Saturday, September 5, 2015

The wonderful world of Pony Club

by Kate Lattey

A brief insight into Pony Club in New Zealand

I've been a Pony Club coach for several years now, but this is my first season as the Head Coach of my local branch, Waikanae (that's essentially pronounced "why-can-I", if you're wondering). I was Rally Coordinator last season, which meant I took on most of the administration side of things - booking coaches, organising rally topics, taking down names, doing gear inspections, paying coaches afterwards, etc etc. Now I am doing all of the above, plus setting rally dates, managing certificate cards, and running enrolment evening and quiz night...all of which are now behind me. Phew!

Our Pony Club season started two weeks ago with Enrolment & Goal Setting. Most of our enrolments had already come through via email (I set up some nifty PDFs with a fill-in function that members filled out and emailed to our secretary), and been paid via internet banking. Gone are the days of gathering cheques and handwritten forms! So this was a chance for our new members to come and buy uniforms (we have long-sleeved shirts, hat covers and saddle blankets in Waikanae's chosen blue and yellow colours).

Enrolment Evening was a good opportunity for a Meet & Greet of our new members, and a chance for me to catch up with our returning and senior members to find out what they were wanting to achieve this season, whether it was to attain certain Pony Club certificates or to get their pony to canter on the correct lead leg.

We followed that evening up a week later with Quiz Night. I wrote a bunch of questions (the night before) and we had twenty of our members turn up for the quiz (and a fish and chip dinner). Questions ranged from "What would you do if you found your pony in the paddock with a hot, swollen leg?" to "Which is the best Harry Potter book?" (Yeah, so some of the questions were a little subjective. Interestingly enough, nobody got the "right" answer on that one - it's obviously Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban" but I gave everyone full marks anyway.)  Two teams finished on 77.5 points (with the third team not far behind on 71.5) and had to share the prizes (mini bars of chocolate) amongst themselves.

Two of our members modelling the WPC uniform
Today was our first ridden rally, and we had a HUGE turnout! I say huge - it's all relative - but last season eighteen was big for us, so to have 26 riders on their ponies was a few more than I'd expected! It went off well though - we have everything from fluffy lead-rein ponies with riders who have just started school, up to seniors who are working towards their B Certificates this season. I was very fortunate to have three former members of our branch volunteer to help out with coaching - it's so great when the kids who have gained so much from Pony Club are willing to give back to it. I split everyone into three teams (done completely unscientifically according to horse/pony height) and we ran through some mounted games - Walk, Trot and Lead, Spud & Spoon (like egg and spoon but with potatoes, I wasn't wasting any eggs if they got broken - I need them for my breakfast!), then an obstacle course where they had to ride to three stepping stones, hop across them, run up to a tyre and shimmy through it before running back over the start line. They all did well and we split them off into three sections - one did flatwork, one did Flag Race and the third did some jumping. Because they were still in groups that ranged from experienced riders to lead-reiners, we had very low fences set, but challenged the seniors by asking them to jump as pairs. Only two of our younger riders managed to do a credible job!

Our next rally will be in two weeks' time, and is the day before our Spring Show, which is our big fundraiser for the season. We are very fortunate to have amazing grounds and facilities to use, including a 100x100m arena (where we rode today) but unfortunately arenas cost money to maintain, and 100x100m is a huge space to fill when it needs resurfacing! So we are in fundraising and grant-requesting overdrive at the moment. It has been raining almost constantly for the past month so the grounds are a bit sodden and muddy right now, meaning we've had to cancel our Training Day which we had scheduled for tomorrow, so that's a shame as we usually make good money off that. We will have to hope for fine weather in two weeks for our Spring Show! In the past couple of years we've had awesome entries, with over 40 horses competing in the 90cm and 1m show jumping classes- which allows us to turn a good profit. But it's a long day with three jumping rings going, as well as the flat classes in the morning - and it gets expensive with prize money, paying judges and course designers, and it's all hands on deck with parent helpers! However once that is over then we can all relax and settle into the competition season...

One of our members at SH Champs last year

Speaking of which, as if I didn't have enough to do at Waikanae, I've also agreed to coach the Horowhenua Pony Club Show Hunter team at North Island Show Hunter Champs next month! We've had external coaches brought in for squad training, but I've been attending those sessions so that I am prepared with what to help each rider with on the day. The team is comprised of members from our local branches, and is made up of eight pony/horse and rider combinations - two in Category A (what the Americans would call "Small Ponies"), two in Category B (Mediums), two in Category C (Larges), and two in the Hack (horse, not pony) division. The event brings teams from all over the North Island, and after practice rounds and team introductions on Day 1, we kick off into competition on Day 2. Our riders have to compete in four rounds throughout the day, and individual ribbons are awarded for the top placings in each round, as well as the highest placing pair in the round (combined score for the team's riders in each Category). On Day 3 they ride their Equitation rounds, and then we have prizegiving. Last year our team placed 2nd overall, and the year before the team finished 4th overall, so there is a wee bit of pressure to do well! Still, as excited as I am about coaching and as much as I'm looking forward to a successful event, ultimately we just want all of our riders to do their best and come out of the ring smiling after every round.

Another Waikanae rider on XC at Teams Training
There are plenty more team events coming up within our Pony Club season. In the eventing discipline, we have Bruce Forbes Teams Event (aka Teams Training), Timberlands and NZPCA Eventing Champs (although Champs are being held in Canterbury - South Island - this year so we may not send a team). In show jumping, there is NZPCA Show Jumping Champs and the Pony Club Show Jumping Team of the Year at the Horse of the Year Show. In dressage we have Area Dressage and NZPCA Dressage Champs, and in Mounted Games there is Area Games and Zone Games to train for. We have had a pretty crack Games team for the past few years, winning Areas consistently and placing well at Zones, where our members are competing against riders who have represented New Zealand overseas in the discipline. Area and Zone Games are the only team competitions we have that are run at branch level, so it's the Waikanae Wonders (or Waikanae Wazzup, or whatever the kids decide to call themselves) that are repping our individual branch.

But one of the coolest things that we have this season is an influx of boys! Ranging in age from 15 to 5, we have five boys enrolled and two more who are about to enrol, with an eighth on the fence... As boys are typically underrepresented in equestrian sports, it's great to have them enjoying their riding and getting involved in the sport. As only two are in their teens with the others much younger, it bodes well for the future.

And now I have rallies to organise, coaches to book, and certificate cards to fill out...homework time!
My homework for tonight!


  1. Great to read about the influx of boys! We only ever had 2 whilst I was in Pony Club, but it was such a great place to learn, learn, learn!

  2. We just got three more enrolled! :)

  3. Boys have a great time! Tim Gredley, the showjumper, told me that when he was in PC in the UK, he got one of the girls to plait his pony's mane - and he then won the prize for the best turned out.