I've mentioned before I'm a product of the Pony Club, I was a member and competed for 3-4 years as a teenager. When I moved out here to the close to nowhere plains of Colorado I realized it is not as widespread as I thought. Out here we have 4H, very similar, but not quite the same. Anyways, I thought I'd take some time to advocate Pony Club and thank them for all they've taught me.
As a child of a non-horsey family, when I got interested in horses, we really didn't have a clue about anything - how to buy, take care of, show, etc. And as we all know for every horse owner there is a different opinion on all of these things.
Some friends of mine had joined Pony Club so we decided to try it out. What Pony Club gave me that regular lessons didn't was the knowledge and discipline around everything other than just riding. Sure they had an outline of what you should know as far as how to ride, but most of the rank tests consisted of ground work, horse knowledge, and horse care, very little time was spent in the saddle. Pony Club taught me how to wrap my horses legs, tell if he's colicing, how to dress a wound, tie a stock tie, clean a sheath, etc.... things that just didn't come up in regular lessons.
Pony Club's emphasis on horse and equipment knowledge, as well as safety made me learn and focus on things that I normally wouldn't have thought of.... always trailer a horse in a leather halter in case it panics it can get free, always tie a horse up with a quick release knot (this has come in handy more than once), wear your helmet, put your spurs on last so you don't trip. Some rules seemed a little silly (like the last one) but this kind of attitude reminded me that this was an animal I was working with and to always be prepared.
The shows were "Rallies" and you competed in teams. This taught you teamwork and that riding wasn't about who won but also about having fun. And the Rallies didn't just judge you in the ring, but also the care of your horse and tack. There was a giant list of things your team was required to bring including tools to fix broken tack and a first aid kit for both you and your horse. They came around and judged the organization of your tack room and kept an eye on the teams and even judge you on your sportsmanship. There was also a written portion to every rally where you were tested on your knowledge of parts of the horse and tack, and proper procedures. You had to present yourself to the judges and often answer questions on the fly. This gave me more confidence in talking with authority and showing my knowledge.
Really, the amount of things Pony Club taught me are too numerous to name. They taught me how to be a good horseman and good sportsman. They gave a kid with no horse experience a place to learn and grow with other kids. They teach you the "proper" way to do everything so everyone in the group is doing the same thing. And while I don't deny there are different ways to do things than what Pony Club taught me, I still believe it was the most detailed and the safest bet 99% of the time.
I'm sure I've forgotten more things than I remember, but that's the great thing, even if you only remember 25% of the rules you still come out ahead. I still clean my tack before every show, I still keep a leather halter for trailering, I always wrap my horses legs when trailering, and I always run my hand along the horses butt as I walk behind them. I know I have tons of little habits that I'm not even aware of thanks to Pony Club. And are all of them necessary all the time? No probably not. But I know I'm grateful I automatically tie my horse with a quick release knot every time they spook and I can get them free quick enough before anyone gets hurt.
So to sum it up :) - Thank you United State Pony Club for giving a kid a positive environment to learn how to ride well and safely, how to be a good sport, take criticism, and take care of my horse. Thanks for not only teaching me how to be a better rider but also a better competitor and owner.
For more information on Pony Club visit www.ponyclub.org . This isn't a paid advertisement, I swear.