Pony Club got its start in Great Britain after World War 1, and at that time was primarily an educational organization offering stable management classes and riding lessons. Quality instructors were sought out, and through strength in numbers, it became more accessible. The concept was so successful that it spread rapidly around the globe to those areas where horse sports were popular, now being offered in 27 countries with over 110,000 members worldwide.

Today, Pony Club continues to be recognized for its education and testing programs which set its members up for a lifetime of success by providing a thorough knowledge of stable management and horse care, as well as honing riding skills in the three Olympic equestrian disciplines. At the upper levels, the comprehensive stable management instruction is equivalent to that offered in pre-vet classes; riding instruction and horse training in advanced dressage, show jumping, and eventing are all taught and tested. Those who achieve the coveted ‘A’ level are eligible to apply to be an Equestrian Canada coach and are, in effect, already overqualified at this level.

The club program has been used as the framework by many other equestrian bodies to set up their own programs and is acknowledged world-wide as the backbone of many highly-successful riding instruction systems.

Learn While You Compete

Pony Club also offers opportunities to compete. Instruction is intertwined into these Pony Club competitions, so members learn as they go, whether in PPGs (Prince Philip Games), dressage, eventing, hunter/jumper, polo, Le Trec (orienteering) or tetrathlon, and soon-to-be-offered horseball, western and working equitation. As members advance, the emphasis is increasingly on learning to do it all yourself; parents aren’t even allowed in the barn at rallies, or to help in any way in testing situations. The idea of a trainer or paid groom coming in to take over the ‘dirty work’ is anathema to what is taught and practiced in Pony Club. The phrase “Pony Club tough” arises from this mindset.

At the upper levels, there are international competitions and exchanges, giving members the opportunity to travel, compete, meet new friends and get first-hand experience of horse care methods in far-flung countries like Australia, the UK, or Hong Kong. The cost of national and international travel is partially subsidized by the member’s region, so ideally these opportunities are open to anyone, regardless of how big your bank account is.

Finally, Pony Club offers horse-crazy kids (and adults, as of 2015) the opportunity to meet and interact with like-minded people, developing life-long friendships along the way.

CPC Structure

The Canadian Pony Club (CPC), the governing body of Pony Club within Canada, is made up of regions set within provincial boundaries. Some provinces (such as Manitoba or Saskatchewan) are a single region; other more populated provinces (such as BC or Ontario) have multiple regions within the provincial boundaries; smaller provinces such as the Maritimes form multi-province regions. Each region has local branches known as clubs. Using a structure similar to that found in the government, Pony Club has a national, regional (similar to provincial), and local (branch) executive. As well, there are committees which oversee the activities for each discipline at all three levels.

Due to the large size and spread-out population of Canada, local branches can house anywhere from 80 members to as few as two or three participants. Some branches specialize in one or two disciplines; others engage in all the activities offered by Pony Club.

Currently, CPC is expanding its membership in several areas. Originally limited to youth between six and 21 years of age, now the age range for active members has been expanded to 25 years old. These extra years allow those members who used to ‘age out’ at 21 to have continued access to the program during and after university, or while working following high school graduation. For some, these extra years are beneficial, providing more time to achieve the sought-after pinnacle, the Pony Club ‘A’ level test.

No Pony? No Problem!

CPC has followed the lead of the UK Pony Club and recently introduced Pony Club Centres. Typically, Pony Club branches are made up of groups of members who own their own ponies and have the means to transport them to various events; however, in today’s economic climate, the number of Canadian families who own their own farms and ponies is decreasing. Consequently, Pony Club Centres can be formed using existing riding school barns along with their instructors and school horse strings. Centres provide those individuals who desperately love horses, yet don’t own or easily have regular access to a horse, the option to join Pony Club. While this is relatively new for CPC, centres have been operating for many years around the globe. They are a highly successful avenue for the Pony Club, as they give non-horse owning members the opportunity to have a positive experience learning about horses through access to the well-established and well-respected Pony Club program.

Horse Masters for the “Big Kids”

Pony Club for adults of all ages – the Horse Masters Program – has been added as of 2015. Horse Masters provides the regular Pony Club program to adults, who must agree to volunteer within the program. The Horse Masters program provides access to all aspects of Pony Club, including testing privileges. Adults can now test their Pony Club levels, too, something that many who previously had to leave Pony Club as a young adult are now returning to do.

The Horse Masters Program has also been of huge benefit to those parents who have been introduced to Pony Club through their child’s desire for a pony, and who wish to increase their own basic horse knowledge. This multi-generational commitment to producing an all-round safer environment for everyone involved in horses is a hallmark of the Pony Club system.

Sign ‘Em Up

So where do I start if my child (or I) would like to join Pony Club? Begin by visiting canadianponyclub.org to ‘Find a club near you.’ Clicking on your region on the map will direct you to your nearest club or centre. Note that prior to becoming a Pony Club member, you must join your local equine provincial sport organization (PSO).

You or your child will start in your branch/centre with the lesson program being offered there. Typically, there are riding lessons in spring and fall; however, in Canada, this plan can vary widely depending upon which province you live in and access to facilities. Branches and centres offer lessons, clinics, shows, camps, games, fundraising opportunities, and the chance to socialize with other horse lovers.

Regions host activities where the members from branches and centres get together from across their province or region to take part in activities such as camps, clinics, quizzes and competitions. This is the basis of many a ‘lifelong Pony Club friend’ story with which older members will regale you!

Finally, at the national level there is upper-level testing (the coveted ‘A’ test) and the opportunity to participate in international travel and to ride for Canada. Foxhunting in Ireland; show jumping in South Africa; eventing in New Zealand; International Mounted Games in Australia – all of these are possible for those who continue on in Pony Club and achieve a level of mastery in the combined stable management and riding program.

Being a member offers you the ability to play a small or a large part in your local, regional, national, or international equestrian world. The choice is totally up to you, and depends on your degree of thirst in your pursuit of equine success.

Many members of a nation’s Olympic equestrian teams got their start in Pony Club (see Pony Club Roots above). Other young Pony Club members grow up through the system and graduate on to horse-related careers such as veterinarian, nutritionist, or trainer. Many judges, stewards, or show organizers first cut their teeth in this sphere of the horse world by helping out at a local Pony Club show.

Pony Club is a huge organization run by volunteers, people who are there because of their belief in the Pony Club motto of Loyalty, Character, Sportsmanship – because that’s what truly matters to a successful equestrian and in life.

Pony Club Roots

Following are just a handful of Canadian pony clubbers who have gone on to become top international riders and even Olympic/Pan Am Games medalists:

  • Ian Millar (jumping)
  • Liz Ashton (eventing)
  • Moffat Dunlap (jumping)
  • Danny Foster (jumping)
  • Jim Henry (jumping & eventing)
  • Rebecca Howard (eventing)
  • Chelan Kozak (eventing)
  • Tik Maynard (eventing)
  • John Rumble (eventing)
  • Leslie Reid (dressage)
  • Gina Smith (dressage)
  • Lorraine Stubbs (dressage)
  • Beth Underhill (jumping)