Return to:
Windy Meadow Farm
    Horses and Riding
  Farm Life
Horse Jokes
List of other articles on by:


Reforming the Pony Club Eventer

Michael Hillman

I was the ripe old age of twenty-four the first time I ever heard the term 'Pony Club.' Up until that time, my riding experience was limited to hunter shows and the occasional trail ride. A home port change for the submarine I was serving on at the time necessitated a move to New Hampshire. As fortune would have it, the closest barn to the sub base was also the home to the Haverhill Pony Club. While the folks seemed nice, and the facility was well kept, the real clincher for me was that board included three lessons a week with all the Pony Club members.

Having spent years with big prestigious show hunter riders, going to a barn full of ponies and taking lessons with kids didn't exactly thrill me. But not having to shell out $80 bucks for a lesson did have its benefits. It didn't take long for reality to make itself known. For the first few days I kept quiet, not sure how to broach the question of where all the ponies were. I really found myself scratching my head at the start of my first group lesson when I walked into the arena and found myself among a group of adults and kids, all on horses!

That evening, the club's DC took me out for drinks and explained the goals and structure of the Pony Club. They helped me fit in and the kids gave me an honorary rating of F-4, or was it 4-F?

Over the next two years, the Haverhill Pony Club guided my introduction to the world of eventing and I've never looked back. The end of the submarine overhaul and a career change ended my involvement with the Haverhill Pony Club. For the following few years, my involvement with Pony Club was limited to trying to date A's and B's of legal age.

The years have passed and I now live with my wife in Maryland. Not too many years back, a B Pony Clubber asked to board with us as she went to a local college. She was great. Shortly after she left, another B asked to board with us. She too was great. Then came C-2 Pony Clubber Cassie……

I first met Cassie Frederick at the MCTA horse trials. At the time she was struggling to solidify her position as a training level eventer. The struggle wasn’’t due to her ability, but to her situation. Her ride was a loaner horse whom she got only after the hunt season was over. As a result, in the spring she was forever playing catch-up, and in the fall, just when she got things rolling, she would have to send the horse back to the hunt. In spite of all these obstacles, she was still doing pretty well.

Like most good young riders, Cassie was bitten by the horse bug at an early age. As a tot, she would spend entire afternoons just sitting on horses while they grazed and would scream for hours if her Mom dared take her down. All Cassie ever wanted was a pony of her own. Unable to resist her pleas any longer, her parents finally gave in, and at the age of 12 she received a Christmas present named Pasha.

Pasha, was a very (emphasis on very!) green three-year-old who, while being tried out for the first time, immediately dumped Cassie to the ground. Unfazed, Cassie rolled to her feet and informed her Mom, "He's great!" Cassie's judgment proved correct, and the pair was quite successful, winning enough ribbons to paper the bedroom and stall several times over.

Cassie's success with Pasha, as great as it was, was not so remarkable when you consider the background of her riding mentor. Kittie, Cassie's mother, was an 'A' level show hunter rider, who is a teacher by profession and has a wonderful natural eye for horses and their training.

Easy wins in the hunter ring, however, soon got old, and Cassie began casting about for something more challenging. In the fall of 1996 Cassie joined Pony Club, and like me thirteen years earlier, was introduced to the world of eventing. To no one's surprise, Pasha and Cassie ended that year with a run at the Pony Club Nationals.

Cassie eventually outgrew Pasha. Fortunately, her mother had others waiting in the wings. Unable to afford made horses, the pair would scan want ads and patrol auctions for horses that showed potential. Under the watchful eye of her mother, some made it, a few didn't, but no matter the outcome, Cassie never failed to learn something. Cassie borrowed and begged, and took what came. She rode what she sat on as best she could and learned from them all.

Cassie soon mastered everything her small Pony Club could offer. While her mother felt confidant helping her at Novice and Training, when Cassie mentioned wanting to take a crack at Preliminary, Kittie counted herself out. For reasons that still escape me, Cassie asked me for help.

Now as for the title of the story, it goes like this. Around our barn, help is more valuable than money. As such, lessons are exchanged for help. This has several benefits. One, it frees my wife for gardening. Two, it lightens the financial burden on the parents. Three, and most importantly, because kids earn the lessons themselves, they seem to pay more attention to what is being taught and work harder at mastering it.

Unlike the two previous Pony Clubbers we had, Cassie was a fervent Pony Clubber. It soon became apparent to us all that the 'Pony Club according to Cassie' had rules for just about everything under the sun - from how to fold a towel, to the proper way to sweep a barn aisle, how to wrap a horse's leg, even how much to fill a water bucket!

Now don't get me wrong. The standards the Pony Club encourages are great -- no ifs, and, or buts. But they are standards, not laws. While verbatim compliance is sufficient for some, for others, it is the rationale behind them that is important.

I count my wife, Audrey, in the latter group. After four years as a USET groom, and countless more caring for International mounts, she works to her own standards, the quality of which no one could ever dare doubt. My first recognition of the gulf between my standards and my future wife's came when I was showing off my nuclear-engineered muck pile. Knowing her background, I had sought to impress her, and toiled on the muck heap’’s square-ness for hour upon hour. In spite of my efforts, she was unimpressed, and even asked when I planned to 'square it up?' Figuring that anyone with such a keen eye would assuredly keep my horses in the style I desired, I married her.

So it was into Audrey's barn that Cassie walked, and in spite of everyone's best intentions things got off to a rocky start. Unaware of Audrey's background, and in hopes of proving her worth, Cassie began to note to Audrey various noncompliance with Pony Club standards, even going so far as to cite specific PC chapter and verse.

Audrey looked at Cassie serenely and went on her way. For what seemed like an eternity, but actually was just a few days, we turned a deaf ear to Cassie's Pony Club raves. But suffice it say, Audrey soon had her fill. Cassie soon learned in no uncertain terms that Audrey did not care to be held to Pony Club standards, her Olympic standards suited her quite well, thank you very much.

To Cassie's credit, she took it all in and never missed a beat. Soon she was asking Audrey the rationale behind what Audrey did, and in doing so, began to add Audrey's years of experience to what she had been learned at Pony Club.

Cassie's willingness to change and explore new ways of handling horses made it easy to like her, though for a time, she was rather gun shy. This had its humorous benefits, which everyone at the barn jumped to exploit. A casual stare, a blank face, was sure to elicit a nervous response of "What?" from Cassie. The more we stared, the more nervous she got, eventually however, she caught onto the joke.

Cassie is now a regular part of the crew. We always look forward to seeing her. No matter how horrible the weather, she is always happy and cheerful. We don't hear much about Pony Club anymore, but knowing Cassie, Pony Club will always be in her life. Somewhere out there is a Pony Club that is destined to have her as their DC, and when they get her, they're going to get someone very knowledgeable and very special. Someone who will have developed her own "best" way, backed with solid rationale. This by the way, is what I understand a graduate "A" is all about.

Unfortunately for Cassie, she had no sooner joined our crew then her loner horse went lame, and any hope of a run at Preliminary was banished for the foreseeable future. Undaunted, Cassie turned her attention and efforts towards her own horse, Irish, a big, loveable five year old. The adventures of the two as they learned to become a winning team, are stories in themselves……

Read other horse related stories by Michael Hillman

Read other stories by Michael Hillman