Just a year after she teamed up with her rescued thoroughbred mare, After Thought, Manada Creek Pony Clubber Rebecca Light qualified — with her hand and arm in a cast — for the three foot jumper division at Pony Club Nationals at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The United States Pony Club’s mission is deceptively simple: to develop character, leadership and a sense of community in youth through a variety of horsemanship programs. In July, 4,000 Pony Clubbers and their families from around the United States gathered at the Kentucky Horse Park to demonstrate what the group’s mission looks like in the real world of kids, horses, and the exhilarating brew of hope, confidence, courage and youthful (does it ever get old?) passion for all things equine. The Festival, which occurs every three years, includes competition as well as educational clinics.
Pony Club members who compete at the Festival qualify through participation in regional rallies. Joan Light of Lebanon, whose daughter Rebecca is competing in the Jumpers, says that Pony Club creates a vastly different atmosphere than the competitions most people associate with horse shows. “In Pony Club, you go to rallies and you compete on a team, so you want the whole team to do well.” King Construction of New Holland, is sponsoring Rebecca’s travel to and from Kentucky. The company builds equestrian facilities throughout the eastern United States.
Developing Skills, Helping Others
And the Pony Club goal of developing leadership is a driving force at the rallies, too, where parents are only marginally involved—mostly as drivers of trailers and chauffeurs for the competitors. “When they go to a rally, even the little kids, there are no parents involved.” Light explains. “There are older children involved, and there is horse management involved. They get a score for their actual riding, and a score for horse management.” The older Pony Clubbers help the younger ones, and cheer for them as they compete.
Rebecca Light has been a Pony Clubber for 10 years, and competes at the C2 level. Pony Club ratings for competitors are based on achievement of certain benchmarks, or standards. Ratings at the local level range from D1 to D3 and from C1 to C2. The D1 through D3 ratings recognize a Pony Clubber’s knowledge of and proficiency in the daily care of a pony and tack, as well as riding independently at the walk, trot and canter and jumping over low fences.
The C1 and C2 ratings are achieved by members who have demonstrated the ability to care independently for a pony and tack and to understand the principles behind the care. On horseback, they demonstrate confidence in all phases of riding, and jumping three-foot fences. “She has gone to the highest rank she can get to on a regional level. The next rating will be on a national level,” Light says of her daughter.
Rebecca didn’t take an easy route to get to the Festival. Before the regional competition, she was chasing one of the family’s Jack Russell terriers in the house, slipped and broke her thumb, and competed with a cast on her arm and hand. Her mother says Rebecca—embarrassed by what seemed like a silly accident—was hoping to come up with a more dramatic explanation of her injury. Although the break has healed, she was still wearing a splint during competition at the Festival.
Core Values, Practical Lessons
Pony Club’s core values of Horsemanship, Organized teamwork, Respect, Service and Education are more than words in a handbook, Light says. “Pony club has touched every part of our life. It has helped Rebecca stay organized, and another big part of Pony Club is giving back. As Rebecca has gone up the ranks, we’ve had many instructors who started out as Pony Clubbers. Rebecca spends a lot of time working with the younger kids.”
Light recalls one school project that demonstrated how much the Pony Club mission had permeated Rebecca’s life. “Pony Clubbers have to keep a record book for three months. You have to record every time you buy something, every time you’ve ridden, every time the blacksmith has come,” she explains. “Everything has to be recorded in this record book in a certain way. We have the internet, she has a computer. But I don’t help her do this kind of stuff. If she wants to continue, she has to do these things herself.” Rebecca was doing a project for school, and she prepared an incredibly detailed report, neatly organized in a binder. Light says she was so impressed with the work, and commented on it. “She said Pony Club taught me that.”
“Pony Club was my senior project at school,” Rebecca says. “I’m using mentoring younger kids for my senior project.” She says she wants to stay involved with horses, even as she goes on to college next year. “I don’t plan to have horses as my career, I always want to keep them as a recreational hobby,” she explains. “I plan to go to college and ride on the equestrian team.” She says that if horses were her career, she might start looking at them as work instead of the great avocation they have been for her.
Although the competition in Kentucky had not begun at the time Pennsylvania Equestrian went to press, Rebecca had already had the chance to look at the jump courses facing her. “There are five courses of 10-15 jumps,” she says. The weather in Kentucky is quite steamy, but she says that Pony Club has strict rules about when to let competitors take their jackets off. “They have a chart they have to follow. Depending on the temperature and humidity, you may be able to take your jacket off. After the first day we can wear polo shirts.”
A Special Mare, Not an After Thought
Her mother says that Rebecca’s mare, After Thought, has made a huge difference in their lives. “We were lucky to get this horse (now called Remmy). Rebecca was kind of in a spot that she needed to get another horse. She needed her own special horse and we looked at a few, and they just weren’t the right match.” She says they found Remmy through a website, and contacted South Branch Farm—a cattle farm—where the mare was living. She had been purchased for a relative of the farm’s owners, but the mare was a little too strong. Her next stop could have been the slaughter house, if the right rider didn’t arrive.
“The horse was a power jumper,” Light says. “We trail ride her, but she loves to jump, and doesn’t mess around. Luckily for us it was a really nice match. She had been an intercollegiate riding school horse.” Because Rebecca is such a competent rider, she and Remmy have been able to work well together. “When you get her in the ring, you’re not going to have any time faults on her.”
Pony Club is a family affair, Light says, and she credits her husband, Dene, with much of the success they’ve enjoyed. He is not a rider, but he has made it possible for Joan and Rebecca to travel to Kentucky for this competition. “It would not be possible to do the things we do without him,” she says. “He’s a wonderful man, who does so much for us out of love.” While Rebecca, Joan and Remmy are in Kentucky, he is taking care of the horses and dogs at home, cheering for his team from afar.