Though a name like United States Pony Club sounds like something geared specifically to little pig-tailed girls trotting around on Thelwell-like ponies, those who are familiar with the organization know that it covers a far broader population of young equestrians than that. But what many college-bound riders don’t know is that they are eligible for membership in the organization until they’re 25. TThis provides a tremendous opportunity for them to remain connected to a fantastic organization while they complete their degrees – or even to join for the very first time!
A quick primer on the Pony Club:
The mission of the Pony Club is “to provide a program for youth that teaches riding, mounted sports, and the care of horses and ponies, thereby developing responsibility, moral judgment, leadership and self-confidence.” Based on the British Pony Club (which itself is an off-shoot of the British Horse Society training system), the organization is unique because, while club members compete in a variety of disciplines (dressage, show jumping, three-day eventing, polocrosse, and mounted games), they likewise place equal emphasis on the riders’ mastery of horse-care fundamentals and the ideals of team participation with sportsmanship. Pony Club members are the sole responsible parties for their own horses and ponies when they compete – parents may not assist with any aspect and stable inspections to make sure that everything is done properly and with the utmost concern for safety are the norm.
For college students, what’s particularly valuable is that Pony Club members need not own a horse to participate – much like the intercollegiate competition formats in the IHSA and NCEA. Thanks to the USPC’s riding center program, approved lesson barns and training facilities are now home to their own Pony Club groups and students have access to their horses and ponies to learn with.
One such newly approved center is Willowmay Farm in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Owned by Julie Fitzpatrick, herself a native of England and a graduate of the BHS training system, Willowmay’s recent USPC certification will open it up to a different sort of equestrian education for students of all ages.
Julie and I have had a couple of conversations about her decision to open a USPC Riding Center and her approach to equine education and I’m excited to know that her program continues to move forward. Very often in my practice, students ask about their options for learning more about horses in college because, whether it’s stable management or teaching riding lessons that interests them, they want to know more about the equine species and industry as a whole. This is separate from students who seek pre-veterinary programs (a topic for a later blog) because many of these students want to find careers in the equine industry after graduation but don’t know exactly what they want to do. College presents an opportunity to explore these various areas – and for me to know that there is an opportunity for students to learn in a highly structured and safe environment is important and helps me to better acquaint them with their options.
Now, I feel it’s important to state that I’m not opposed to students pursuing equine majors if the situation is right; I do, however, make a point of educating students as to the multitude of options that are available to them because there are many ways to work in the equine industry without majoring in it. (After all, just like any subject – from English to accounting – not all people are a fit for all majors.) In addition, all equine majors in the United States are not created equal because there is no national standard for programs to meet; equine coursework varies substantially between schools simply because faculty teach from their own experiences rather than, say, math faculty, who teach in a formulaic manner specific to their field no matter what college you attend. (In another future blog, I’ll discuss the NAEAA and their efforts to standardize traditional programs for a better quality of education.)
What’s particularly exciting to me about Julie’s program at Willowmay – aside from her location just outside of Philadelphia, which puts her within easy reach of students at Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford Colleges – is that she isn’t focused on winning blue ribbons with an in-house IHSA or IDA team (though she has helped out local IHSA teams by loaning horses for their meets) or just producing riders. Instead, her Pony Club riding center encompasses the broad scale of equine education – including stable management, feeding, grooming, turnout, lunging, etc. This is in line with the ideals of the Pony Club itself and helps to develop future horsemen and women – not just kids who ride well. For the right student, this type of equine education will be a perfect fit with their academic coursework in college – no matter what their major – and will help to carry our next generation of amateur and professional horsemen and women forward in a much more educated manner.
And education of the whole person is what college is all about, isn’t it?
Are you interested in finding a USPC Riding Center near your college or looking for the right fit for your educational goals? Contact me.