Friday, March 27, 2009
At Old North Bridge Pony Club, kids learn horse care and life skills
Like athletes skilled in nearly any sport, experienced equestrians somehow make their execution look easy. Trotting around the riding ring or poised confidently astride their horses, their assured appearance tends to belie the hours of practice and training that underlie their skills.
For the more than 30 members of the Old North Bridge Pony Club, the events at which they demonstrate their abilities are only a very small part of the sport they love. Each of the girls and boys in the group spends far more of their time learning how to care for their horses than actually showing off their talents.
Beth Platt of Peter Hans Road is District Commissioner of the Old North Bridge Pony Club, based at Foss Farm in Carlisle. About half the chapter’s membership comes from Carlisle; the rest of the families are from neighboring towns including Concord, Littleton and Lincoln. Like many parents, she first got involved in the group following the interest of her daughter Katie, who is now 16. But as a talented and committed equestrienne herself, Platt felt at home among the group and soon found herself devoting more and more of her time to helping it function. “Kids in Pony Club learn a lot about horse care,” Platt says. “The group holds frequent ‘unmounted’ meetings, which means that rather than riding or jumping, we devote the meeting to equine medical care, grooming, nutrition, topics like that.”
One of the most positive aspects of Pony Club is that it is not structured solely around children learning from adults but rather young people learning from each other. The riders are rated, and as they move progressively through the rating system, one of their responsibilities is to plan and execute horsemanship lessons for less advanced club members.
Paris Marsh of Curve Street, now 14 years old, joined the club about two years ago. “The mounted meets present really good lessons for what you need to be doing if you want to rise in rank,” she says. “I also like going to rallies, which are like shows. You compete against other Pony Club members.”
But Paris says she has learned a lot outside the riding ring as well. “Pony Club teaches you so much about working in the barn and working with horses in general. You learn from the other kids in the group and also from the adults.”
Not only did she learn about horses and riding; she also became something of a mentor to eight-year-old Ella Thomson of Bedford Road, who joined the club last year. “I joined when I had just moved to town, and I don’t go to the Carlisle School, so this was a great way for me to meet other Carlisle kids,” Ella recalls. She quickly became friendly with Paris’ younger sister as well as Paris.
With members ranging in age from about eight into their 20s, the Old North Bridge Pony Club is one of many active chapters of the United States Pony Club. Events convene throughout the year. Some test the riders’ abilities, such as rallies and jumping competitions. Others are more lighthearted, like the annual Halloween Hunter Pace, which riders attend in costume. But what matters most to Platt about the group are the skills it teaches young people.
“Pony Club helps kids learn to present themselves in difficult and stressful situations,” Platt says. “To reach the next rank in the rating system, kids have to demonstrate and discuss their skills with a group of adults. What we try to emphasize in this process is that they don’t necessarily have to do everything perfectly, but they need to explain why they didn’t – in other words, to take responsibility for their mistakes. For kids who are shy about public speaking, especially girls, this is a great way for them to develop those skills.”
Ella Thomson feels that she learns better from older girls than adults. “They understand you more, because they are closer to you in age,” she says. “If they explain something and you say ‘I don’t get that,’ they often say, ‘Yeah, I didn’t understand that very well at your age either.’ The adults are more likely to have forgotten what it was like to learn some of these things.”
Besides, says Ella, it’s uplifting. “Pony Club members are always complimenting each other. Even if you fall off your horse during an event or have a bad day, someone always has something nice to say.”
Paris’s mother, Kathleen Marsh, has watched her daughter develop a greater sense of responsibility through her participation in Pony Club. “The kids have to take care of their equipment, their animals…it’s a lot more than just riding. They get quizzed on a wide range of facts and information related to horses – parts of the body, parts of the saddle, nutrition, typical equine ailments – and they have to adhere to strict safety regulations.”
All in all, concurs Platt, the kids – almost all of whom are girls, though her club includes a couple of boys – learn positive lessons that apply to life as well as riding. “In the shows, the kids function as a team and the parents are not allowed to interact with their kids.” Platt points out, “It’s a very positive thing, not having the parents there telling their children what to do. The kids discover that things don’t always go right, but it’s about picking yourself up and learning from what went wrong.”∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito