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At the first day of my first ever National Pony Club competition, I realized one thing: Pony Club is really just a secret society. The mental image of cute little (likely British) children on even cuter ponies is just a front. Behind it there are thousands of parent volunteers and youth reps running what is arguably the most comprehensive system of the highest standards of horsemanship  – plus some tough kids on naughty ponies/just barely-not-feral horses inspiring them all to do so.

For those of you not in the know of this fabulous secret society’s ways, let me tell you, it’s pretty intense for an organization with such an ambiguous name. I’ve been in Canadian Pony Club for almost six seasons, and it’s been quite the journey.  It is what introduced me to eventing and my current coach, given me the tools to be able to develop my off-track Thoroughbred, Honor, and inspired me to pursue a career in the horse industry.

Pony Club has a bit of a reputation for being snobby, but this impression is likely due to the amount of strict rules and protocols. However, I’ll admit that there are some obscure rules which you at first question but as your years in the Pony Club add up, you grow to love. Here’s a list of (slightly bizarre) things that have been programmed into my brain absorbed from a young age. Those of you fellow pony clubbers will find this list comforting, and to those who aren’t in PC (yet), enjoy a glimpse into our world!

  • Pony Club Manuals are also referred to as ‘the bible’. Susan E Harris is the leader of our cult author of the USPC manuals and the books are wonderfully written and it’s oh so easy to get swept up into reading the whole thing at 2 am.
  • If your breeches have belt loops, you must wear a belt. Pony Club also doubles as the fashion police. Who knew?
  • The step by step directions PLUS diagrams in antagonizing detail of how to bridle a horse in the D (beginner) manual. I am a Jr. Testing Examiner, and at the first D1 test I conducted, while trying to bridle her pony, a girl got the reins wrapped around her own neck. She clearly had no idea what she was doing, and almost bought the farm (THIS IS WHY WE NEED PONY CLUB).
  • What numnah meant. Honestly numnah (num-nahhh) is my ALL TIME favourite word. I wanted to change our scruffy Jack Russell’s name to Numnah for the longest time.
  • If you have something relatively official, put it on your left side, no matter what. Another odd thing – medical arm band? Must go on left arm. Pony Club crest? Left arm as well. Pony Club pin and disc? Left lapel. It’s honestly a wonder the pony clubbers who started young don’t permanently lean off to the left. Lesson learned – just put anything you want to show off on the left side of your body.
  • At E and D level, you will be asked what a hoof pick is. Literally. We do a competition called ‘Quiz’ where you are tested on your knowledge of everything ponies (body parts, feeding rules, ID toxic plants, knowledge of parasites, core inoculations, how to treat minor wounds, what the inside lateral aids for a canter transition is, etc), and on the lowest level, they are asked to ID a hoof  pick. Meanwhile, at the highest level, you have to ID parasites in jars, ID soundness problems from x-rays, and age a horse off a picture of their teeth.
  • It is unsafe to walk with spurs. I honestly found this to be a totally useless piece of information until one day I was at a clinic, and tried to get up from sitting on a folding chair – only to get my (super short, blunt) spurs hooked on each other  and topple on over.  Oops. Pony Club – 1 , Izzy – 0. While at times Pony Club can seem overprotective & overbearing, it places so much emphasis on safety, as well as knowledge, responsibility, and planning.
  • Acryonoms. As a pony clubber, you will be introduced (and very quickly learn) easily hundreds of different acronyms.  This will provide you with a solid knowledge of many companies, organizations and standards within the horse industry (and spitting out an eight letter acronym in the correct context will make you seem pretty legit).
  • Formal horse inspections/turn out judges. Making sure you clean every inch millimetre of your tack the night before, making sure your horse’s tail is brushed out enough that the judge’s hands will glide right through, and the white glove test! Turnout judges and formal horse inspections will terrify you more than anything at first, but will condition you to the point where you will ensure you and your horse look spotless & professional whenever you go anywhere. This is half the battle of creating a good reputation – now just pair your good looks with a good attitude (which is likely already forged)!
  • Loyalty, Character, Sportsmanship is the Canadian Pony Club’s motto. The order of these three words often pop up on Quiz, but more importantly, the meaning of all three will become implemented in your daily lives. Not only did Pony Club make me a better horseman, it overall made me a better kid.

Pony Club numbers are in decline, which is saddening because it is such an incredible program, and is one of the oldest equestrian youth organizations around. It requires hard work from the entire family, but the results and rewards from Pony Club never end.

Pony Club was founded in England in 1928, where it was then common to refer to any equine that a child is riding as a pony. The intent behind the name was for it to be an organization which brought up the future of equestrian sport, making sure to produce well rounded horsemen.

Today, there are both more casual members, who enjoy horses and the social part, and there are super committed kids who want to progress to the upper levels and be professionals in the industry. Regardless of what their ambitions are, it is such a supportive atmosphere, where all the members just adore horses – and not just their own horse, but a love of all horses.