Pony Club

Recruiting New Pony Club Members

This is an update to the diary of a DC since we have had a busy time since the end of the summer.  September is normally a down time for the pony club after camp, Area Qualifiers and all the summer competitions. However this year things were a little different.

New Pony Club Members

We have actually gained some new members after months of recruiting and trying to ambush every child under 14 who was competing in any local event. Eight members have signed up, which was partly due to Pony Club HQ deciding to lower the membership fee for people who joined after August 31st.

This has tripled our pony club size and we are now officially, no longer the smallest pony club (branch) in Ireland, for the time being at any rate.

We have also recruited a number of younger members including some who are still on lead rein. Not all clubs in Ireland accept members this young, but this is working well for us and many of this group actually have their own ponies which is an advantage when so many of the older ones don’t.

photo pony club halloween rally
No the pony club uniform hasn’t changed – this was taken at the halloween rally

New Pony Club Premises

Well not exactly new, as a pony club we were never really located anywhere and roamed about different venues. This may actually have been a disadvantage in recruiting new members, since nobody really knew where we were. A former pony club instructor now operates from a small yard in South Donegal (Mountcharles) and this has enabled us to establish a bit of a base.


This means that we have access to stables and an outdoor arena, tack room and indoor coffee area in a fairly easy to access location. We have been able to bring together all our equipment (well poles and some pony games equipment) into one place. It’s an ideal location where we can bring instructors and not have to worry about the rain (too much) or time if things overrun.

It’s also ideal for the younger kids because there is space to run about without interfering with other riders or adults using a centre.


Pony Club Activities

As a result of the new location we have been running our rallies outdoors and have been lucky with the weather. In late August and September we had a couple of pony club games sessions and enjoyed some ‘hot’ sunshine. As I write this it’s now November and we are still able to ride outside and enjoy some of the amazing sunsets as well.

photo pony club games

We have also managed to do the following during our programme in September.

  • Pony Club Games
  • Stable Management – including world towards the plaiting, grooming and mucking out badges
  • Riding young ponies (with senior members)
  • Flatwork
  • Show jumping (guest instructor)
  • Cross Country

The programme has been varied as you can see and for the lead rein group we have even done a mini trek as well as riding in the arena. It’s also been a time for parents to meet and get to know myself and the main instructor as well as meet each other. All I need now are some volunteers for the parents committee.

Recruiting New Members  – Possible Tips?

So what lessons have I learned about recruiting new members, well here is a list of some of the issues and comments that parents made about why they decided to join, and why they hadn’t joined before.

  1. Visibility of the Club – despite writing in the local paper, being listed on the irish Pony Club Website and having a Facebook page, we have still encountered members who didn’t know we existed. We did get one member who found us from the Dublin Horse Show (which meant they had to travel to the other end of the country to find out where we were).
  2. Pony Club Reduced Cost – we were lucky that HQ finally (after a lot of persuasion) agreed to reduce the yearly membership for members joking after the end of August. This made it a lot easier to convince parents that it was a worthwhile investment.
  3. Reduced Rally Cost – moving our premises and offering lower costs for rallies has meant that we are no longer competing against the local riding school, and also can offer a better value for money experience.
  4. Facebook Page – the new members have been encouraged by the photos of themselves on Facebook and these have been shared amongst other family and friends, so more people have started to like the page and engage with comments.


It has been a long slog over several years to build up the club, and we are not there yet. We have had to battle the natural loss of kids not riding because of the recession, along with having such as small presence ourselves that we found it hard convincing anyone that we were a club at all.

But the rewards hopefully will now begin to show as new friends are being built amongst both the kids and the parents. Next stop is our annual parents meeting and then we onto Christmas, scary how time flies but hopefully the fun will continue.

Photo young rider

Pony Club Test Information D to C+

As I’m writing this post I am also aware that in Ireland all the pony club test information is about to change. I have to admit that as a DC I still hadn’t got my head around the old tests so there was not much chance I am going to learn all about the new ones. So this post as been written partly for my benefit and partly for parents who are probably even less sure about what is happening (I feel your pain). I have covered in detail the main tests that most pony club members complete which are the introductory and intermediate tests (up as far as C+). I will discuss the more advanced tests in a separate post.

The current system consists of three groups of tests, which have different age limits for taking them.

  • the D/D+ which are the introductory tests,
  • the C / C+ which are the intermediate riding and stable management tests and
  • the advanced tests B/ B+ /A .
  • There is also a riding and road safety test and a separate Horsemanship (H) test.

There is a strong focus within the intermediate and higher tests on equine knowledge as well as riding, so the tests are not riding proficiency tests but a combination of both theory and riding. Hence the age restrictions because much of the theory side is quite complicated and getting into the realms of basic veterinary care. There is information on the Irish Pony Club Site about the different tests but I thought it might be easier to layout the information in one place (with my own comments and opinions thrown in for good measure)

Pony Club Tests  – Introductory Tests D & D+

D Test

At the moment this is the first entry test, and the aim is to show a basic understanding of riding ponies minimum age is 8, (which is a bit hard if you’ve been riding since you were 3) The syllabus has three parts looking at road safety, basic riding and simple practical horsemanship.


Photo young rider
Show a reasonably correct position in the saddle. (Image courtesy of horsecollaborative.com)
  • Mount and dismount correctly, using either mounting block or getting a leg-up if required.
  • Demonstrate a reasonably correct position in the saddle.
  • How to hold and shorten the reins.
  • To be able to ride a quiet pony safely, in an enclosed area without the leading rein, in walk and trot.


  • To know on which side of the road you should ride.
  • To understand the Junior Road Rider code.
  • How to ride along a road, cross a road and say ‘thank you’
  • To know it is safer to ride on the road with adults or parents.


Cartoon how to catch a pony
(Image found on enlightenedhorsemanship.net)
  • Approach and handle a pony correctly.
  • Know basic needs of a pony in summer and winter.
  • Know how to catch a pony and put on a headcollar or halter.
  • Explain the proper way to give a pony an apple or carrot.
  • Lead a pony in hand and turn correctly in walk.
  • Name simple points of the pony.
  • Name different parts of saddle and bridle.



D+ Test

This is the second introductory level test and build upon the basic skills learnt at the D level. All the points covered in the D test apply here and in addition the following areas are also included. Minimum age is 10 for this test.


  • Hold and shorten the reins correctly and carry a whip in either hand.
  • Be able to walk on a long rein.
  • To be able to control a quiet pony in company, on the roads and in the countryside.
  • Walk without stirrups.
  • Show use of natural aid to control your pony.
  • Simple turns and circles in walk and trot.
  • Be able to canter.
  • Ride up and down hills in walk.
  • Ride over a single pole and very small fence.


  • How to ride along a road, cross a road and say ‘thank you’, and how to signal to turn right or left.
  • To know it is safer to ride on the road with adults or parents.
  • To show an awareness of dangers when riding on the road, understanding what is likely to frighten a pony or cause him to slip.
  • To understand how to ride with a friend whilst on the road.
  • Recognise the dangers to ponies from cars and other traffic.


Photo child leading large horse
Try to find a suitable pony that is the right size for your child (Image courtesy of frisonchecvalerie.com)
  • Know the basic needs of and care for a pony living in a field.
  • Put on a saddle and bridle with assistance.
  • Be able to tell if saddle & bridle are fitting correctly..
  • Know how to clean and care for saddlery.
  • Catching a pony and turn it away in the field.
  • Lead a pony in hand at walk and trot, and turn correctly.
  • Tie up a pony correctly.
  • Names and uses of grooming kit.
  • Recognise if pony needs shoeing.
  • Pick up and pick out feet.
  • Points of the pony, colours and markings.
  • Be able to recognise turn-out rugs/cooler rugs/ and a night rug.
  • Basic signs of good health in your pony.

Riding & Road Safety Test

There is a riding and road safety test within pony club or many clubs also do the BHS Riding and Road Safety since it will last into adulthood and is needed if BHS exams are taken. The test can be taken at any stage but is usually done somewhere after the D+ and before the C+.

Book cover young road rider
Image courtesy of quillerpublishing.com

There are three parts to the test which are;

Part 1
A simulated test – done in an arena or field, which is where different road scenarios can be illustrated

Part 2
The theoretical test is designed to test the candidate’s knowledge of the rules, regulations and advice contatined in the “Rules of the Road”.

Part 3
The Road Test
This is the ‘real life’ practical to be carried out on fairly quiet roads and carrying out the examiners instructions.

Pony Club Tests  – Intermediary Tests C & C+

The first of the intermediary tests is the C test, this test is often as far as many members choose to go since it enables you to compete in most competitions. However for this reason the pony club has made it quite hard especially in terms of the equine knowledge and theory that is needed. However here is a breakdown of the syllabus

C Test

The minimum age is 12 and as with all the tests whatever was covered in the previous syllabus is included plus the additional.


Image found on Pinterest
  • Turn-out of pony and rider.
  • Show a balanced and correct position at walk, trot (rising and sitting on either diagonal, change of diagonal) and canter.
  • Ride without stirrups at walk and trot.
  • Adjust stirrups when mounted.
  • Adjust girth when mounted.
  • Understand the meaning of the word “aids” and know the natural & artificial aids for

(i)   transitions.
(ii)   turns and circles.
(iii)   canter on a named leg on a circle.

  • Walk on a long rein.
  • Ride up and down hill.
  • Show a balanced position over small fences.
  • Jump a short course with a variety of simple fences (max. height 80 cm.), no combinations.
  • Jump small fences on slopes, banks and small ditches in open country
  • Show a balanced position out of the saddle at cross country pace.


picture of minature horse foal in a rug
Know about different types of rug (image found on Pinterest)
  • Care and working of a pony kept in a field and/or in a stable.
  • Recognise a suitable field for your pony.
  • Basic knowledge and rules of feeding and watering.
  • Know what and how much in kilos your own pony eats.
  • Grooming – items of grooming kit and show how to use them.
  • Shoeing and care of feet – know when a pony needs shoeing and what to look for in a well shod hoof.
  • Discuss your pony’s shoes.
  • Basic care and cleaning of saddlery.
  • Outline indications of a healthy pony.
  • Basic knowledge of treatment of minor wounds.
  • List essential items of a travelling first aid kit for your pony/horse.
  • Describe signs of an unwell pony including: colic, laminitis, coughs and colds, lice, sweetitch.
  • Know when to seek adult advice.
  • Recognise when pony is lame – how to trot-up for lameness.
  • Lead in hand – walking, trotting and turning.
  • Discuss the importance of protecting legs while travelling.
  • Explain how to take pony in and out of a horsebox with an assistant And do and don’t of leaving a pony/horse in a horsebox.
  • Show how to saddle and bridle (snaffle bridle only).
  • Know the name and action of one’s own pony’s bit and own tack.
  • Put on and take off a rug.  Recognise a stable rug, turn-out rug, anti-sweat sheet and cooler.
  • Put on a tail bandage.

C+ Test

At this level of the tests both equine knowledge and riding skills are technical. There is a lot of information to process and the minimum age of the test is 14. At this level the test is equivalent to the adult BHS level 1. All of the points are required from the C test but there is less support given and candidates are expected to know immediately the answers without additional prompting.



  • Discuss own horse’s way of going and explain tack used.
  • Candidates will be asked to ride another candidate’s horse on the flat only and comment on observations of how the brief  went.
  • Mount and dismount correctly on either side.
  • Position at walk, trot, canter and gallop.
  • Show practical knowledge of even paces and of pony accepting contact.
  • Understand what is meant by “going forward in rhythm and balance”.
  • Work without stirrups at, walk, trot and canter at Examiner’s discretion.
  • Know the aids for and be able to carry out:

Dressage rider cartoon OMG

(i)   increases and decreases of pace.
(ii)   circles – l0 metres in walk, l5 metres in trot and 20 metres in canter.
(iii)   Sitting trot, rising trot on correct diagonal.
(iv)   Loops and serpentines.
(v)   Quarter or half turn on or about the forehand,
(vi)   change of leg at canter through trot.
(vii)   free walk on a long rein or loose rein.
(viii)   Halt and salute.



Remember it goes wrong even for the top riders
Remember it goes wrong even for the top riders image courtesy of HorseandHound.co.uk
  • Know the sequence of legs at different paces.
  • Show that jumping position is secure and balanced.
  • Know what to look for and how to walk a jumping course.
  • Jump a show-jumping course to include a one or two stride double including bending line at trot and canter.
  • Jump up and down hill, drop fences, banks and ditches and cross country fences of varied heights (recommended not over 95 cm.)
  • Ride at a suitable cross country pace with regard to ground condition


Changes to the Pony Club Tests

There is talk of changing the tests and so I just wanted to say a few words on that! A number of people would have concerns that the jump form D+ to C is very large both in terms of riding ability but especially in terms of the amount of equine knowledge that is needed. There is a suggestion to bring in a new E test and move the D and D+ down a level (D = E  and D+=D) making a new D+ syllabus. However whilst I agree with the principle and understand why the changes are being suggested I would raise a couple of concerns.

  1. There will be kids in the club with two different types of D+ and this is going to become complicated for events and competitions if the standard has changed.
  2. A lower test is needed for younger riders especially those under 8 and moving the D to E still doesn’t address that unless the ages are all changed again.
  3. A better (in my opinion) solution might be to keep the tests as they are but make the following changes;
    1. Introduce an E test that is lower than the D for younger riders, including lead rein members
    2. Introduce a new intermediate level test C- which would bridge the gap between D+ and C.

The tests are complicated enough as it is and there is a system in place that many members are halfway through. If you start moving boundaries you end up in the position of recommending that younger members who completed their D+ last year would be better doing the revised D+ next year because this is actually the next level up, but in their eyes they are repeating a test they already have.

I would be interested in hearing any other opinions from parents or members as to what would be the best way to proceed? any thoughts drop me a line below in the comments section.

Pony Camp

Diary of a Pony Club DC – July 2015 Pony Camp

As I mentioned previously our pony club branch is one of (well possibly the) smallest branch of the Irish Pony Club, which poses a few challenges when it comes to the logistics of organising rallies and pony club events. One of the biggest problems however is trying to create a social group feeling especially when sometimes you only have 2 riders at a rally. However we are, if nothing else, creative and we have come up with a few ways to encourage – if that’s the word (kidnap, coerce or bribe also spring to mind) new potential members and allies to join us.

One of the ways that we have done this has been to combine our pony camp with another branch from within the Area. They are also a small branch which still gives a sense of two groups coming together rather than one branch being subsumed by another.

CAFRE – Enniskillen

For the last few years our camp has been held at the wonderful CAFRE (College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise) campus in Enniskillen. The college is an equine centre and specialises in breeding and racehorses. The advantages then for a summer pony club camp are a purpose built facility with  clean and well equipped stables, plus accommodation suitable for young people with onsite catering facilities.

A Brief Bit of History

Enniskillen is quite an historic town which is quite small and rural and which according to the CAFRE website –

“The historic plantation town of Enniskillen dates from 1612 when the town was established by a charter from King James I.  There is, however, evidence to suggest that land in this area was farmed during the Stone Age, over 6,000 years ago.”

The college campus itself was founded in 1967 whilst the equine-related education and training programmes were introduced at the Enniskillen Campus during 1992. So basically it’s been around a while, not that you would know that. The main outdoor arena was only put in a couple of years ago and can hold the equivalent of three ordinary arenas, and the cross country course is being added to each year.

Enniskillen campus sign
Enniskillen campus


In short then it is an amazing setting and added to that its in the heart of Fermanagh in Northern Ireland with its own amazing scenery (I should really work for the NI tourism board). The camp consisted of 18 pony clubbers and some responsible adults (!) who were mainly responsible for providing food and drinks for the kids, whilst the kids had responsibility for the ponies. Three instructors oversaw the sessions and so the kids were divided into three groups depending on age and interest in being on Leitrim’s Robbie Bailey team.

part of CAFRE college Ennsikillen campus
Riders in the yard heading up to the cross country course

Pony Camp

So 18 kids and 18 ponies all living and riding together – what could possibly go wrong? To be fair we had this covered as well because almost immediately opposite the college is the brand new purpose built Accident & Emergency hospital. Which according to a couple of the parents who over the years here have had the pleasure of a visit there, it is a very nice, clean and efficient place to go. Obviously this only applies if you need access to medical services, otherwise I’d say it is the last place you’d be planning to visit.

Camp Activities

The programme usually consists of the following activities each day.

  • feeding and mucking out horses and stables
  • breakfast for kids
  • riding with break and refreshments
  • stable management and/or more riding
  • lunch
  • riding and/or stable management
  • refreshments and tack cleaning
  • dinner
  • evening activity

And after the first night of chaos most pony club members are willing to go to bed and sleep knowing that a full day of activity is ahead of them the next day. The final day of camp we usually organise a competition or some slightly different activity. To finish off there are presentations and camp rosettes plus prizes for the best turned out, or most improved rider in each group.

Cross Country

The cross country course has been developed again this year and now has a purpose built water jump and a bank. The ground is lovely to ride on and a great confidence booster to the more nervous cross country riders (most of our club).

water jump cross country
The water jump at CAFRE cross country

The new jumps proved to be very popular and even the odd breeze across the water didn’t seem to disturb the horses too much.

The bank jump also posed very little problem for our intrepid riders, even if it was perhaps a little steeper than it appeared.


Bank drop jump on cross country
The drop is a bit bigger than it looks!


Flatwork and Jumping Arenas

The college has a number of arenas, two outdoor and an indoor. Fortunately the weather held off most of the time and we were able to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. However for the instructor trying to teach a group of under 12s a musical dressage routine, the confines of an indoor arena was probably an advantage. The main large arena was often used for grid work and jumping practice.

Musical ride display in the indoor arena
Musical ride display in the indoor arena

The musical ride was performed for everyone to see on the last day and showed how dedicated both instructors and riders can be to come up with a routine in such a short time frame.

In the end the kids were worked hard and they and their ponies were suitably tired at the end of it all. So thank you to all the helpers, and pony club members for making this such a wonderful occasion. These kind of activities aren’t possible though without the support of the parents and it’s probably to them that we owe our greatest thanks.Hopefully we can do it all again next year!

Jumping in the large outdoor arena
Jumping in the large outdoor arena

Diary of a Pony Club DC

May 2015

As well as my interest in horses and equine businesses I have the privilege (???) of being the District Commissioner or DC for our local pony club. This would normally be quite a challenging role as I’m sure many other DCs will verify.  However I also happen to be DC for the smallest pony club in Ireland and we have a membership of 5 riders and only 2 ponies between us (well technically there are more ponies but only 2 members have ponies). So how does it work? After all having only 5 members and trying to maintain rallies and provide a programme of activities that is different to the local equestrian centre is not easy.

Irish Pony Club

We are members of the Irish Pony Club, which may seem obvious but actually we are closer to the Northern Ireland area of the UK Pony Club and sometimes it does feel as if it would be much easier to be a member of their group. As a club we are based in Donegal on the West of Ireland and the Irish Pony Club is based in Dublin. Just to put that into context Donegal is to Dublin what Siberia is to Moscow – its a place to send people to but not to go and visit or stay there yourself! Luckily the area has some great pony club branches that we can link in with, although the geography of the region can be challenging – it’s 5 hours from one end to the other of Area 6, which is our area of the Irish Pony Club (IPC). Fortunately we are more or less in the middle so we’re max 2 -3 hrs from any of the other clubs in our region.

The Smallest Branch of the Pony Club in Ireland (I am assuming)

It was actually an instructor who recently made that comment, and I thought it had a real ring to

Pony Club in Ireland - Plenty of horses but no riders?
Pony Club in Ireland – Plenty of horses but no riders?

it. So as my attempts to recruit new members have failed (I’m actually struggling to find kids in our area that ride) then I have decided to take to social media. We are now a virtual pony club with our own Facebook page and this is a great way to share photos and keep interested people up to date on our activities. And yes even with just 5 members (when they all turn up but that’s another story) we still have activities and produce cool photos to share with our fellow pony clubbers. We also have an annual residential camp which we have done with another club in order to bring numbers up. This provides a great opportunity for our kids to meet other club members and experience the socialising element that pony club is supposed to be encouraging.

Why Bother?

This would seem to be a very logical question and I have been known to ask it myself on occasions. But there is still something special about pony club and what it can provide to its members. As a new parent to horses it was pony club that taught me the ropes and introduced me to other parents who had at one time been in the same position. It was pony club that taught both my children not just about riding but about looking after horses, theory and practical knowledge that will last them forever whether they work with horses or ride for pleasure later on in life. And by giving back to pony club and meeting new instructors and organising rallies and camps I also continue to learn and improve my own equine knowledge.

The Future of Pony Club

There is no doubt that with the added expense of membership, joining pony club is not an option or a priority for many parents at this moment in time. It does take a lot of time and money and that can be hard on families especially when there are other siblings requiring that level of attention as well. (probably why so many younger siblings get thrown into learning to ride and pony club, so at least they are all in one place!) I really hope it does survive these lean times, and I have no doubt things will have to change if its future is to be secure, but I’m game to work with that and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. I would also love to hear from other DCs and pony club parents about what’s working in your club and what changes are happening in your area to keep pony club alive and well. Thanks for reading and stay in touch