I was hesitant about joining Pony Club at first because I wasn’t sure about how the levels worked, but I decided to stick with it. Now, almost 4 years later, I have nothing but good things to say about it. It has been the most exciting, the most stressful, and the hardest thing I have ever worked towards. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have become closer to my friends than I thought I ever would have and made many new ones along the way. Pony club has taught me that sometimes I just need to go out of my comfort zone in order to do what I want to accomplish Kristen Gilliland of 8T Acres Pony Club said.
At one time, Pony Club was the way to learn to ride, mainly if one was interested in eventing as a sport. It was the start for many children as they went along with their horsey adventures. But, as lesson barns have become a bigger deal for youth, and parents are less likely to have a big enough plot of land to have a pony housed out back, Pony Clubs are becoming less common, at least in this area. In recent years, Pony Club has broadened to include a wide variety of disciplines including Western sports, gaming, and more.
Pony Club is an international youth organization focused on both riding and education regarding horse care. The United States Pony Clubs, Inc. started in 1954 to teach riding and the proper care of horses. It is based on The British Pony Club, which was created in 1929 as a junior branch of the Institute of the Horse. Since then, Pony Club has expanded to many countries around the world, with the primary goal being to promote sportsmanship, stewardship, and leadership through horsemanship. As they become better riders and horse people, students move up through levels or “ratings” from D-3 through A level.
Finding a Club branch can be hard. In Vermont, there are only three Pony Club branches, and none in the Upper Valley. The branches are in Charlotte, Rutland, and Essex Junction, VT, all a good distance from the Norwich area. However, in recent years 8T Acres Equestrian Center opened in Hanover, NH and is a Pony Club Center. The only difference between a center and a branch is that Pony Club members don’t need to have access to their own horse, they can ride lesson horses from the barn. 8T Acres is the only Pony Club Center in New Hampshire or Vermont.
Ashley Glynn opened 8T Acres Equestrian Center in Hanover in 2014. Ashley has been riding horses since the age of five and a Pony Club member for nearly as long. In college, Ashley studied pre-veterinary courses before transferring and obtaining her B.A. in Equine Business. She has spent time coaching Colby Sawyer College's IHSA team as well as training young horses and teaching lessons at Horton's Farm in Grantham. She also has her A Rating (highest rating you can have) in Pony Club in the tracks of dressage, jumping, and eventing.
Currently, Ashley is the only person in the United States to have three A ratings.
One of the most essential parts of Pony Club, Ashley noted, is the emphasis on education regarding horse care and horsemanship. Often students who just take lessons won’t receive the same knowledge about feeding regimens, home vet care, farriers, groundwork and more; however, these are incredibly important things for students to learn if they have or have the goal of owning their own
The other aspect Ashley appreciates is the emphasis on teamwork. At Pony Club rallies (competitions), the riders ride as a team rather than as individuals. Students learn to support and help each other. Pony Club also teaches members to instruct, allowing students to practice and to respect the individual process and progress of each other.
8T Acres Pony Club member Kirsten Gilliland of Grafton agrees, “Pony Club promotes maturity and teaches you and others to prepare for and to be prepared for different scenarios. You learn about farrier work and the different components of nutrition. I not only gained confidence in myself but I have learned how to learn from my mistakes and teach the younger members in my Pony club.”
Kirsten, a 16-year-old member of 8T Acres Pony Club, has been dedicated to the Club for the last four years. “I am extremely lucky to have gotten into a very non-competitive Pony Club that is very welcoming to new members and where everyone is eager to learn and teach the new members. Our pony club ranges from ages 5 to 17, which allows older members to have a positive effect on younger members.”
“One of my biggest motivators has been Ashley Glynn who has been a part of pony club since she was a kid.”
It’s a family affair for Kirsten, as both her younger sister, Lauren, and her grandmother are Pony Club members as well. Her grandmother, Joyce Truman, keeps both girls’ horses on her property and manages much of their daily care. When Kirsten joined Pony Club, Joyce learned about a program for those who are over 25 years old (the cutoff age for Pony Club) called Horsemasters.
The Horsemasters program follows the same curriculum and tests for the various levels as Pony Club and you are rated in the same manner. Joyce even decided that she would like to learn more about horse care and would like to get back on a horse after a two-year hiatus this year, but has been in the Horsemaster’s program for three years. “I wanted to know what I am looking at besides feeding them, farrier, vet, and how to take care of them better… There’s a lot to know about!”
Horsemasters is a fantastic opportunity that is particularly suited to those adults who want to get back into riding. However, even adults who have never ridden or worked with horses will benefit tremendously from Horsemasters.
There are a lot of choices for riding education in the Upper Valley, but not many programs that are focused equally on riding and on horse care. The Pony Club’s emphasis on both has it winning by a nose!