While children are enjoying their summer break from school, Pony Clubs everywhere are busy scheduling activities to keep young members busy. Camps, testing for ratings, rallies and fund-raisers are taking place every day of the week. Trying to create an enthusiastic attitude toward any equine activity during our recent heat wave can seem nearly impossible--unless you're involved with Pony Club.
Every year, I enter my young horses and students in the Middleburg-Orange County Pony Club's combined test at Glenwood Park in July. The atmosphere at this little competition is always quiet, though there is a lot for young horses to absorb. The blue stone arenas are used for the dressage and jumping, so even if the ground is hard, the footing is always good in the rings.
This competition is a fund-raiser for the club, with the money going toward lessons and future camps. Young club members as well as parents volunteered at the show, which ran over two days this year without a hitch.
I recently joined some other local instructors at Morven Park to teach at Pony Club camp. Campers ranging in age from 8 to 20 all eagerly participated, on every kind of horse and pony imaginable. Each student rode twice daily for four days on the same horse.
I taught in the afternoons, and every day the temperature was over 90 degrees. I didn't hear a single complaint about riding in the sweltering heat from any of the participants.
Most of the faces at camp were familiar to me, as I have instructed many of the riders before. It is fun to have the opportunity to catch up with my young friends, talk, gossip a little and watch their horses perform. I am always pleased with the amount of progress the students have made since the last time I saw them and the changes I've witnessed in their riding over the years.
Pony Club student Beth Brokaw is the perfect example of someone making such an improvement. She used to be extremely quiet and passive when riding and always seemed to be looking at the ground. To this day, I have no idea what she was looking at, but I'm sure it wasn't the cross-country fence that was right in front of her. Her unforgiving mare Bonnie would be looking and stop dead in her tracks upon the approach to almost every single jump.
Brokaw and Bonnie don't do these things any more. Brokaw looks forward to her riding and cross-country jumps and even has moved up a level in competition. If Bonnie even begins to question Brokaw, a quick slap on the shoulder ensues. Horse and rider are now more focused and rising to the next challenge.
Another young rider, Jennifer McCready, rides a fiery black pony named Midnight. McCready and Midnight hunt vigorously with the Casanova Hunt, participate in combined training and this spring competed in the pony races at Great Meadow.
When I first met Midnight and his tiny jockey, the pony had no working brake system. Running past every jump was Midnight's favorite trick. Midnight didn't get away with anything this summer, and pony and rider are a happy, well-matched pair.
Teaching yet another camp at my own stable last week, I had a group of older, college-age students who told me about the importance of horses and Pony Club in their lives.
These young people have embraced a sense of responsibility and commitment because of the animals and feel these qualities have helped them in other areas of their lives. Pony Club has definitely provided a service to every one of my students.