I grew up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and when I started riding at age 7 I immediately became involved in the Outer Banks Pony Club. I participated in many rallies including the Pony Club National Championships in multiple disciplines. I regularly rated with my club and was very involved in a Pony Club barn daily. This really kickstarted my understanding of horsemanship and good riding at a young age, and I can definitely credit a lot of what’s happened so far in my riding career to a foundation built in the Pony Club system.
The basics I learned through good Pony Club instruction allowed me to move into my first and longtime working student position with Kim Severson with a good base of knowledge. Pony Club really teaches kids the importance of safety for themselves and their horses, and to always put the horses’ wellbeing first.
Then comes the independence and discipline that Pony Club instills, which is second to none. Pony Club kids learn to work hard to take care of their horses and equipment, and help from parents is minimal.
In Pony Club I learned how to study, how to be social and ask for help from other kids, to be responsible and understand how and why my horses are fed and cared for the way that the are, how to fail at a testing but persevere and pass the next time, and so on.
In America we don’t have a lot of certification programs when it comes to riding, teaching and training. Other countries require certification to a high standard to do those things. It’s a free-for-all of people calling themselves professionals in the horse industry in America, which I believe is leading to a decline in the quality of instruction and training of young riders and horses moving up the levels. We need more professionals who are held to a high standard themselves, so that in turn they hold their students to that same standard, ultimately producing better riders and trainers.
As a teenager, I rated to my C3 and HB, and then I decided I didn’t need to go farther in Pony Club because it wasn’t necessary to do the things I wanted to do in the eventing world. In my mind it was a waste of time.
After working for Kim for five years, graduating online high school, and traveling and training in Europe for two years, I started my business in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a different mindset. Yes, the goal is the same as it has always been, but there is a bigger picture. I want to work to build my business, support the next generation of riders as so many have previously supported me, and continue to chase my competitive dreams: Find that balance!
When Virginia Region Regional Supervisor Carrie Camp suggested I finish my final three ratings, I had a new respect for the idea. Was it going to be life-changing for my career and business? No. But it was worth my time and effort to become a certified horse person in one of the most respected equine organizations in the country.
In hindsight, it took minimal time out of my schedule to prepare for and go through the ratings, and I will never regret doing it. Don’t get me wrong, the ratings are stressful and not easy even when you’re well prepared, but they were quickly completed and behind me. The numbers of people graduating Pony Club as an “A” are very low, and my hope is that teenagers like I was will think twice about quitting when they are capable of finishing what they started.
I also hope that other young professionals will consider going back to Pony Club and completing their ratings in order to show respect for the organization and start a trend of more trainers achieving their A, especially today with more options than ever now that you can take the horse management, dressage or show jumping route.
Gabby Dickerson is a 23-year-old professional eventing trainer who runs her Gabby Dickerson Eventing business out of Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent five years working for Kim Severson and then moved to Europe for two years to continue her education with riders such as Nicola Wilson, Ingrid Klimke and Dirk Schrade. She’s evented through the CCI3*-S level and just achieved her Pony Club traditional A rating in July.