The first six months of my riding career were spent with two trainers; one for two months, and the second for about four. Then I started leasing my first horse at a barn that happened to be home to the local Pony Club, and the rest of my riding development was set.

USPC gave me everything their mission promises: a well-rounded education into all aspects of horse care and management, exposure to a variety of mounted sports, independence, and a group of friends bonded not only by a love of horses but the teams they put us on at rallies. When I think of my list of potential bridesmaids, many of them have come from this niche. In most respects, the program was wonderful and I am so thankful that this is where I developed my horsemanship skills.


The Downside

With that long list of friends came a similar amount of coaches. I remember, especially in the beginning, spending my hour-long time slot trying to absorb everything the instructor had to tell me. Many were the same: heels down, eyes up, turn off of outside rein, more leg, etc..

Other instructions were not so consistent. I naturally go to a crest release, always have. During one session when I was about 12, the coach insisted that learning and keeping an automatic release would be best for my horse. So I did. And I practiced it until the next meeting about a month later, fully expecting to be praised for the improvement. Instead, the new coach gently asked why I had made such an “unnecessary” change.

Conversations like this were a common occurrence as I progressed in my riding through the years. In their effort to make us well-rounded athletes, our club leaders presented us with a series of mixed signals and contradictions.


The Workaround

12-year-old-me would have done nearly anything to have one trainer, or at least a few who were on the same page with what they wanted from us. Now, I’m grateful for every piece of insight I was given, both the suggestions that worked wonders and the ones that resulted in a mouthful of dirt.

I learned to be adaptable. As each instructor presented a new set of instructions, I figured out quickly it was best interest to comply, at least for the length of that lesson. It was a matter of respect, for them and for me. I realized they were telling me what worked for them and I owed it to myself to give it a shot. But after they packed up and left I had a choice to make. With every set of opposing opinions I was presented with, I was able to pick the ones that worked best for me.

©Flickr/Dominion Valley Pony Club

©Flickr/Dominion Valley Pony Club

This is something I took for granted until I got to college and finally had what I’d been yearning for: one trainer, one way of doing things. In that environment there is no decision-making, no room for experimentation and exploration, and I found it limiting. That’s when I realized the value of Pony Club’s greatest “flaw”: individuality.

We were all given the same tools, and yet, I can think back on the riding styles of my fellow clubbers and see visible differences shaped by the choices we made based on what worked for us and the horses we rode. But even the knowledge that we have yet found a use for could come in handy in the future. Thanks to my Pony Club upbringing, I am confident in my ability to utilize all the various advice should I find myself on a horse who needs a specific touch.

About the Author

Kaitie Marolf is a senior at Kansas State University majoring in print journalism, minoring in leadership studies and pursuing a certification in equine science. Her horse life includes eventing, jumpers and mounted games. She hopes to work in health and equine communications upon graduation.