First, let me start by saying that pony club is potentially one of the best organisations ever and every pony-crazy kid needs to be given the opportunity to join! Seriously, if you have a kid – sign them up, they’ll create a bunch of memories that they’ll treasure forever.
The only thing that could beat pony club rally was pony club camp; which was most likely the highlight of every kids’ calendar! Although every past and present member will tell you something different when you ask them about their pony club experience, chances are they’ll all answer with a smile on their face (…. like the time I let my mumma ride my horse after I’d finished, and she used a water trough to climb on up. Needless to say, she ended up in the water trough, in front of about fifty other members – great memories ha…).
Really, you can’t go wrong when it comes to joining a club – fun and friendship are all but guaranteed! However, there are certain things to bear in mind if you really want to get the most out of what is sure to be an awesome experience…
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH:
You will most likely find that there is more than one pony club near you. I can’t tell you how much it will benefit you to visit, and if possible, try each club out. Most NZ pony clubs allow you to attend one, two or even three rallies unmounted at the very least. Some even let you participate mounted. Quite often the first club you visit isn’t the best fit for you – they all have different instructors taking their rally groups, so watching the rallies held at the different clubs in your area will give you a good indication of which club can offer you the most.
Pony clubs also come in different sizes and structures. Some children will be more comfortable in a smaller club with fewer members, whilst other children will thrive in the larger clubs. Some clubs also cater for adult members, with their own designated adult rally. These clubs are fantastic if you want to participate in pony club either alone, or with your child!
Finally, the different clubs in your area all have different facilities. This may include such things as an arena or two, availability of show jumps, a cross country course catering for all levels, or even grazing for members’ horses.
Either way, trying before buying can save you the stress or disappointment of discovering the club you joined is not really the right one for you.
To really get the most out of your club, you need to participate. It’s no secret that pony club involves a significant time commitment, and most clubs will require you to help a certain amount of times – both in working bees and on event days. You will always take more away from your club than you’ll ever put back into it, so painting jump poles at a working bee or being a jump judge for half a day at an event is not too much to ask. Nobody wants to look back on themselves or be known as the adult/kid that never helped!
If every member puts in a solid effort, a club continues to grow and improve. That increases the chances of new members joining and more event entries, which both bring in money to the club. More money coming in means more money available for spending, and guess who gets the benefits of that? That’s right you lucky devil, so don’t be afraid to get stuck in.
Helping out is also a fantastic opportunity to socialise with other club members and make new friends. Horse-riding friends are the best kind of friends, no question about it. It’s quite likely that the person painting poles besides you is going to be the person causing havoc in the nursing home with you in the future!
3. KEEP AN OPEN MIND
At pony club you are going to meet a lot of people. Everyone you meet is going to have a different way of doing things, and not one way is the right way – not even yours! The girl who rides her horse with no bridle, and the girl who rides her horse in a pelham are both riding different horses and it’s none of your concern what they’re doing. Do your best to avoid discussions about another horse, rider or combination – you’re all there to have fun with your horses, and that is the main thing.
Also, understand that your club works hard to provide the best instructors they can for you. Your instructor can see things from the ground that you can’t see from the saddle, and chances are they’ll have a bit more experience or knowledge than yourself. You and your horse will really start to develop as a combination if you are able to trust in the knowledge and guidance of your coach, even if it feels difficult or scary at the time.
Unless an instructor gives you advice that is detrimental to you or your horse’s wellbeing, or puts either of you in danger, try not to question or argue with them. If you have any concerns the best person to talk to is the head coach, or the club president if need be.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE AMBITIOUS
There is absolutely no reason why you should spend your pony club years ‘contained’ within one club. The NZPCA spans the whole of New Zealand, and to really get the most from your experience you’re going to want to interact with as many other pony clubs and their members as possible. The best way to do this is to get onto an area team! Some area teams compete in regional competitions, against the other areas within a region, whilst other teams compete nationally.
Obviously representing your area or region is a huge privilege, and something that everyone should aim to do because the experience is entirely worth all the hard work you put in. Being on a team requires you to travel, often with your team mates, and is a great chance to make lifelong friends. Chances are, making a team will be one of your favourite pony club memories in the future – so be ambitious!
Another amazing thing about pony club is that there are so many riders competing in different areas, at all different levels. Nowhere else in the equestrian world are you going to be able to regularly interact with such a huge range of horse-people in one space- make the most of the opportunity and find the people who inspire you. There is usually one or two riders at any club that will motivate you (and I’ll bet you my last dollar that they’re not the kid sneaking off when it’s time to help at the working bee!). It never hurt anybody to find someone to motivate them, so make the most of being able to surround yourself with the people who are where you aim to be.
5. MAKE LOTS OF MEMORIES
For most people, pony club is a brief period of their lives where they really get to enjoy their horse or pony with a bunch of good friends. It’s a time of both endless opportunities and lots of guidance so to get the most out of it, you need to make the most of it.
Befriend everybody, but only let a select few influence you. Try out for everything and anything, you never know how good you are until you try. Sign up for every camp, day trip, outing, whatever… sign up for it – unless you’ve got a tonne of homework or something because… school is kinda important.
And most importantly, take a heap of photos! Make a Facebook photo album, print them off or flood your Instagram feed – having a bunch of photos to look back on will trigger #allofthememories and remind you just how awesome pony club really was!
I only got to attend pony club for a couple of seasons and so when a friend of mine signed her kids up, I was more than happy to help out! If you went to pony club, is there anything you’d add to that list?