Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 23 October 2017

Proud Pony Club tradition lives on in County Carlow

Catriona Murphy

Sixty years after it hosted the its first ever Pony Club rally, the Dolmen county still boasts a thriving, competitive membership

Frantically trying to scrub green patches off a white-grey pony, cleaning tack in the sunshine, cross-country jumping, water fights, having lunch on the steps of Clonmel racecourse -- those are my memories of my Pony Club childhood.

At 10 years old, the week-long camp was my idea of pure heaven. Hours of riding ponies in the sunshine, combined with stable management lessons and fun with friends.

I didn't realise at the time the training and discipline it was instilling in me but looking back, this was exceptional training for any child. Every child was expected to be punctual, polite, well-mannered and sporting, as well as neat and tidy at all times.

We were taught how to look after our ponies, mind our tack and stay safe while enjoying the outdoors and physical exercise.

Competition was a big part of our club, with several disciplines to choose from including show jumping, eventing, triathlon and mounted games. It was through the Pony Club that I first experience international travel, competing in England at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and later travelling as groom with mounted games teams. It is also thanks to the Pony Club that I have rosettes from some of the best-known shows in the country, including the RDS Dublin Horse Show, Millstreet and Cavan.

I was a member of the Tipperary Pony Club, one of 60 branches located all across Ireland and I was just one of the many thousands of children who passed through the Pony Club system.

The Irish Pony Club originally evolved from 'The Pony Club', founded in England in 1929. The first branch of the Pony Club was started in Co Meath in 1933 by Mrs Kitty Bagally and dozens of other branches soon followed. In 1958, the Irish Pony Club became an entity of its own and it has grown into nine areas, with 60 branches and 3,900 members.

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One of the oldest Pony Club branches in the country, Carlow Pony Club, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and it is a shining example of how popular this traditional organisation is.

Founded in 1952, the Carlow branch is going from strength to strength with over 90 members this year.

Honorary president Sally Ashmore has been involved in the club for the past 34 years and watched her seven children grow up in the ranks of the members.

"Some of today's parents went through the pony club as children themselves," she says.

"And we even have grandchildren of former members coming into the club this year.

"In years gone by, the children used to hack up to 10 miles to and from rallies," she recalls. "They thought nothing of it!"

Today, the children and ponies arrive by horsebox but the rallies are still very similar to those of the 1950s -- they are divided into groups of similar ages and abilities and given instruction on flatwork, show jumping and cross-country jumping. The rallies are held in different locations across the county and these facilities, usually donated free of charge by parents of members, were put to good use two weeks ago when rain threatened the annual camp.

"The weather was so bad we had to distribute children and ponies to six different locations," explains Sally.

"We have a thriving club, with plenty of teams competing in all disciplines," she continues. "We have teams in tetrathlon, eventing, hunter trials, combined training, pony club games and show jumping."

Carlow Pony Club joint District Commissioner (DC) Eamon Kelly is one of the many parents who are actively involved in the running of the club and his daughter Ciara competes regularly in team and individual competitions.

"We are lucky to have a thriving club and this year, unlike in many clubs, membership numbers have increased," he says. "A lot of this is due to the effort that parents put in and the great atmosphere we have created."

In January this year, the club organised a workshop for parents in order to teach them how to build cross-country fences. The result is that the club now has a set of 15 mobile cross-country fences that can be transported to rallies.

"It has allowed us to save money on hiring facilities and we have put that extra money towards getting top instructors to teach the children," says Eamon.

The club runs more than 10 rallies per year, as well as running other training sessions in between. Where once the turnout for rallies would have been 20-30 children, Carlow now has up to 60 children per rally.

Eamon's fellow joint-DC, Mary Skelton, says the club has run training sessions with event rider Louise Lyons and is due to host a session with eventer Geoff Curran in the coming weeks.

The competitive advantage to the Carlow members is evident in the club's recent successes.

Last year, brother and sister Sarah and Seamus Dermody travelled to Scotland to represent Ireland in the international tetrathlon competition. Sarah took first place in both the individual and team competition, while Seamus secured third place. Not to be outdone, Niamh Curran and Sarah Rennick took second and third in another international tetrathlon competition.

Closer to home, the Carlow team of Emma Hosey, David Hatton, Romy Bolger and Ciara Kelly took fifth place in pure dressage at the Irish Pony Club Festival last year. Ciara Kelly also won the All Ireland combined training at the Festival and went on to take second place at the RDS.

In eventing, Emma Redmond and Jessie Murphy took first and third place in the Red Mills qualifier board, securing the most number of points in the eventing competition.

In show jumping, the club team of Catriona O'Hara, Niamh Kennedy, Kieran Cooper and Ciara Kelly took second place in the Pony Club National Championships last year.

Despite such a list of accolades from last year, Carlow members are determined to improve again this year and are looking forward to the next six weeks, when many of the national qualifiers and championships take place.

However, the young riders are also keen to complete their Pony Club tests, which are optional standard of efficiency tests that examine both horsemanship and stable management.

"We have a group of seven riders training for their H test this year," explains Mary. The H test requires an in-depth knowledge of practical horse management, lunging, breeding, first aid, anatomy and other areas.

As part of the club's 60th anniversary celebrations, it is putting together a book detailing the history of the club. The committee would love to hear from former members, committee members and anyone who may have old photos relating to the branch.

To contact the club, email carlow@irishponyclub.ie.

For more information on the Irish Pony Club and to find out how to get involved, go to www.irishponyclub.ie

Indo Farming