… never stop talking about Pony Club. Because once you’re in the Club, you’re in it for life — and you’re not alone.
Pony Club alumni are everywhere. They walk among us, disguised as humans, identifiable by their superhuman bandaging skills, freak knowledge of obscure equine trivia and legendary horse management neuroses. Not sure if you’re in the presence of an alum? Hang a water bucket in front of them with the snaps facing outward. If they start twitching, they’re in the Club.
And there’s no escape. Pony Club is like the Hotel California of the horse world. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
As this USPC Blog blog post puts it: “Regardless of your level or how many years you spent in the organization; once a Pony Club Member, always a Pony Club Member!”
Fortunately, along with all that OCD baggage, Pony Club is known for instilling within its membership a number of healthy, hard-won qualities: discipline, work ethic, focus, drive and myriad other character traits that contribute to a lifetime of success in the equestrian realm and beyond.
The USPC’s Pin Promise campaign makes it a little easier to give credit where credit is due. Launched in 2012, it’s an initiative encouraging members, volunteers and alumni to wear their Pony Club pins outside of USPC affiliated functions, mirroring the impact that Pony Club has had on many members’ lives.
Macy Carman, former Chair of Pony Club’s National Youth Board, wrote the pledge:
Macy explains, “Back when the pledge was first written, we set our sights on increasing the number of pins seen at equestrian events, but our members have gone above and beyond, wearing their pins in a variety of settings which they believed their Pony Club experience prepared them for, including job fairs, interviews and conferences.”
Macy’s path has traversed a range of experiences, from working as an equestrian professional to pursuing a career in law. Her Pony Club background helped prepare her for both ends of the spectrum.
“I have had the privilege of being a professional groom at the upper levels of eventing and have seen firsthand how practical the skills and character attributes that the Pony Club curriculum aims to develop are to success,” Macy says.
“My own journey has taken me away from a professional equestrian path (graduate school at Columbia University and now working for the Southern Environmental Law Center) but I can attribute much of my personal character and success to qualities and skills that I developed in Pony Club, as a traditional H-A member and as a representative within the organization.”
The Pin Promise is also a tribute to the sense of camaraderie that Pony Clubbers experience, not just while they’re active members but for years, even decades, after they graduate. As a Pony Club grad myself (H-A and proud of it!) I can testify to this.
More than 10 years after graduating, my heart still leaps a little every time I meet someone with a Pony Club background. Even if we’re complete strangers, having that shared history creates an instant sense of connection and friendship — and often devolves into an exchange of inside jokes and Pony Club war stories (here’s one of my favorites).
“Those in Pony Club often talk about their ‘Pony Club family,’ the mentors, coaches, parents, and friends who become a part of their team. After being involved in Pony Club for 19 years, I can attest that this family is international and that each member has more family than they will ever have the chance to meet,” Macy says.
“In an era of team sport popularity, it is a powerful experience to be able to identify with a group in a sport that focuses on individual performance. By wearing pins, our members and alumni are proudly identifying their affiliation with Pony Club to their fellow Pony Club members in addition to the general public.”
The pins are also just great advertising for a program that is arguably more important now than ever.
“From my perspective, riding as a youth sport is changing,” Macy says. “It is no longer necessary to own your own horse, have your own barn or have parents that have any familiarity with the equestrian world. We have made Pony Club accessible to these riders, and wanted to use the absolute best advertising we have, our own competent members and alumni, to represent what Pony Club means to those who may not be familiar with us yet.”
If you noticed a bunch of Pony Club pins wondering around the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event this year, Pin Promise is to thank. Past and present Pony Club members stopped by the USPC trade fair booth in droves to pledge allegiance to the organization, signing their name to a banner and taking a pin. Their signatures filled up an entire banner each day.
Riders got in on the action as well. The 2015 Rolex roster boasted 41 competitors who were Pony Club alums. That’s two-thirds of the field.
Inspired by Pin Promise, several riders elected to wear their Pony Club pins throughout the weekend. Among them: Bunnie Sexton (H-A, Santa Ynez Valley PC); Colleen Rutledge (A, Frederick PC); Tim Bourke (Clew Bay PC in Ireland); Allie Sacksen (A, Brandywine Hounds PC); Maya Black (A, Whidbey Island PC); Gina Miles (A, Panache PC); William Fox-Pitt (B, West Street Branch PC in Great Britain); Allie Knowles (A, Sierra Gold PC); Julie Norman (B, Gator Bayou PC); Ellen Doughty-Hume (A, Trinity Hills II PC); Sara Kozumplik-Murphy (A, Dominion Valley PC); Erin Sylvester (C-2, North River PC); and Angela Gryzwinski (H-A, Sangre de Cristo PC).
And, of course, the riders themselves are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Pony Club’s Rolex connections. From vets to volunteers, the organization’s roots permeate every level of the event. Erin Rose, who won the Shapley’s Groom Award for her spit-polish turnout of Nina Gardner’s Cambalda, is a C-3/H-B from Triad Pony Club in North Carolina, just to name one example.
The USPC’s Pin Promise program continues to gain recognition, with a spin-off of the pledge launched by the British Pony Club last year.
Once a Pony Clubber, always a Pony Clubber — and there’s no need to be bashful about letting the whole world know. Wear those pins with pride!
Go Pony Club, and Go Eventing.