What do Karen O’Conner, David O’Conner, and George Williams have in common? Aside from the obvious, they have all been members of the US Olympic Equestrian Team, they were all graduates of The United States Pony Club.
What does the United States Pony Club offer its participants that make them so much more apt to reach success then other equestrian organizations? The keys seem to be in what it teaches: ability, responsibility, independence, and values.
Through the USPC’s formal instructional program, members learn more about horses and their care than do members of any other American horsemanship organization. Riding activities include combined training (dressage, stadium jumping, cross-country), mounted games, show jumping, dressage (as single activity), vaulting (horseback gymnastics), polo, polo Crosse (combination of polo and lacrosse), foxhunting, and tetrathlon (riding, running, swimming, shooting). A favorite nonriding activity is Know-Down, a verbal quiz bowl in which Pony Clubbers match their knowledge of things equine. Although USPC emphasizes instruction over competition, members do compete with one another at club, regional, and national rallies (Midsouth Pony Club Website)
The basis of Pony Club is knowledge and teaching the members ability. As their knowledge and riding ability improves, the children can go through a rating. There are D, C, B, and A standards of proficiency. D and C levels, are broken into the ratings of D1, D2, D3, C1, C2, and C3. The A also has an HA qualification. ( standards of proficiency )
Another skill taught by Pony Club is responsibility. This begins with, but is not limited to, un-mounted care of the horse. They are not only taught the proper amounts of food and water, but how to discriminate the types of grain and hay. The kids also learn how to identify when a horse may be ill and how to handle the situation. They are encouraged to continually be aware of their environment and be on the look out for unsafe situations, making corrections when necessary.
Keeping accurate records is also emphasized, not only health records such as immunization and dental information, but ferrier visits, riding schedules, training notes, and the financial accounts. At the time a child rates for a D3 they need to present a accurate and complete record book on the horse/pony they have riding. These are carefully examined and are a consideration in achieving this rating.
Independence is also ingrained at an early age. As soon as the children have the knowledge they are encouraged to perform the tasks as independently at possible. It’s put into practice at mounted meetings at the club level in preparation for rallies. At rally parents who are not serving in Horse Management roles are not allowed in the barns, and are only allowed to speak to the kids in certain given situations and places.
Parents and adult sponsors are still very much an integral part of Pony Club, providing the support system and the education for these kids. They also serve, in a volunteer capacity, at rallies to make sure the environment is safe giving the child room to put their knowledge into practice.
Values are the last key that is taught to Pony Clubbers. From the meetings to the ratings and rallies the kids learn both how to work independently and as a team. Good sportsmanship is not only encouraged but expected with nothing less being tolerated. Older and higher rated kids are expected to give a helping hand to the younger ones, regardless of club or team affiliation, and often swing teams (comprised of members from several clubs) are formed.
What you see in any child who’s been around Pony Club for any length of time is a competent rider who is trustworthy and compassionate to his horse. They value their team mates as well as their mentors and competition. In short, a young person destined for success in what ever they attempt.