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Thinking about doing pony club

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  • Thinking about doing pony club

    Hi All,
    I'm thinking about signing my daughter up for pony club. Please tell me everything (the good and bad).

    Right now we are doing Hunters/short stirrup - she is only 7. I dont think she would be ready to do a horse trial for another year (from a confidence perspective) but I would like to grab a few lessons in the dressage test an maybe take her to a few meetings/events to see if she's interested.

    Before I open this pandora's box what do I need to know? At what age do people start pony club? I have looked at the local pony club websites and there isnt much info there - pretty much the pledge and some photos and a link to the national website. Where do they meet? How often? Do they provide the coaching or just an occassional event?

    I'm also concerned that "eventing" is more dangerous - but I dont know if that is true or just my perception.

    Thanks in advance!
    If I put as much effort into my relationship as I do charging my phone, I'd probably be much better off.

  • #2

    First off, I'm a current PC'er and have been in PC for... oh that's bad... I can't remember. Erm... several years.

    Pony Club certainly has its good and bad points. A lot of it depends on the club. So, here's my list of pros and cons assuming you're in a good, well organized club.

    -LOTS of horsey friend making opportunities. My best friends are girls I met through PC.
    -Opportunities to ride with lots of different and talented clinicians
    -Big emphasis on safety
    -Emphasis on teaching riders to be teachers and trainers
    -Rallies with (at least in my region) levels for ALL ages and abilities (at Eventing rally, we have a 12" division through Prelim)
    -Strong emphasis on horse management

    -The big emphasis on safety can be, IMO, taken to the extreme to where it isn't fun anymore.
    -The ratings system at the upper levels isn't what it used to be, IMO. I know several long time PC'ers and UL'ers that don't like how it's being handled a lot of times now (as far as inconsistencies in standards, remarks, etc) so it's not just cranky non-UL me saying that.
    -Depending on your region (and I may be wrong on this, it's just what I've heard) the only rally for D rated members is D Rally, which is basically like a mini eventing rally.

    However, all of that said, if you find a good club with people you connect with well, it is worth your weight in gold. My old club has been extremely supportive of me and I absolutely love the girls and parents in it. I'm now off being a founding member of a new club, which I like pretty well so far, but only due to location/logistics type stuff. I still keep in touch with people from my old club and love them to bits though! I also have a ton of good friends around the region (including HM judges, lol!) that I see at rallies, clinics, etc and when we meet up somewhere to hang out and catch up.

    In regards to how often meetings are held, etc, that is all on the local club. To my knowledge there is no national guideline on that. I'd call up the DCs from some local clubs and ask if you could come to some of their mounted meetings so you can meet their members and get a feel for what the instruction is like. That way, you can hear about the club from its members and get to know the DC.

    As far as eventing being more dangerous than other equestrian sports, I would say that it is only as dangerous as you make it.

    Think of it this way... A kid is riding poorly on unsuitable pony at too high a level in the hunters. (say the kid should be doing short stirrup, but is on a large green with a tude). That's dangerous.
    Now say a kid is riding competently for age/experience on appropriate mount at say, a maiden HT? That's safe.
    The same would be true in reverse with a few discipline specific details changed.
    With any equestrian sport there is a risk, but we can do a lot to keep it safer by teaching kids to ride correctly, entering at appropriate levels, and letting them learn on appropriate mounts.

    Good luck to you and your daughter, and I hope this provided a little food for thought
    Trying a life outside of FEI tents and hotel rooms.


    • #3
      It all depends on the people in charge

      Each club takes its style from the local leadership which varies between clubs.

      We had only one local chapter. My girls tried it 20 years ago....and HATED it. They said if they had to ride PC they would quit riding. I didn't know at the time that we should have shopped around to find a group we would have been more comfortable with

      I since learned that the person in charge had a bad reputation for antagonizing people. And everything had to be done his way of interpreting the rules.


      Parents were to drive the trailer and pay the dues and had no input on activities or instruction.

      If you were cleaning tack you were allowed a butter tub full of water, maybe a cup. You can imagine that got dirty in a hurry so they kids were wiping their tack with dirty rags

      If you tied a horse to a trailer you had to have a single strand of bailing twine as a breakaway. Maybe that works with a pony, but not a 15.3 hand mare....in heat. Who breaks ties for sport.
      It was not a positive experience.
      I wasn't always a Smurf
      Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
      "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
      The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


      • #4
        It has been many, er... decades since I participated in PC. However, I would totally agree that the experience is almost entirely dependent on the management of the particular club that you choose.

        The one I started with was well run, had regular (unmounted meetings) and a handful of mounted events throughout the year. They did follow the PC manual and there was some friendly competition to get the best scores on the little quizzes that were given. I would say that the instruction available was fairly limited, though... there were not many mounted events, and we never had any special clinicians that I recall. But other clubs may have very comprehensive schedules, depending on the organizers and DC involved.

        The only other experience I had with PC was as an adult, when I thought I would try to give back a bit and volunteer with the local PC in the area that I'd moved to. I will just say that it was a completely different experience, and not in a positive way. I am sure the people running that PC were well meaning but unfortunately they were not knowledgeable and that led to a lot of problems.
        We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


        • #5
          Originally posted by carolprudm View Post
          Each club takes its style from the local leadership which varies between clubs.

          We had only one local chapter. My girls tried it 20 years ago....and HATED it. They said if they had to ride PC they would quit riding. I didn't know at the time that we should have shopped around to find a group we would have been more comfortable with
          I concur.

          I was in pony club when I was a kid (which was a long time ago!), so some details may have changed, but any group in any sport will reflect the people in charge.

          If your pony club is run by one or two parents who are solely interested in what their own kids want to do, you will be out of luck if you do not happen to share those interests, or if your kid is not at the same age or level as their kids.

          If you have more than one pony club in your area, it would be a very good idea to talk to different people and do your homework to see which group would suit you best.

          I will say I think it's great that pony club puts so much emphasis on horse care. I remember having it drilled into our heads that after a competition, we took care of the horses first before we sat down and relaxed. I hope that part hasn't changed.


          • #6
            Much depends on the local folks running the Club. Their skills and knowledge, who they have helping kids with lessons, what is expected of the kids, will be what makes the Club good or poor. There will always be "higher expectation" clubs and those who just "get along". Some folks appear snotty, some very rule oriented in doing it "the PC Way", others are more friendly right off, but usually EVERYONE is very nice as you work together more.

            The higher expectation clubs may push having better and more expensive horses. Other clubs help you work with Spot, to do your best with what you have.

            I went thru 4 Pony Clubs before we found a match that worked. One was the folks in charge arguing all the time. Another had "no goals" and no forward learning plan, while another never did anything except meetings to talk. I was in on the organizing of the 4th one, and we did a LOT of things that were fun, learning, went places with the equines, attended Rallies of all sorts.

            The main thing I learned, was that I had to KNOW the Pony Club rules. You buy or print off the books of how each Club should function, what the role of each adult should be, expectations of the kids at each level and how to achieve them. Then if your child wants to do Rally, you and child NEED to read the Rally Rulebook for the type of Rally and how it operates. You gain a good understanding to see the machinery in action, can see where it is not working to make protests or fix the problem. EVERYTHING happening in PC involves adults doing their part. You almost can't be a spectator and have things go well. They need helping hands, which benefits your child and all the others.

            Downsides were that PC is very "girly" oriented with MANY rules that child needs to be aware of. Boys are not as precise, detail minded as most of the girls are. Boys are outnumbered 50-1 most of the time, which makes EVERYTHING a boy does noticed. Girls doing the same incorrect thing get overlooked in the volume of other girls. Might have been our Region, but the prepping for C ratings were hard on the horses. As Horsemanship person I attended several Prep sessions where horses were worked into the ground. We were told that "The child CANNOT FAIL, so whatever it takes to practice being ready works. Too hard on the child's delicate self-esteem." This by a National Rated PC evaluator. I watched her work the kids. Had horses each jump over 100 fences, totally exhausted after the several hours under saddle that they were not used to, crashing fences, refusing, run-outs, kids off the horse. Child WASN'T better at the end. Then they had the Actual Rating the next day. Horses came home from Rating lame and with VERY bad attitudes about jumping after.

            Another Actual Rating, the horses were worked, kids stayed in the saddle for over 4 hours, drilling over and over, to get it better. Hot day, no horses but mine were watered because I got the bucket of water for him thru the fence. Kids were not allowed to leave the ring. KIDS had plenty of drinks, but horses were pretty gaunted up, stumbling tired by the end of all that work. I was disgusted with the Rating Judge, but she was old-time Pony Club, so it was "acceptable".

            Since that was the end of my PC career, I didn't pursue the "child wins at all costs" attitude. If I were to do it again, I would be screaming my head off!! The child should get their round, makes the grade or hears "sorry, you need improvement here and here. The next Rating is xxx. Thank you for attending." Should be like doing a show, you make it or not. Go home and practice to do better next time. Could be things are improved in that area now, not involved with any PC folks now.

            Good stuff, was meeting many EXTREMELY NICE people from all over. Learning to do things from the English viewpoint, changed how I look at many things now. Always good to know more than one way of reaching a goal. We had a LOT OF FUN getting prepared for Rallies, competing in them. Let me spend a lot of driving time talking with my kid, learning him as a growing person. Watched him improve greatly as a rider and horseman. The Team approach in Rallies had everyone working together to be ready for all the checking and ride times. No Adults telling them. Sometimes they lost, sometimes they won, but they ALWAYS had a good time, were a pleasure to take places. I worked Rallies, usually as Coach, available in the practice area for watching kids go over fences, walking fences for their classes. Our Teams had all ages in different rings, so I scurried about a LOT!

            Like any activity, you mostly get out what you put in. At age 7, your daughter may be a bit small to do Rally yet. I said the kid had to be able to saddle and bridle their own equine, with an older kid then checking animal for snug girthing, straps in place and smooth before Inspection. Kid also had to be able to clean their own stall and fill water buckets. Team has to operate together, but older kids are NOT babysitters for little ones, have to have their own animal prepared and on time to compete.

            The Knowdown is a real leveler, kid who isn't the best rider or horseless may KNOW the most and place well. Riding is important, but knowledge is also of great value to anyone involved with horses. Our Region had working sessions, where kids came and learned to tie bandages, pack trailers, clean stalls correctly, set up Rally Tack Stalls. Rule reviews of the Rally books. Training kids to do things the PC way, even if they only used the information at Rally. Our local group had knowledge sessions too, practical stuff about daily living with horses, hauling, safety, braiding and trimming on real horses. I had enough that it didn't matter if mistakes were made with clippers. Trailer check session had 3 trailers fail, bad floors! One was mine!

            I think PC can be a wonderful experience, very rewarding, if you go in with your eyes open. Does go into deeper detail than most 4-H, which I have been involved with too. Back to those folks in charge, who may know a great deal or not much, to pass on to the kids. Enjoy your daughter! Mine just graduated, life is changed.


            • #7
              Pony Club is the BEST! It teaches kids how to be good horsemen, not just riders. It teaches them all about the horse, its care, feeding, conditioning etc. And it has good values. If kid and horse are thirsty after a lesson -- horse drinks first.

              I was in Pony club in the midwest in the 1970's, and it was a wonderful experience. My sons tried it and didn't love it a few years ago. Kids at this most recent club were starting around age 7.

              I do know that I learned how to study because of Pony Club. (They have knowledge competitions as well as riding competitions). I didn't care so much about school, but did care passionately about horses!
              Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


              • #8
                Like everyone else, I really believe that it depends on the individual club. I was in PC from 1998-2002 and loved every bit of it. We had a wonderful club with regular unmounted meetings and clinicians that were willing to volunteer their time for a nominal fee.

                I now help out with my local PC. This PC does a good job organizing unmounted lessons but use mostly older Pony Clubbers and graduates for mounted lessons. However, the experience is still worth the time and money as long as you the parent is willing to put the time in. Too many parents want to drop the kids off and never help or volunteer. It doesn't work that way. The club is only as good as its members and leaders.


                • #9
                  It's all about the club! DD's club has a so so approach on most things. She's been over horsed, under horsed, bolted, bucked, and just generally scared. Thankfully she takes weekly lessons on a solid pony and I've yanked her out of the mounted portion of the club. My original plan for the club was to get her more saddle time, yeah has not happened at all. BUT my dd's got a great seat courtesy of the club If you have your own mount that's trusted and solid that's the way to go. I've taught her more unmounted portions than the club has. Pony Club trainer is fabulous though and I couldn't afford for DD to ride with her without the club discount. Between the bucks and bolts we get solid instruction.
                  Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
                  Originally Posted by alicen:
                  What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.


                  • #10
                    One red flag that I should have picked up on

                    The local club did not want volunteers! IOW no parental input. It was founded and run by the DC and his wife exclusively
                    I wasn't always a Smurf
                    Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
                    "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
                    The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


                    • #11
                      As others have said, it all depends on who runs your club. I did PC several years back. Our club was based on a military post, so we had a lot of turn over, and a majority of the members didn't have horses. So our club focused a lot on the knowledge side of things, and made an effort to find instructors with lesson horses who would do mounted lessons at the very basic level. Since I had my own horse and instructor, I didn't care about mounted lessons so much, but found the programs they did with local vets, farriers etc about general horse care to be incredibly helpful.

                      I agree with what others have said that sometimes PC takes safety/rules to the point of it being over the top and not fun. As AnotherShotEventing said, I found these problems were magnified at the upper levels. For myself, and several of my friends, these issues were enough to cause us to leave PC.

                      For the most part though, I thought PC did an amazing job of teaching general safety and horse care. We had a lot of kids join who'd been taking lessons for years, but still didn't know how to tack up a horse, or what colic was, let alone the symptoms to watch out for. I think it is a great experience for beginner riders, especially those looking to become a more well rounded rider/horse person.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks for all the input - I think I will spend the next 6 months or so "investigating" the 2 clubs near me. I do want her to be exposed to more than what she gets in her lesson. I found one hunt club near me that offers a fox hunt camp for kids which we might try for a little variety.

                        Someone mentioned that she should be able to tack her own mount as a guideline - I think that is actually a good goal for us. She has been trying to do that. She is too small still to put the saddle on the back of her little 12.0h pony and has not figured out that when the girth is attached on one side that you can't pull it up too far on the other side or the saddle slips off the pony (we are 2 for 2 on that one).

                        Thanks again for the advice!
                        If I put as much effort into my relationship as I do charging my phone, I'd probably be much better off.


                        • #13
                          I'll keep it pretty brief cause I think many folks here have given you a good idea what it's like. My daughter did PC for 3 yrs. The pros and cons are what most stated already.
                          I will say that safety is priority #1. If you find a good group, and good instruction, clinics, etc your daughter will have a good, safe time. She will also learn a lot about being independent and self sufficient. My daughter has learned a lot that she carries with her today. She would have stayed if it was a more well rounded, diverse learning experience, but that's up to the club, and ours didn't fit that bill. We unfortunately had a very disorganized, and same old same old, clicky group.
                          "If you've got a horse, you've got a problem"


                          • #14
                            Oh and there are plenty of rally's for D rated kids to participate in. You have Games (and with a 12.0 pony would be perfect), Show Jumping, Dressage, Tetrathlon ( that's a cool one ), and yes Eventing. I think age 8 is a fine age to start, particularly if the club you are looking at has other kids her age and activities for the younger kids.
                            Coming from a brief stint in the Hunter world, Pony Club taught her soooo much more in one year than she got the 5 yrs in Hunters. It's not just about riding, it's safety, health, etc. All good things to know.

                            I hope you find a wonderful group for her, good luck!
                            "If you've got a horse, you've got a problem"


                            • #15
                              been involved in PC for years as a director, parent etc.
                              I agree with above posters - it really depends on the people running it. You get great clubs, and not so great. It also depends on what you as a parent are willing to put into it - running a busy PC club is time consuming and hard on volunteers, every little bit of 'what can I do' helps.. a lot.

                              Each club is also slightly different in their focus. for example this year, all our kids were event crazy - so lots more clinics for eventing were run this year. 2 years ago, we had a madhouse of jumping. Overall I do find in most clubs the least emphasis is put on dressage of all the disciplines. Our advanced riders tend to end up going outside the club for private dressage (least my experience in the last dozen years)

                              Personally I found my children ages 7-10 or so didn't get a lot of riding skill out of PC- but I kept them in it for the other things, and taught them myself since I also train. It depends on the median age group of the club, mine were by far the youngest at that age, all the other members were 13 and up at the time I started my 7 year old, so that can be tough.
                              Originally posted by ExJumper
                              Sometimes I'm thrown off, sometimes I'm bucked off, sometimes I simply fall off, and sometimes I go down with the ship. All of these are valid ways to part company with your horse.


                              • #16
                                I think that there are huge gaps in what kids learn in a non-pony club situation, in A rated show barns. In pony club, many things are covered that A rated barns will never cover. Horsemanship, stable management, first aid etc.

                                Lessons were weekly, during the season of the year that lessons ran. In winter, experienced mentors were pressed into service, to give lectures on conformation, farriery etc. Clinics were offered by older PC associated clinicians, brought in from elsewhere in the country. A week long pony club camp, held at the local fairgrounds, where members and their horses were away from home, away from parents, organized into teams, judged in every way daily, points awarded, was the highpoint of the summer!

                                Children will make long term horsey friends in the many aspects of pony club functions.

                                Politics play a part in how successful your experience in pony club is. When I was involved, I greatly enjoyed much of the experience, but was limited by the fact that I was a showjumper, and pony club was not horse show oriented, strictly dressage and eventing. This forced me to expand my riding to include enough of these other disciplines to get by, which was a good thing, but everyone knew I was not an eventer, so getting my A rating was always a non-starter. I hear this has supposed to be changed now, but I dunno if it really has.

                                The quality of each individual club is greatly dependant on the individuals who are running it, which is usually the parent/s of some of the local children, and/or individuals whose children may have moved on to adult life and still wish to help with teaching the children of others about being horsemen. True horsemen, all round horsemen, not just show ring riders taught how to sit pretty and win ribbons on schoolmasters who are schooled by the pro rider regularly.

                                A worthwhile experience for a child I think.


                                • #17
                                  My take on Pony Club is it is a great experience for the kids and a pretty huge pain in the butt for the parents.
                                  McDowell Racing Stables

                                  Home Away From Home


                                  • #18
                                    Most of the pros and cons of pony club have been covered. Just want to throw my two cents in:

                                    Any pony club is what the parents make it. So if you are willing to volunteer and put the time in then you can help direct the future of your daughter's club and see that it is a happy and healthy place for the kids.

                                    We are fortunate to have a group of new kids in the 7 to 10 age joining this year. We make sure that our lessons are divided into sessions according to riding ability so that every child gets a chance to take advantage of the instructors we bring in. And we hire from all disciplines: dressage, eventing, show jumping - may even have a hunter trainer in this year to clean up their eq.

                                    We've also put in place a mentor program so that the younger kids are each paired with an older teenager when they join who will show them the ropes. Their C Advisor will help them get ready for their rating and their rallies.

                                    As for the rating prep; ours are never done the day before. We always do them at least a month in advance so that the kids know what they need to work on. Additionally, they never last for hours and no horse or child will ever go without water on a hot day. I have also been the observer at a few of our club's ratings and I have never seen any pair jump excessively. But then our kids are not given permission to rate until they have checked off their flowchart and know they have a pretty good chance of passing because they are prepared. And that is a lesson pony club does teach - to be prepared and to know your stuff.

                                    My daughter has made great friends that she will have for the rest of her life. She went to Kentucky and had a blast competing at Nationals with the other kids from the region and met some great people from all over. Without pony club she wouldn't have gotten that opportunity. I think it teaches the kids that you don't have to have the fanciest horse or the best of everything but with hard work and elbow grease you can set goals for yourself and you can achieve them and have a lot of fun along the way.


                                    • #19
                                      I am a strong proponent of Pony Club. Yes, because it is run by parent volunteers there can be politics and issues similar to other children's activities. However, a well run club can be a great opportunity for kids to learn horsemanship and well rounded riding skills. Honestly, I think of all the choices out there for kids and ponies today, Pony Club is a great place to start. I would definitely NOT be afraid to try it out. I think that a good plan would include regular lessons with a regular trainer, combined with Pony Club.