Ella Rak, age 16, is an eventer and C2-rated Pony Clubber. She takes us behind the scenes of a Pony Club event.
Top: Difficult Run Pony Clubbers helping a fellow member after XC. Photo by Lee Rouse, used with permission.
If you event, likelihood is that you have been to a Pony Club event. It doesn’t matter where you live in the country, whether it is is recognized or unrecognized, these events are the backbone of many of our competition seasons, and provide a lot more to the community than just another competition. The only way to truly learn is to experience, and when you give Pony Clubbers the opportunity to be involved from maintenance, to set up, to tear down, and everything in between, you can help them experience many of the gears that keep our events running.
My first experience with the sport came from before I had owned a horse or really showed at all, working at the biannual horse trials at Frying Pan Park, and I was hooked. Younger members start out helping hand out awards, running dressage scores, or what started as my personal favorite, pinny collecting. When you are 7 or 8 years old and chasing after your personal black stallion that just finished the prelim cross country, you can’t be happier, and if you have the chance to chase down a big-shot rider, you might as well be meeting a member of One Direction. As you get older and more experienced with how a horse trial works, you get to move on to the high stakes jobs: the scribes, stewards and jump judges. When you are learning on the job, you can absorb the rules and regulations, as well as the good, the bad, and the ugly riding faster than you ever could at home. When show jump scribing or jump judging you watch the same course or single jump over and over again, and you can tell what is working and what isn’t. Was it the riders who sank the weight into their heels before a jump that went clear? Is it legal to hit your horse in front of the breastplate? What are those darn cones there for? But essentially, why did one horse make it around and the other didn’t?
We all crave the scribbled commentary at the bottom of our tests from the judge, so listening to exactly what the judge is looking for 8 hours straight of scribing is better than a hundred scribbled test comments (even if you can’t feel your hands by the end of the day). Again you have the chance to truly learn what they are looking for, without the years of trial and error at competitions. When stewarding, not only do you get to be highly involved behind the scenes, but you actually get to interact with competitors! Though you always get the outlying horse who tries to kill you when you check its bit, overall you get to influence a competitor’s opinion of your event from the very beginning. I live for the small talk with competitors about their horses and how their day is going, but when the professionals start coming through, I feel like a bouncer at the Oscars. It is not all fun and games though, as everyone at some point makes a mistake and forgets to change their bit, that hunt caps aren’t legal, or one of the countless other infractions. No wants to have to send you back to fix something more the stewards, and by god, they don’t want their ring running late any more than you do. They are probably far more stressed out than you are if things truly start slipping behind, and will do everything they can to give you the best ride possible.
Speaking of rules, working with the TD and Ground jury will help you understand the ins and outs of certain rules. I didn’t realize what a resource these officials are until we worked with them during the event. I used to think that they were the bad guys, just there waiting for you to make a mistake, but really they are one of your greatest assets, answering even your most bizarre questions about the rules. (So bell boots on all four is legal right?) They are there to help you, and will do everything they can to help you have a safe ride. Developing a relationship with the officials is especially rewarding, not only when you are competing, but also for the stories of eventing in every era.
My first recognized event at Difficult Run Pony Club HT, proving that it takes a village to raise an eventer.
The number one thing I love about pony club events though, is the incredible welcoming community they provide. As a competitor, you are some of these kids’ past, some of their competition, even some of their heroes. The first recognized event I ever did was my Club’s HT, and nothing helps more to get a petrified kid home safely as having every single jump judge on course cheering her on as the trot around a BN course. Humiliation turns to humbling when you hear encouraging statements over the loud speaker, you feel you can do anything. You get to know the regular attendees, talk to people who share your passion, and truly be involved as a positive member of the community you love.
A group of current, former and future Pony Clubbers at the River Bend Pony Club Combined Test, showing the true community Pony Club forms.
The biggest thing I have learned is how much work it takes to put on an event. You have to start preparing months in advance, and even then it takes an army to run an event smoothly. You have a whole community of your friends and family working together to clean up the cross-country course, to paint an entire course of jumps in a single night, to transform a public park in a highly-populated DC suburb into a true test of equine discipline, agility and endurance. So as you plan the rest of your competition schedule, keep in mind how much attending a Pony Club event can mean for you, for the little Pony Clubber running around your barn, and the event community as a whole. (And my shameless plug, Difficult Run is having a Unrecognized HT August 24-25 if you are in the area.)