Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Has Happened to Pony Club?

I can say -- without a shadow of a doubt -- that I am who I am today because of Pony Club. And, I think I'm pretty great. :-) With that being said, I don't just mean "a pony club" or "a club of pony riders." I'm talking about a bona fide member of the United States Pony Club. As the USPC mission states, the organization "develops character, leadership, confidence, and a sense of community...." These are incredibly important qualities for youngsters, no matter the hobby, sport, or extracurricular interest. But, how much more awesome is it when it DOES involve horses, horses, and more horses? Speaking of "horses," the PC core values: Horsemanship, Organized teamwork, Respect, Service, and Education are traits of mine that could literally be found in my genetic make-up by this point in my life. You want to foster a well-rounded, conscientious, and intelligent individual/equestrian? Put him or her in Pony Club.

I had the great privilege to live the Pony Club life. I was in pony club, my sister was in pony club, my best friends were in pony club, my sister's best friends were in pony club, my schoolmates were in pony club, my mom was a Co-DC in pony club, and the highlight of my summers was pony club eventing camp in Radford, Virginia. Some of my best memories were of Pony Club and there isn't a day that goes by now that I don't enlist the help of some notion, some piece of knowledge, or some vital lesson learned from my pony club days.

However, when I look around (and listen) these days, I wonder to myself: where is Pony Club now? My fellow Knoxvillian-eventer-blogger extraordinaire, Leslie Wylie, posted on her blog the other day an announcement that she has stepped up to be the Co-DC of our local pony club, Tennessee Valley PC. I was thrilled to read this and offered -- as fast as my short little fingers could type -- to help Leslie anytime she needs anything. I have always wanted to be involved with the local PC in some way, since I moved here to Knoxville over 10 years ago, but it's existence has always seemed a bit elusive, difficult to track down, and a real challenge to link up with. Now that Leslie is onboard, it'll be easy for me to stay connected, but she has also expressed that her involvement has been too long in the making (for the same reasons as me) as well. I hope that will change and I intend to lend a hand when/how/where I can to make PC a stronger presence in the equestrian community here in K-town.

But, there still remains that all important question: What has happened to Pony Club? Not long ago, I saw a comment thread on an Eventing Nation post that revealed more than a few writers' thoughts, saying, "Stay away from pony's not what it used to be," or "Pony club isn't the answer anymore." Huh??? Then, what has changed? Because in my day....PC was the only answer in a lot of places, and in other instances, it was certainly the best option of anything else available. I'm dismayed to hear that the presence and importance of Pony Club and the Pony Club way have diminished. But, why? Is it that there aren't these pony club barns anymore that foster the organization's values all the time (whether it's an official meeting or not)? Is it that there are more show barns with their own agendas, who simply don't want to adhere to a national organization's oversight or standards? Is it that there are individual trainers out there, who weren't raised in and indoctrinated in Pony Club, who don't want to encourage a "competing" presence that might be at odds with their style or approach to teaching? Is there more of a focus on training, competing, and moving up than on the more meticulous, studious approach to riding and horsemanship that Pony Club embraces? What is it these days that has taken the emphasis away from the Pony Club life?

Like I initially stated, Pony Club was the central influence in my life for a long, long time. I posted a few weeks ago about "All I really need to know about eventing I learned in Kindergarten," although "Kindergarten" in that statement could just as easily be replaced with the words "pony club." Share Everything -- Play Fair -- Clean Up Your Own Mess -- Hold Hands and Stick Together. But, rather than continue to press-upon this point verbally, over and over again, I will let some of my favorite pictures make my case clear. These pictures are like the mental images that run through my mind all the time. They encompass much of my life -- from the age of 8 to 18 -- and they represent the philosophies that Pony Club still strives to teach today: work hard, love your horse, love yourself, and love your friends. Amen!

Me and my trusty steed, Luzaz, at a Sunday
afternoon Holston Pony Club meeting.

First hack of the summer at PC camp in Radford, VA with my sister
(on our little Palomino pony, Beau), Alexia Schmidt (on the dark bay), and one of
my PC BFFs, Angie Schwab, on her buckskin event horse, Topper.

Me and Luzaz at camp on show jumping day.

My sister and her wonder pony, Beau, at camp jumping through a gymnastic.

My friend, Anna, jumping up the "staircase" on cross-country at PC camp.

A very satisfied Luzaz after a cross-country school at PC camp.

The ultimate pony club mom (bringing goody baskets for her daughters her
daughters' ponies)!

My PC buddy, Molly, jumping a course on Luzaz during a "pony
swap" Pony Club exercise.

Holston Pony Club members, dressed for the holidays, on a Christmas
caroling expedition through Forest Hills in Bristol. That's me (left),
Melinda Wick and Lucy (center), and my sister -- riding side-saddle --
(in the back on the right).
Some of my favorite (well-worn) books from back in
my PC days (no wonder 
I ended up an eventer). The evidence of my 
geekiness: a team and individual blue ribbon from a long-ago 
Roanoke Vally Pony Club KnowDown. Pony Club nerds, unite!

Team effort: my sister, Melissa, helping me tack up before
show jumping at PC camp.

Me and Luzaz working on flying lead changes in a typical  pony club
lesson at Fox Hollow Farm (Bristol, TN). That's Melissa on her
horse, Poppy, going through a gymnastic in the background.

My PC camp BFF, Marcia Payne and her horse Satisfaction,
schooling dressage at the Pony Club Festival in Lexington at KHP.

Marcia in a lesson at the PC festival, riding without
stirrups (yep, that's "the Pony Club way"!).

Marcia and Satisfaction schooling a gymnastic at KHP.

Marcia schooling cross-country at KHP.

Pony Club rally, Lynchburg, VA. I'm riding my sister's pony, Beau. 

Holston Pony Club at the closing ceremonies. We were third!

Me and Beau at the final fence in show jumping, bringing home a double-clear!
Too bad we had a runout at a rolltop the day before on cross-country or
our team might have finished higher than 3rd. :-)

A good team after a great weekend!

Reaching down to give my (grounded by a XC injury) friend, Tempe,
a hug after show jumping on the final day at PC eventing camp.
Hold hands and stick together. :-)

At the end of the day, a Pony Club pony is a happy, healthy pony!


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I was a member of Highlands Pony Club for many years and all of my siblings road with pony club too. Seeing all your pictures makes me recall all of my wonderful memories of riding in pony club in general and especially Pony Club Camp:) I may have actually been at the camp that you posted the pictures of! I lived in Floyd so I stayed with Marcia for one camp and rode Satty. I think that was the year that my sister Jackie and I brought our little white ponies-Mighty Mouse and Tony the Pony:) I loved this so much!

I am all grown up now and I have a daughter who is a pony club member now. I hope that she takes away the same values and gifts that Pony Club gave to me even with the changes that are being made.

Thanks again for your post. I am so happy that I stumbled across this.
Jessie-Highlands Alum

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have spell checked this...I meant rode not road.

Holly Ratcliff said...

Jessie -- I have had these pictures in various albums forever, but I hardly needed to look at the pictures to remember all those great times! I seem to recall two sisters with white ponies, but if we weren't in the same riding groups or housed with one another, it was hard to get to know everyone. I remember a girl named Babs who had a white pony. She and I were in the same riding group and she was kind enough to ride out and pick me up off the cross-country course during one lesson when my horse bucked me off after the Irish bank, then galloped back to the barns. :-)

I always had such a great time there at Bedlam Manor Farm and I guess I just always figured that Pony Club today was just like the Pony Club of yesterday. I'm glad to hear that your daughter is at least having the same great experience that we did!


Anonymous said...

I am in Holston Pony Club and I think it is so cool to see what Holston used to do. We did a mounted caroling a long time ago but it was fun and cold.

Holly Ratcliff said...

Hi Anonymous -- I am really glad to hear that Holston is still going strong! I read something just this morning where a very respectable and notable sport horse rehab facility only ever hires riders who were former U.S. Pony Clubbers, because they are very skilled riders and are knowledgeable about everything going on with the horse they are riding. Pony Club is hard sometimes and I know I was always trying to cut corners, but in the end, I'm really glad I learned everything I know from Pony Club. I am a much more dedicated and conscientious horsewoman for that in the long run. Good luck to you and have fun!


katheryn brown said...

Thanks for all the Pony Club memories. My daughter boarded at Bedlam Manor, was in Highlands Pony Club and I was a DC and RS. Very disappointed to hear negative comments about Pony Club. Thanks again.

Bonnie Hundley said...

I luv your page. Just browsing and came upon this. Oh, its making me nostalgic for Pony Club!

Anonymous said...

Well I'm going to be honest here. I am Pony Club Mom. My daughter joined this year. At first she was beyond excited. However I saw a side of the organization that turned the tables and my daughter no longer wants to be apart of Pony club. I personally am not happy with the organization aswell. The last rally we attended was a nightmare. My daughter health and well being was put at risk and horse management was nothing more than a bunch of female Nazis. The first comment made to me before giving the chance to address the issue was "well pony club isn't for everyone ". I was shocked thrown back but such a comment. Just because my daughter has dietary needs different from the other writers we should alienate her. The whole experience left my daughter in absolute tears. I am beyond disgusted and disappointed with the Pony Club Association. Do you think after everything that anyone had the decency to apologize to my daughter nope not a single person. We probably won't be renewing our membership come next year it was nothing more than a waste of money.My daughter now is training at a facility where she is treated with kindness and respect and encouragement and she's never left in tears. So my recommendation stay away from Pony Club it's not worth a penny anymore.