I got to experience being a Pony Club Mum – something all horsey women aspire to!
It was one of my little client's first Pony Club rally. This spring her confidence has soared and she's looking forwards to her first camp in a few weeks time. However with a heavily pregnant Mum, I was brought in to be leader/groom/support party at her first rally.
The pony is a Pony Club pro, but hasn't been out since my client has owned him – about two years – so he walked off the lorry with his eyes on stalks, snorting in anticipation. Although my rider is quite competent at home off the lead, I clipped one on and got her mounted. We walked around, or rather jogged round, while the seemingly hundreds of other ponies were trotting and leaping around. After all it was the summer BBQ rally and everyone was full of end of term spirits. For a newbie though, it was all a bit daunting and we got a bit nervous.
Unfortunately, the excited pony at the end of my lead rein was unsettling my rider. We walked to try and settle him down until the rally got started, but he was definitely a bit on the fresh side.
Our first activity was gymkhana games. Probably not the best decision with a fresh pony! So I resigned myself to doing some sprinting!
The first race was bending and we managed to keep to a steady trot to help our team win, and my rider started to relax a bit, letting go of her grab strap. The second race was ride and run. We broke into canter on our sprint to the end – she sat a buck and I hurriedly brought it back to trot. With my rider sprinting towards home I started jogging back with the pony. Who bronced merrily alongside me to the watching parents horror!
My rider thankfully hadn't seen this acrobatic display and happily got back on, and for the rest of the games her pony decided that he'd expended enough energy for tonight and was perfectly behaved, standing perfectly still while she picked up cups and dropped balls into buckets. She loved the games although I'm not sure who won in the end.
Next up was showjumping. As the pony seemed more settled I asked my rider if she wanted to do the warm up on her own. The lead reins and little ones were warming up together so I felt it would be quiet and safe. She nodded happily, so I stood in the middle with the instructor ready to assist if necessary. I had to bite my tongue a few times when instructors instinct kicked in – "shorten your reins!" "Heels down", those sort of comments. After all, I know how frustrating it is when parents comment from the side lines so I needed to set an example.
They got on well in the warm up, trotting in the small group together and over the pole. When it came to jumping the course I decided it was best to lead my pony and rider. They can jump little courses at home easily, but I was slightly worried that the pony might return to the ride a bit too quickly. I would rather they negotiated the course with me alongside and were safe, and confident afterwards than had a speedy, erratic round that knocked their confidence. The pony was brilliant, and jumped everything nicely from an active trot – although I didn't think I was going to make it around all eight jumps, I'm so unfit!
Pleased with how the jumping had gone, my rider asked me if she could do the final activity on her own. It was the drill ride. I nodded, secretly very relieved, but also pleased that my rider felt confident enough to try riding in a large group alone.
I explained to the instructor that they were perfectly capable but if necessary I would be on the sidelines. I checked that the pony in front of my rider didn't kick. She knows not to get too close, but if there's a choice I'd rather she was behind a non-kicker in case she accidentally got a bit near. It's hard being an instructor and not trying to organise the kids and ponies!
Anyway, I stood well back so I wasn't tempted to interfere, and watched the group of ten, ranging from 16hh horses with 16 year olds to 11hh lead rein ponies with five year olds, learn and ride the drill ride.
I was really proud of my rider holding her own in the group, keeping up and following all the instructions. Riding independently and also being aware of all the others. It's always daunting riding with older and more experienced riders, as well as being in a busy arena, so the fact that her pony was foot perfect and my rider was confident and competent was very satisfying to watch.
After a hot dog and drink, with some new little friends made, we headed off home. My rider had thoroughly enjoyed her first rally and is now very, very excited for camp. I feel more confident in the pony now I've seen him be a perfect gentleman at the rally, and I'm happy my rider will be able to take everything in her stride and have an amazing time. To me, seeing kids have fun and grow as riders is what Pony Club is all about. I'm also now in the Pony Club spirit ready for next week's camp – how exciting!