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In the club

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in our latest issue, click here.

How could you not want to be a pony club mum?

How could you not want to be a pony club mum?


Next time you see a Pony Club Mum who looks like she’s been hard at it since dawn, don’t fret for her too much. Like me, she’s probably having a ball.

IN RECENT YEARS I’ve become a Pony Club Mum. Whenever I attend a horse event, I am always fascinated by the other mothers.  I watch them, many with no prior experience of horses, valiantly grappling with horse floats, wrestling with the intricacies of bridles, straps, bits and buckles, lunging energetic ponies and soothing their fractious riders. And I know all too well of the untold hours spent braving the elements feeding, rugging and exercising ponies while their young masters and mistresses are at school. At times I can’t help but wonder why we do it. Surely, with the ever-increasing busyness of modern life, our Pony Club Sundays might be better spent feet up with a well-earned cup of tea and the weekend papers.

When put this proposition to the most “extreme” Pony Club mother I know, I was stunned by the clarity of her response. “I’m giving my girls the childhood I never had,” she told me matter of factly. Gosh. There it was – Jung’s theory that a powerful influence on a child’s environment will be the unlived life of a parent – perfectly summed up in a simple sentence. It certainly got me thinking. Is that what Pony Club is all about? Are we Pony Club mothers simply creating, reliving or extending our own horse-mad childhoods, whether real or imagined?
Like many young girls, my entrée to the world of horses was through books and, oh! What fantasy lives I lived through them!  At various points throughout my childhood I rode hunters in Ireland, schooled perfect ponies over jumps in English riding schools, spent time as the daughter of a Wyoming rancher and galloped across the Snowy Mountains after the silver brumby. Most compellingly of all, I was Norah of Billabong, a plucky, level-headed, capable country girl who flew over fences on ponies nobody else could handle.


A typical pony club scene.

A typical pony club scene.

The reality was somewhat less thrilling.  Having decided early on that I was not destined to take out the Garryowen, my parents took the rather dispiriting view that expenditure on horses and associated equipment was not going to form a significant part of the family budget. Nevertheless, I determinedly navigated my way through childhood on a series of ponies, mostly of the “free to a good home” sort, distinguished variously by their great age, persistent lameness or resolute opposition to performing in the “dressage arena” I had so painstakingly rigged up in the sheepyards.

Fast-forward 25 years or more and I revel in drip-feeding my nine-year-old daughter books from the canon of essential horse literature. When she wants to get out the trotting poles, I am willing to help, knowing well that she is going through a Judith M. Beresford Jackie phase. Last Christmas was without doubt my best ever. On Christmas morning our daughter woke to discover Lucy, an impossibly pretty and much longed-for second pony; mane and tail adorned with festive ribbons, hidden in the garden. How’s that for a childhood fantasy fulfilled!

Having watched my daughter struggling to get her old faithful first pony past a shambling trot, I now love watching her and Lucy in action at Pony Club. Lucy is just the sort of willing, active and obedient pony that appeared regularly in my childhood dreams. I’m only too happy to lunge her and, if the occasion requires it, hop on her back. Close my eyes for a moment and all of a sudden, fast approaching 40, I’m having a Jackie moment myself.

I’m pleased to report that I am also the proud mother of that rare and highly prized article – a Pony Club boy. He is a farm lad and I always knew the siren call of the motorbike engine would be strong. Early in his Pony Club career, we attended a rally at which an experienced show mother talked us through the process of preparing a pony for the show circuit. I saw my son’s face, equal parts fascination and horror, as the intricacies of false tails and makeup were discussed, and knew then and there that without dramatic intervention he would be lost to horses forever.


Kids and their ponies © Elle Roux

Kids and their ponies.

© Elle Roux

Dramatic intervention came, thundering over the High Plains, in the ultra-manly form of Tom Burlinson. From that first thrilling (dare I say, masterstroke) screening of The Man from Snowy River, jodhpurs were out and moleskins in. When I discovered my son lolling about in his room with a girl from his class listening to Jessica’s Theme I knew my work was done. By pure chance, the pony we found for him is a buckskin, a miniature replica of Jim Craig’s faithful steed. Best of all, we joined a new Pony Club that sprang up in our area, one dedicated to teaching practical horsemanship skills for farm kids. Our rallies include bush rides, mustering and stockwhip-cracking. I absolutely love it and am quite sure Norah of Billabong would have approved.

Last winter holidays, the children and I left my husband and younger son burrowed deep into their warm beds as we set off at dawn for Pony Club Camp. My non-horsey friends thought the whole exercise sounded ghastly, a mix of tents, ponies and young children was surely an event to be endured but not enjoyed. But I will never forget the feeling of intense joy that overcame me that morning as we drove along, chatting excitedly, all the while looking back for the reassuring sight of two sets of pony ears in the rearview mirror. “Yippee!” shouted my inner 12-year-old. Yes, this was the life I wanted to be living. 





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