BY CHLOE HARDGRAVE
Long before I owned my first horse, I told myself I wanted to join the United States Pony Club. At the time I only wanted to join because I loved the thought of having customized t-shirts and saddle pads, and heaven forbid I did not get a sweatshirt with our Pony Club’s logo big and bold on the back! But little did I know that Pony Club would do more than meet my eleven-year-old clothing wishes. Pony Club has made me the rider I am today, and will continue to shape me into the rider I want to be in the future.
I started riding when I was five. Only being fifteen now, I have changed a lot over the years. I had the pleasure of owning my first horse at eleven, and then made the decision to seriously start riding in the hunter/jumper world at the age of thirteen. My first horse, Scout, was a paint trail horse my trainer and I taught how to jump. Other than being my first pony, taking me over my first jump (and later teaching me what falling off meant), Scout took me through my first year or so of Pony Club. With Scout, I started Pony Club in September 2015 as an eager kid with her self-taught jumping pony. Now I am a C-1 jumper rider, and I try to convince as many young equestrians as I can to give Pony Club a chance.
Pony Club gives more than riding time. A mistake that most young equestrians, and even their parents make, is that getting to the Olympics means riding constantly, having the best horse, never ceasing to get a blue ribbon, and going to horse shows every weekend. But the truth is, no matter what your goals are, you need to know how to take care of your horse more than any of those things. Sure, getting a blue ribbon is a mark of success, but one success will lead to more when riders know how to make that blue ribbon happen through training, management and horse care. Pony Club teaches the rider to do everything themselves. From starting at the D-1 level to graduating Pony Club as a “A” rated member, the Pony Club members will learn everything they need to know to be a top ranked rider and horse owner.
Another large benefit of Pony Club is teamwork. Hearing the word “team” at a Pony Club rally or meet is more than just a feeling of community. Being a team in Pony Club means you do everything together. You eat, ride, work and hang out together. There are no parents allowed within your team, and no adults are allowed to work out anything amongst the members. With that being said, anyone who is in Pony Club can tell you that you’ll make some amazing friends, and you get to know some amazing people. Some of my best friends have been made through horses and Pony Club.
In my opinion, one of the most important things that Pony Club teaches a young rider is hard work. This sport is expensive. Most riders do not have the money to buy top dollar horses throughout their career. But, I believe, that any horse can be a “top dollar” horse if you put enough work in to it. Pony Club teaches that nothing can be achieved without hard work and determination. It doesn’t matter what horse you own, or how much money you have. What matters is your drive, your determination, and your work ethic.
If you would like to join Pony Club, or are interested in learning more about the organization, please visit: www.ponyclub.org to find a center or club in your area.
Chloe Hardgrave is a C-1 Pony Club member from the Southern California Region. She just purchased her new project horse, “Walk the Line,” who she hopes to take in the equitation, jumper, and hunter rings as well as pony club rallies.