Ninety Years of The Pony Club – Celebrations at Gatcombe
In 2019, The Pony Club has been celebrating its ninetieth birthday with special events at venues up and down the country. It was started in 1929 as a junior part of the Institute of the Horse, (now the British Horse Society) with Harry Faudel-Phillips as its head. Celebrations were held around the world over the first weekend of August titled “World Ride”. In the UK, there was a special parade of members at The Festival of British Eventing.
The Pony Club’s mission if you like was to provide encouragement to young people to learn to ride, to look after their horses with care and possibly most important of all, to educate young people to integrate with their peers, enjoy their company and honour the ideals of sportsmanship and citizenship. Throughout the ninety years, those objectives have remained steadfastly the same. The popularity of the Pony Club grew at a phenomenal rate during the next few years, and at its peak, registered nearly 44,000 members in the UK in the early eighties. Since then, the numbers have dropped slightly by a few thousand, but with the changes of modern society and the way we live, together with other modern activities, this is no surprise.
The Pony Club has also enjoyed Royal Patronage. H.R.H Prince Philip became closely involved in 1957 when the “The Prince Philip Cup” was inaugurated. This was for teams to compete against one another in various fun and bluntly sometimes ludicrous activities with their ponies. The competition still runs today much as it did when it started. In 2002, Prince Philip handed the Royal baton on the H.R.H Princess Anne who has always supported it with great enthusiasm. Princess Anne was the Pony Club’s president from 2003 till 2010 when She became its life long patron. It is therefore no surprise that at the Festival of British Eventing, held at Gatcome Park, Princess Anne’s country home last weekend, the Pony Club held their “World Ride Parade”, when over 200 members with their horses, paraded in front of a packed arena to help celebrate its 90th birthday.
One of the Pony Club’s great legacies is how the movement has spread worldwide. From the very early days, Gibraltar became the first territory outside the U.K to have its own branch of the Pony Club affiliated to the U.K. Since then, many other countries have also joined in from across the globe from The U.S.A to Australia. Another great positive is how many top riders competing at the very highest levels in the world started their riding in the Pony Club.
One of the huge strengths of the Pony Club is its organisation. Apart from only a very few, who run the framework from their office in Stonleleigh, the whole thing is really run by volunteers. Many people give a lot of their time for free to arrange annual camps, lectures and lessons for members as well as all the thousands of competitions each year, providing fun and comradeship for all. Just in the U.K., there are well over 300 branches, so it is not difficult to image how many volunteers are needed keep this movement going for the 37,000 plus members, none of whom can be over the age of 25.
Clearly, after 90 years, the ethos of the Pony Club is very much alive and well with its traditional values. May it long continue, especially in our modern times of diversity and change.
With thanks to The Pony Club and Bernard Simpson for the Images