Health Page: Pony Club Imparts Horse Sense At True North Farm
By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley
Kay Slater, owner of True North Farm in Harwich, trotted out an entire herd of answers when asked what makes Pony Club special. After several tries, she finally settled on something unexpected.
“I love that the testing is oral,” she responded. “Getting especially young girls to speak out loud confidently about what they know is life changing.”
Pony Club provides a comprehensive horse education curriculum which is woven into practice at True North. The farm's Pony Club members and training clients work together in shared methods of safe and sound horse care.
Slater is also a clinical social worker who treats primarily adolescent girls and women. She said many of her True North Pony Club girls won’t struggle with the same challenges of lack of confidence that some others might.
“What these Pony Club members learn is impressive and quite academic, and to get them speaking it out loud and confidently is pretty great. Parents tell me all the time that their kids improve in school after they get deeply involved in Pony Club as they learn what they can do.”
The United States Pony Clubs, Inc. is a national organization founded in 1954 to teach riding and the proper care of horses. Based on the British Pony Club, which began in 1929, the U.S. Pony Club has expanded and grown over the years to promote not only good horsemanship but qualities of sportsmanship, stewardship and leadership. The fact that these valuable qualities can be nurtured while having fun with friends and spending healthy time outdoors riding horses is the icing on the cake.
“We might take extra time with our Pony Club kids to find teachable moments that relate to their level in Pony Club, especially when leading up to a testing,” Slater said. “So we get our kids to talk about and demonstrate what they know.”
Pony Club members at True North are expected to follow Pony Club practices in how they handle their horses and think about the horse care. True North Farm is an eventing training facility — a discipline in which horse and rider teams compete against others in dressage, cross-country and jumping. Slater said this weaves well with Pony Club as their focus on conditioning and training in the multiple disciplines needed for the sport of eventing gives the kids lots of opportunities to use their Pony Club knowledge.
“For example, I find Pony Clubbers are much more prepared and diligent in their conditioning, planning and follow through as they all keep detailed record books on their horses as part of their Pony Club practice anyway,” Slater said. “The Pony Club kids keep record books that include nutrition, vet care, lesson and training notes, conditioning, expenses, and more. This makes them understand the whole picture of maintaining a horse, and I think they become a bit more appreciative of what it takes!”
This type of responsibility and attention to detail can create skills and habits that can be applied throughout many areas of life, from time management for school to future college studies to a built-in work ethic that might take some other individuals years to develop on their own.
In order to stay safe and healthy during the current pandemic, True North's 25 Pony Club members, ranging in age from 9 to 19, attend an online weekly educational meeting via Zoom. During the meetings, members learn and study together about horse management, land conservation, equine sport, veterinary care, emergency first aid, poisonous plants, tack and equipment, conformation and lameness and other topics. Group mounted-riding clinics provide opportunities to come together with Pony Club members not based at the farm.
“Our kids think these group lessons are fun, and it’s also a great chance to get the kids together to know each other better so when we go to off-site team competitions they know and work well together,” Slater said
Due to the pandemic there have been no team competitions this year, so Slater said they have stepped up their remote Zoom-based education and tried to do some extra small group lesson programming.
“We anticipate the Pony Club National Office will be hosting a virtual Quiz Rally this winter which we will participate in,” Slater explained. “Our kids love Quiz Rally as it’s a chance to show what they have worked so hard to learn together as teams. It’s kind of like Jeopardy for horse kids and is quite intense!”
Slater mentions that another quality about Pony Club that she cherishes is the fact that it has been around for a long time, and it becomes a constant, something stable (pun intended) that kids can return to again and again, all the way to adulthood. Slater herself was a Pony Club kid in the Upper Valley Pony Club in Woodstock, Vt.
“My mother was also a member of the British Pony Club growing up in England,” Slater said. “Pony Club was the center of my childhood, and I remain friends and colleagues still with many of my Pony Club childhood friends. I love the generational growth from child participant to young adult volunteer, to adult leader or coordinator,” Slater said. “People tend to stay connected to Pony Club through their lives if their Pony Club was a good one.”
For more information about Pony Club at True North farm, including how to get involved, visit truenortheventing.com.