Amateur Hour

A Riding Revolution: My Adventure in (Adult) Pony Clubbing

Hello, my name is Aubrey Moore, and I am an adult amateur rider…

Let’s stop right there for a moment. How often have you heard someone say that phrase, “adult amateur”? It’s such a widely used term in the horse world, and I’d argue that it’s a phrase unique to our sport. You never hear someone playing a pickup game of soccer in the park describe themselves as an “adult amateur soccer player”—that would be ridiculous.

And how often, when you read articles or blogs, does the writer begin by saying they’re an adult amateur, and then go on to say that they “have only gone Prelim 14 times,” or “really only started their one-tempis last year”?

I don’t know about you, but I’m always left wondering what that makes me. Is there something below amateur? Like the baby tadpole division of riders? I’m not sure when amateur was redefined to mean “really, really good and accomplished at something,” but I do know I was definitely not invited to weigh in on that change.

Anyway, when I tell you I’m an amateur, I am not messing around. I mean that I’ve never jumped above 2’7″, never competed in dressage above Training Level, and I once took third place out of two in a schooling show.

(True story, the judge explained to the other competitor and I that neither of us rode well enough for a first place ribbon. The eight year girl I was up against cried, while the 18-year-old me was pleased that I had only cantered four extra laps before I could slow my horse down).

It never bothered me before to not be some impressive, champion rider as an adult, parading around the barn dishing out advice and cleaning my tack with blue ribbons, or whatever it is you do when you’re a champion rider. I’m mostly content to occasionally go to shows and lessons, do my best not to fall off or run my horse into people or inanimate objects, and go home at the end of the day happier and smellier than when I started.

But recently, I’ve had a slight change of heart due to a few big events in my life.

First, after years of begging rides from innocent bystanders (“I’ll pay you gas money!” I’d shout at the barn moms as they hurried away, a sweaty twenty clutched in my hand), I bought a truck and trailer, Francine and Francois. The truck is Francine, in case you’re curious.

Second, I have a new horse. I previously owned a fiery chestnut dun named Ginger, who I did some low level eventing with (read: I did two events, retired early on one and got disqualified from the other). It surprised exactly one person (read: me) when she showed little to no interest in anything other than trail riding. Turns out you probably won’t be seeing any Rocky Mountain Pleasure/Quarter Crosses on course at Rolex anytime soon for good reason.

Luckily, Ginger found a lovely home with a local mounted patrol, and is spending her days terrorizing criminals and acting pretty in parades. I couldn’t have dreamt up a better home for her.

Anywho, so I found a new partner in crime, an OTTB named Flynn. Someday I’ll tell you the story of how Flynn ended up in my care, but that day is not today because I’m too busy focusing on this “amateur” rant thing. Long story short, Flynn was terrible at being a racehorse, but he is excellent at packing around 5′ 3″ of nervous adult rider. We shall call him Saint Flynn henceforth.

©Aubrey Moore
©Aubrey Moore

The third piece of my recent riding revolution is I joined Pony Club.

Now, you may be thinking, “I thought Pony Club was for children?” Or “When will this lady finally get to the point of the story?” I can assure you of two things. One, there is no point to this story, so you’d better drop those expectations right now, and two, Pony Club is not just for kids! In fact, Pony Club has a whole program geared towards adult riders called Horsemasters. I joined after some “gentle” nudging from my barn owner and DC of the local chapter.

Fortunately, after being the one creepy older lady at the kids’ events for the last year, I managed to convince a few other adult riders to join me as well. So now we can be a creepy group of women. Everyone knows there’s strength in numbers.

Let me take a moment to sing the praises of Pony Club. In case you’re like me, and didn’t grow up living around the local stable as a barn rat, here’s the group’s purpose in brief: Pony club is an organization that expects kids to not only ride, but become well-rounded horsewomen and horsemen as well.

You attend lessons (both mounted and unmounted) in order to learn about riding, bandaging, trailering, feeding, and everything else involved with the care of horses. Periodically, you take tests to move up the levels by demonstrating knowledge appropriate for your current PC rating. It sounds easy, until you’re studying for your first rating and realize the saddle parts actually have names and aren’t just called “the flappy thing” or “that back part.”

As a Horsemaster, you’re held to the same standards as your tiny person counterparts. In some ways, I think it’s more beneficial for adults than it is for the kiddos. How many of us spent years riding, but don’t know the basics of feeding? Or the whys behind types of bandaging, or the safest way to trailer?

I know I was missing big gaps in my knowledge, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone out there. Pony Club is forcing me to get smarter and work harder, lest I have to explain to the 10-year olds that I didn’t know what a gaskin was and failed my D2 rating. Shame is a powerful motivator, people.

So as you can see, I’ve had some big changes over the last year. I have things I never really experienced before, such as a trustworthy steed, a support network of other adult riders, and independent mobility. It’s given me a new zest for riding that I was beginning to lose, and subsequently, I have a planner that’s now filled with lessons from different instructors, shows, and some fun events like my first endurance ride in March.

I have no idea how this will all go. I could very well fall on my face (literally and figuratively) at every event, but I do know I have a passion for the journey, and I’m pushing myself in a way I never have before. I can’t wait to see what I’m reporting back to you next year at this time. Hopefully it’s not “Well my recovery is going well and I’ll be out of the cast soon!”

Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be that I’m ready to stop thinking of myself as a baby tadpole, and start thinking of myself as a true “amateur.”

Aubrey MooreAbout the Author

When Aubrey Moore isn’t riding her horse Flynn or doing near-constant maintenance on her truck, she can be found with a glass of wine in hand, chatting happily with her cat Frankie.