Equestrian Life
BLOG: Pony Club - what a start!

Words and photos supplied by Abbie O'Brien


Abbie O'Brien June Blog


I was recently asked to be the guest speaker at the annual presentation night for Fernpark Pony Club which is located just outside of Burnie on the north west coast of Tasmania. I was honoured and delighted as I was a member and rider at Fernpark for ten years. My speech outlined my pony club journey as well as giving me the opportunity to present a slide show of my exploits over the years and more recently, a video showing dressage tests with both Fleur and Rajah where I was able to talk the younger riders and their parents through the various movements of the higher level tests.   I first began pony club when I was eight years old as a leading rein rider on my first pony called Jasper.  I participated in all facets of pony club including dressage, jumping, eventing, mounted games, working bees etc and represented my club at zone, state and national level.


Abbie O'Brien June Blog

My first pony, Jasper


I felt that this blog is a good opportunity for me to explore the impact that my pony club had on me while I was growing up. To begin with, pony club caters for riders of all ages, skill levels and disciplines. I have spoken to many other young riders my age who felt that being at pony club with other like-minded young people helped them to continue pursuing equestrian as a sport. I know that I would not be the only one who suffered some bullying at school because of the time I spent with the horses. It was difficult having friends that didn’t understand the time, responsibility, money and care that was involved in keeping a horse.



Abbie O'Brien June Blog


Homebred Arabian "Scooter" and I



Pony club offered a relief from the school week where day in and day out I tried to keep up with the other things my friends were interested in. Like most young girls these things were boys, how to have your hair, how the school uniform was being adjusted to make it “cooler” and who was “ïn” at the time. I most certainly never mentioned my horses; which now when I look back I feel a little ashamed about. As much as I loved my horses and pony club and competing, I had an overwhelming desire to want to fit in with everyone else and I was fearful of being isolated. I have grown much more as a person now of course and these are things we learn in life as we mature.



Abbie O'Brien June Blog


My little sister Kelsey (left) on Whizz and me (right) on my eventer Ben



For me, literally my whole equestrian success so far has stemmed directly from pony club. My pony club coach, Yvonne Downs, encouraged me to attend a clinic with Heath Ryan which was to be held at the pony club grounds. I took her advice and as they say the rest is history! I did work experience with Heath and met my beautiful orange horse, Rajah, as a 4yo at Heath’s property in New South Wales. When I got Rajah back to Tasmania my first outing with him was to a local show being held at pony club. It certainly gives me a feeling that everything happens for a reason!


Many kids who are interested in horses don’t necessarily have parents who know how to help them. At pony club, they are given the skills necessary to look after a horse properly. A child would not get this experience safely anywhere else and it also encourages the parents to learn and become more involved.  When you are young you also have little to no idea what direction you want to go in with your riding – you get access to instructors who help you understand and learn every discipline.



Abbie O'Brien June Blog


My second horse, Cindy



Pony club more importantly gave me the grounding I needed to start my competitive career as a dressage rider. Through owning horses we learn that with success also come hard work, blood, sweat and tears. I learnt how to become part of a team, how to respect others and their achievements and also that winning certainly is not everything. Even when you are not at the top of the leader board, there is always someone there to back you up on the positives and to encourage you to want to do better at the next event. Giving up is always the easier option, but that sets apart the people who really want to achieve something special. Coming from Tasmania, I was already a bit behind the eight ball in comparison to riders who grew up doing their chosen discipline a lot more competitively than me. But it is the drive and determination I developed from the local horse community that helped me believe I could catch up and also be successful.



Abbie O'Brien June Blog


Rajah at the 2012 Pony Club Nationals



With all the emotions that comes with competition, I also had to learn how to communicate my feelings in an appropriate way and to also develop the social skills to talk with adults and other kids. I learnt how to act maturely when everything went wrong and how to have a constructive input into my club. At the end of the day it is always the little things that have an impact on someone. Pony club might just be the appropriate place to send a horse crazy kid until they outgrow that faze in their life but it also might just be the place that changes someone’s life in the most positive ways possible as it did for me. I have an ongoing feeling of mateship with the club and despite the multiple new faces and the notably missing faces it was still the same as I remember – full of kids with hopes and dreams that love horses and parents and helpers that want to see their kids succeed in what they love.



Abbie O'Brien June Blog


Rajah as a 5 year old... We started our partnership at Pony Club in Tasmania!



I also want to include the piece of writing below written by Fernpark Pony club member Chloe Harris the following day after my visit. Chloe is only nine years old and I think her words simply define exactly what pony club is all about.



My First Year at Fernpark Pony Club

This year was my first pony club year. On the first rally I was so excited and all the topics we do are so fun. At the first pony club rally my pony was so good but as the year passed “Fancy” knew I was ready to be tested. So at the first rally she tested me by turning her head to the gate and going in that direction. It was hard to control her at first but by the last rally I had it all under control and it was great. I learnt that horses have a mind of their own and can do whatever they want.

All my teachers/instructors were so helpful and taught me and my group some amazing things that we probably would never have known without them.

Fernpark pony club is the best they will teach you things that even the adults didn't know and that's amazing. 
This year I surprisingly passed my E, D and D* which was spectacularly amazing.

I recommend Fernpark for beginners who have just got on a horse and even adults you will all learn something.
You'll have an awesome DC named Bill and lots of friends.

Presentation night is one amazing night everyone gathers around to award each other and this year Abbie O’Brien came over and told lots of stuff about her years and Fern park and that's why I think Fernpark is the best pony club.

I hope you have fun and keep riding.’


By Chloe Harris



Abbie O'Brien June Blog




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