing in a bucket of water.”
For more information on any of the USPC programs, visit www.ponyclub.org.
Colonel Lorelei Wilson Coplen, who graduated from Pony Club as an A and from the United States Military Academy (N.Y.) into a distinguished 20-plus year military career, addressed the meeting attendees as the keynote speaker and a Pony Club mom and volunteer at the Saturday night banquet.
“Pony Club continues to make changes not because we want to be ‘relevant,’ but because we want to provide something to our population that no one else provides,” she said, highlighting USPC’s unique combination of leadership and life skills experience for young people, “with pony by your side. This is an organization I’m proud to be a member of,” she concluded, “and glad to entrust my children to."
National Youth Congress Builds Dreams
The USPC National Youth Congress program continued in its ninth year of recognizing outstanding older members for their accomplishments by providing them with the unique opportunity to attend the Annual Meeting as an NYC delegate. They participated in leadership workshops and other developmental activities with a diverse group of accomplished Pony Club alums who were inducted into USPC’s Academy of Achievement that weekend.
As part of the program, the delegates develop an idea to present to the Board of Governors, and this year’s group decided on a gift that would keep on giving.
“Our idea was to develop a National Youth Council that could provide input to the board on an ongoing basis. We thought it would be one idea that would lead to more ideas,” explained Shawna White, a C-1 from Limestone Pony Club in Western New York Region.
“As part of our policy discussion, each person at NYC had to develop a project to take back to their region. I’m planning a PR campaign in the community to make the stories of the achievements of Pony Clubbers more public.”
The post-graduation achievements of six former members were highlighted during the course of the program as the Academy of Achievement inductees shared their experiences of how Pony Club and horses affected the rest of their lives and the varied career paths they took. This year’s honorees included: Erika de Papp, Russell Gilfus, Liz Halliday, Kevin Price, Sharon Turner and Carey A. Williams.
De Papp, a graduate B who evented through advanced, is now chief of internal medicine at Angell Animal Hospital in Boston, Mass. Gilfus, another B graduate and an attorney, is an assistant general counsel for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Halliday, who moved to England with her C-3 rating when she was about the same age as the delegates, is a professional three-day eventer, race car driver and TV broadcaster. Price, a B graduate who is still active with Pony Club at the local and national level, is executive director for a work force investment board.
Turner, a graduate A, is using her neuroscience Ph.D. as a primary examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, evaluating biotechnology-related patent applications. Williams, a graduate C-2 and a Ph.D., is the equine extension specialist and an assistant professor at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she also does equine exercise physiology research.
“This program is outstanding and I hope it expands. The information [the delegates] get is the same that corporations pay thousands of dollars to give to their management, and these kids are getting it at a very young age,” noted Price. “It helps them think about their inner skill sets and look forward in making career decisions related to that.”
Looking forward to the program’s 10th anniversary, the NYC committee is encouraging delegates from the first three years to contact them with updates on their experiences since participating in the Youth Congress.
Founders Award Recipients Celebrated
Jan Royce Conant, Roger Leithead, Louisa McKown, Emsie Parker, Paula Raye and Marcia Todd received 2007 USPC Founders Awards for their monumental contributions to the organ- ization at the local, regional and national levels. While sharing some stories that illust- rated the impact of Pony Club on their families’ lives and on the many young people the organization touches, the award recipients also stressed their faith in the organization going forward in changing times.
“Jan Conant and I had a discussion last week that ‘things aren’t like they used to be in Pony Club,’ but times change and you must adopt and adapt or, like the dinosaurs, you’ll disappear,” said Leithead, patriarch of an influential Pony Club family that has produced five graduates in his children and one USPC president in his wife, Margo, throughout their 50 years of extensive involvement. “We owe a major debt of gratitude to many who are not here tonight who, over the last 40 years, have modified Pony Club to fit the conditions of the day and kept it successful.”
Raye, who has been previously inducted into USPC’s Academy of Achievement and honored as a Pony Club Legend, shared advice her husband was once given at a meeting that could be easily applied to some of the conditions now facing the organization: “You grow by leaning into discomfort. That’s something at all levels that we, as Pony Club members and volunteers, have the opportunity to do.”
25-Year Club Awards
Fort Casper Pony Club, Rocky Mountain Region
Gulf Coast Gallopers Pony Club, Deep South Region
Keystone Pony Club, Eastern Pennsylvania Region
Lake Superior Pony Club, Lake Shore Region
Mobile Bay Pony Club, Deep South Region
North River Pony Club, Southeastern New England Region
Tamarack Pony Club, Northeast Region
Wintergreen Pony Club, Old Dominion Region
50-Year Club Awards
Casanova-Warrenton Pony Club, Virginia Region
Charlotte Pony Club, Western New England Region
Glastonbury Pony Club, New York/Upper Connecticut Region
Green Spring Hounds Pony Club, Maryland Region
Keeneland Pony Club, Midsouth Region
Loudoun Hunt Pony Club, Virginia Region
Raccoon Valley Pony Club, Midwest Region
Redland Hunt Pony Club, Maryland Region
Southlands Pony Club, New York/Upper Connecticut Region
Audrey Bean, B, Three Flags P.C., Northeast Region
Hannah Sue Burnett, B, Long Run P.C., Midsouth Region
Tiana Coudray, H-A, Santa Rosa P.C., Camino Real Region
Ashley DaFermo, C-3, Peace Point Equestrian Center, Tristate Region
Tyler Frey, C-3, Mobile Bay P.C., Deep South Region
Fiona Graham, H-A, Portola Valley P.C., Middle California Region
Holly Hillenbrand, B, Yampa Valley P.C., Rocky Mountain Region
Skyeler Icke, H-A, Difficult Run P.C., Virginia Region
Olivia Loiacono, A, Fallbrook P.C., Southern California Region
Tory Smith, B, Santa Rosa Valley P.C., Camino Real Region
Susan Thomas, B, Glenmore Hunt P.C., Old Dominion Region
Marty Whitehouse, A, Keeneland P.C., Midsouth Region
2008 National Youth Congress Delegates
Arianna Almeida–Ridge Riders P.C., NY/Upper Connecticut Region
Allie Archer–Meadowlark P.C., Cimarron Region
Merideth Baker–Redland Hunt P.C., Maryland Region
Jessica Barker–Quentin P.C., Maryland Region
Rebecca Brake–San Jacinto P.C., Rio Grande Region
Samantha Britton–Wekiva Basin P.C., Sunshine Region
Nicole Brookshire–Walla Walla P.C., Inland Empire Region
Katie Caouette–Pine Creek P.C., SE New England Region
Chan Elizabeth Carman–Beartooth P.C., Big Sky Region
Lisa Colburn–Racine County P.C., Lakeshore Region
Leigh Davis–Nashoba Valley P.C., Central New England Region
Imogen deLavis–Wilton P.C., Metropolitan Region
Anna Michelle Dillier–Sierra Gold P.C., Sierra Pacific Region
Aislinn Duke–Fox and Hounds P.C., Delmarva Region
Clare Echterling–Horse & Hound P.C., Midwest Region
Kristina Fabbian–Fresno P.C., Middle California Region
Danielle Fabiano–Cohutta Highlanders P.C., South Region
Catherine Frazier–Saddle Up P.C., Deep South Region
Jessica Fuller–Half Halt P.C., Heartland Region
Mark Greene–Berkshire P.C., NY/Upper Connecticut Region
Lillian Gurtowski–Lonetown P.C., Metropolitan Region
Merideth Hampton–Santa Cruz County P.C., Middle California Region
Catherine Hennessey–Olympus P.C., Northwest Region
Victoria Hynes–Cream Ridge P.C., New Jersey Region
Jacob Kennedy–Lead Hound P.C., Northern Lakes Region
Jessica Kirkpatrick–Lake Norman P.C., Carolina Region
Giny Knox–Portneuf Valley P.C., Intermountain Region
Heidi Kristen Lemke–Genesee Valley P.C., Western New York Region
Carrie Linke–Eno Triangle P.C., Carolina Region
Lisa Lopez–Watermelon Mountain P.C., Southwest Region
Tammy Malm–Wayne DuPage Hunt P.C., North Central Prairie Region
Morgan McElwee–Centennial P.C., Rocky Mountain Region
Monica McLaughlan–Highland Hills P.C., Great Lakes Region
Kimberley McNamee–Seneca Valley P.C., Capital Region
Lee Rebecca Ranz–Stones River P.C., Mid South Region
Elizabeth Reidy–North Mountain P.C., Virginia Region
Julianne Scanlon–Pickering Hunt P.C., Eastern Pennsylvania Region
Holly Severijn–Bear Valley Springs P.C., Camino Real Region
Amanda Shere–Forty-Niner P.C., Sierra Pacific Region
Lara Kelsey Silver–Piedmont P.C., South Region
Ashley K. Singer–Tuckahoe P.C., Delmarva Region
Hadley Warner–Charlotte P.C., Western New York Region
Shawna White–Scriba Creek/Limestone P.C., Western New York Region