A horse is a horse unless of course it’s in Pony Club.
Two groups, the Discovery and Ranahan pony clubs, have continued the 83-year-old British club for local youths, ages 5 to 25, to become competitive, knowledgeable and responsible horse riders.
Working their way up through the ratings, riders learn horse management and safety through mounted-riding and unmounted lessons. They learning about horse feed, shoeing, breeds and grooming.
Ranahan Club rider Emily Dybedal, 15, found there to be a lot more to the sport when she joined Pony Club eight years ago.
“At first, it felt natural, but then it’s hard,” Dybedal said from atop her horse Jasmine. “It gets much more complicated as you learn.”
Participants can go from unranked to rating A, Olympic scale. Each level determines denotes ability and proficiency in horsemanship.
Kim McGuire, a trainer for 23 years on the Olympic Peninsula, said the sport promotes focus and mental discipline. “It’s real important to young people like other sports. What’s different is you build a bond with another creature,” McGuire said. “They definitely develop really strong relationships and empathy and compassion for horses.”
Pony Club’s different levels always promote safety as riders always must check their equipment before saddling up and wear helmets while riding.
Riders get involved with the clubs for different reasons such as having an infatuation with horses or just being around them all the time.
Adam DeFilippo, 12, a Ranahan member, got into Pony Club because his sister Jessica started with it first. He’s one of two boys in the club.
“I was the first boy in my school choir and it’s a good feeling,” he said about being the minority in the sport. “I’m showing other guys it’s OK.”
Discovery Pony Club member Sarah Henry said a lot of people think boys can’t join.
“Anyone can join,” Henry said. “If someone is interested, we can find them a horse. There are millions of them.”
Leasing horses isn’t uncommon in Pony Club. Karen Dybedal, Ranahan district commissioner, said people are very giving and have extra equipment.
Participating in Pony Club has regional and national dues, lesson fees and a Pony Club camp in the summer.
Henry’s mother, Matilda Henry, said Pony Club definitely promotes accountability among the riders as they must individually care for their horses alone.
All riders eventually can train and compete in riding sports like eventing, polocrosse, show jumping and tetrathlon.
Sarah Henry said her favorite part of Pony Club is the tetrathlon, in which she must jump her horse and then swim, run and shoot with a pistol on her own in a timed course.
“It’s really exciting and it goes so fast,” Henry said.
So far, she’s done the competition once but has been to 18 rallies for different competitions.
Alicia Aunspoch, 19, is a Peninsula College student for dental hygiene and works part time while maintaining her equestrian enthusiasm with Ranahan.
“It’s a personal challenge. I compete to better myself,” Aunspoch said. “It’s fun. I get to hang out with other people who love horses.”
Her future career, she jokes, is to pay for financing her horses. Aunspoch’s personal highlight was making a jump at last summer’s Pony Club camp at three feet and 10 inches.
Bayleigh Carpenter, 11, with Ranahan, said it feels rewarding when she accomplishes something with her horse after working on it over and over.
“When it isn’t fun is when you fall,” Carpenter joked.
Emily Dybedal said it’s 99.9 percent the rider’s fault when someone falls off a horse. She said it’s not common, though.
Jessica DeFilippo, 16, said she’s been into horses since she was really young and has been adamantly training her horse, Hawk. At this stage, she’s more interested in training the horse than pursuing a higher Pony Club rating.
No matter their pursuit, Pony Club members seem to be in peace brushing, riding and even reading up on their horses.
Pony Club offers several rallies across the U.S. On March 12, Ranahan sent two teams to the Quiz Rally in Maplewood. Both the junior and senior teams placed first in the horsemanship tests. Participants said the most unique part of the contest was reconstructing a horse’s hind leg joint. The teams qualified to go to nationals in Kentucky on July 18-22.
Discovery Pony Club, which trains at Trailside Ranch in Agnew, and Ranahan Pony Club at Serenity Farm, between Port Angeles and Sequim, often partner for events and training.
They practice at home, on trails, at ranches and at stables. They ride from Railroad Bridge Park to Robin Hill Road and at the Dungeness Recreation Area.
For more information on Pony Club, visit www.ponyclub.org.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.