Friday’s Five – Pony Club rules that are slightly too impractical
I’m a proud Pony Club alumnus. For horsemanship and riding instruction, Pony Club can’t be beat. It’s the gold standard of horse safety, and if a kid has come through the ratings, you know they have met certain requirements for knowledge and skill. I didn’t make it to my A rating– I came to a cross-roads in life where it was either go for the national ratings, or go to a CCI*– and I chose the three day. Don’t regret it for a moment, but I also am very thankful to the rock-solid foundation Pony Club gave to me.
That said–I’m not a Pony Clubber anymore. I am an adult, have my own farm, my own horses, and my own rules. A lot of those rules are still PC approved, like cotton lead ropes, tying to twine, and no nylon halters…and ALWAYS wear a helmet when mounted… but other Pony Club Commandments I’ve chosen to bend just a little.
Five things Pony Club taught me NOT to do (but I do anyways)
1. Walk with spurs on.
I never understood this one. You go to your formal inspection, your horse is gleaming, tack perfectly adjusted, boots spit-shined, and your polished spurs are in your hands. According to Pony Club, walking in spurs is a super dangerous thing, because… you might trip on them? A surprise to me, as I leave my spurs on my paddock boots 100% of the time, and have not yet fallen on my face due to a spur malfunction. Thanks to Nunn Finer’s Easiest Spur Straps Yet (an ingenious stretchy rubber strap!), I slip my boots on and off without ever unbuckling my spurs. I forget they are there, except when I need them for their intended purpose on a horse. Sorry Pony Club, not going to abide by this rule.
2. Lead multiple horses at a time.
Face it, if you have two or more horses turned out together, sometimes it’s a necessity to lead them in or out in pairs. Leaving one horse alone outside while you bring his buddy in, can often make him panic, run, and do something stupid. Bringing them in together just makes sense. If your horses have excellent ground manners and lead well (imperative in my barn), you should have little trouble. Pony Club teaches you to lead from both sides, right? Why not a horse on each side?
I do bend this rule a little more still… for a VERY long hike to the turnout field, I will lead three or even four well-behaved horses at a time. Again, impeccable ground manners are not negotiable. I’m sure my Pony Club examiners are going apoplectic at such heresy, but I’ve only got so much time in a day to get horses moved around. Admittedly, horses will be horses and sometimes ‘saving time’ will add 20 minutes to your day, chasing a loose horse, but that’s a risk I take.
3. Leave bandages on for turnout.
Pony Club is very, very particular about their bandaging. This is mostly a good thing, since correct technique is important because improper bandaging can cause damage to a horse’s leg. It is a risk to turn out a horse wearing a bandage, all that freedom of movement can make it slip or come undone. However, in my experience, many minor swellings are greatly assisted by allowing the horse to move. Plus there are instances (such as gaping wounds) where you need a bandage on to help keep an injury clean, so it can heal. I trust my bandaging skills implicitly, and in the right circumstances I will definitely turn a horse out wearing a bandage. Usually, a modified polo wrap, applied specifically to limit slippage. Is there a risk of the wrap coming undone and causing all kinds of havoc? Yes, but it hasn’t happened to me yet. Meanwhile, those injuries are all healed up.
4. Use a halter and lead rope whenever you handle a horse.
At Pony Club rallies you would get points deducted if a horse management judge caught you in your pony’s stall for any reason without your pony haltered with a lead rope attached (even just thrown over the neck). Yes, I understand the point of this. Any horse can be naughty, try to escape, or step on you while you are changing bandages, filling his water bucket, or grooming him. When I’m handling my two-year-old colt, I adhere to this rule most of the time because he’s a silly baby. But my 22-year-old, former Pony Club horse? Uhh…I admit he leads himself in and out from the field wearing nothing more than a fly mask. He knows which stall is his, and that’s where he goes. In fact, I find “leading without a halter” to be a useful skill for any horse to know. Out in the field, I can catch my horses halterless and bring one to the gate with my hand under the jaw.
5. Perform a thorough ‘safety check’ before every ride.
What’s a safety check? In Pony Club, an adult or other responsible rider looks over the tack before a Pony Clubber is allowed to mount. It’s meant to teach you to check your saddlery prior to every ride, in case a stirrup leather comes unstitched or a saddle billet shows cracking and excessive wear. I certainly do these things regularly, pretty much before every ride. Except for those rides where I’m not using any saddlery. I do make sure my lead rope is securely attached to the halter before I ride bareback, though. Or that the loop of twine is well-knotted around the horse’s neck when I’m going bridleless. Does that count?