Pony Club has been offered in the United States for over sixty years, allowing the educational opportunity for young horse enthusiasts to become well rounded riders and horse caretakers. Let’s spell it out the way a Pony Clubber would: H is for horsemanship, O is for organized teamwork, R is for respect for the horse and self, S is for service by providing the opportunity for support from members, parents and volunteers, and E is for education at an individual pace to achieve goals and expand knowledge through teaching others.
The teamwork, camaraderie, and knowledge that is offered through Pony Club is a perfect storm of first hand experience with the safety net of a support system—idyllic for kids and parents alike who hold confidence and capability to a high standard. With nearly 600 Pony Clubs sprinkled throughout the United States, two youth riders bring us to the Pacific Northwest—Area VII—which also happens to be home turf for the 2022 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds later this summer.
Washington Resident Kate Gerth is 16 years old and gearing up for her junior year of high school, but not before a summer dedicated to Pony Club and USEA recognized events. She joined Pony Club in 2017 and the club has since allowed her to participate and learn from some notable professionals in the area like dressage trainer Beth Anderson Ness, who undoubtedly helped Gerth build her confidence and skills needed for recognized eventing.
“Before I started riding with Beth, I had no understanding of connection or use of aids. I also didn’t have a horse to ride and to invest my time into,” said Gerth. "She offered me an opportunity to ride Levi, her senior upper level dressage horse that had an injury forcing an easier workload for his future. While bringing him back from two years in the pasture, I learned so much from both of them. I know for certain that I would not be anywhere close to the rider I am today without Beth.”
One thing we tend to learn early on in life, whether it be a skill related to a hobby or sport, is if we’re good at it, we tend to love it. And we love it because we’re good at it. Eventing has a certain ladder of success, letting us enjoy the fruits of each rung and then asking us to stretch further up the tree when the attainable fruit of our labor has been fully gathered. With the right knowledge and ability for the job, Gerth has a favorite phase: dressage.
“I love the connection and harmony that you can feel when it all clicks,” said Gerth. And speaking of things clicking—the same sentiment can be applied to Gerth’s relationship with Levi. “He has helped me earn my C1 and my C2, as well as competing with me up to Novice, all in his early twenties. While our journey was difficult, it has been extremely rewarding and I have learned so much from my time riding him.”
Peninsula Pony Club and supportive trainers like Asia Thayer—Gerth’s jump trainer—have also been a safe haven for more challenging aspects of eventing, and for Gerth that means the showjumping phase.
“I have only really ridden hot horses, and often containing the excitement after the thrill of cross-country can be challenging,” said Gerth. “I always remind myself to breathe. Most of the nervousness comes from myself, which my horse can sense, so keeping myself focused and calm is important for me. Especially when my division starts and the first riders start going, I remind myself to stay focused on my horse and myself. I'm also grateful that I have a great barn group that will give a few words of encouragement before I go into the ring.”
In addition to Pony Club and attending upcoming events at Training level, Gerth is also a working student for Beth Anderson Ness. She’s regularly tasked with cleaning tack, the barn, and feeding, grooming, and tacking up horses for Beth to ride. Through what some might consider rather mundane chores, Gerth has soaked up all the expert knowledge on horse care, management, and how to handle various horses and their quirks while on the job. She also gets to occasionally get on a horse or two, especially the baby horses, which is the cherry on top of a perfect summer sundae for this young rider.
Another Washington rider is Travis Martinson, member of Narrows Pony Club and also a USEA competitor who has recently moved up to Training level with his 16-year-old paint gelding Tiikeri (Maromac Tiger x RCowboysBB), otherwise known as Tiger. Riding is in his blood and he’s proud to be involved in a sport that also has the love of his family.
“I joined Pony Club when I was 7 or 8 years old. Both of my parents rode when they were younger,” said Martinson. “My cousins had horses up on their farm, too, and my dad grew up eventing.”
Having just turned 15 years old, Martinson is making a sweeping turn in his young career, graduating in a sense from basic, core knowledge and skills to more advanced horsemanship and technicalities while in the saddle. A rider’s sense of feel is something that develops slowly over time and Martinson inadvertently shows the telltale signs of having a solid foundation in reading a horse’s energy and personality, especially when someone else gets on his horse.
“He tends to really like a certain kind of rider…he can be challenging to ride and doesn’t always do what you want,” said Martinson. “So he’s not a push-button horse. He prefers a stronger, bolder type of rider.” Martinson teased about his brother getting on Tiger and not seeing an instant connection between horse and rider. While sibling rivalry is often at play, there’s also a seriousness to Martinson’s ability to pick up on how his horse reacts to certain people or a certain type of handling—a skill surely learned through his Pony Club experience.
“I learned all of the basics from my Pony Club instructor,” said Martinson, referring to Anni Grandia-Dodson from Grand Farm Eventing. Martinson was introduced to Tiger just after meeting Nelson Mittuch of Northwind Farm—his eventing instructor for the last three years.
The constant layering of expertise as a rider advances is a common characteristic of the Pony Club philosophy—keep learning, keep progressing. Martinson had his debut at Training level earlier this year and was so excited to compete at Aspen Farm in June. Just after a stellar dressage test and a challenging, albeit successful cross-country course, Martinson fell off his bike before showjumping and suffered a concussion, forcing him to scratch the rest of the event.
“We were in eighth place, too,” said Martinson, with a bit of disappointment in his voice. In classic Pony Club spirit, Martinson didn’t let the setbacks leave him too discouraged. He’s back on Tiger and preparing for his C2 test this August and is starting to plan and implement his keys to success. Through Pony Club and his upcoming recognized events, Martinson agrees that he and Tiger will keep building their confidence as a team while soaring to new heights and meeting new challenges.
Learn more about US Pony Club by visiting www.ponyclub.org.
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