I’ve been a proud member of the US Pony Club since I was a wee kid riding a naughty pony named Pickles.

My devotion to this organization has seen me through my horsemanship journey even to this day—horsemaster members have all of the same access and abilities to Pony Club certifications and trainings as our younger counterparts, which means no one is too old for Pony Club now.

Pony Club has taught me how to take excellent care of my own horses and given me riding opportunities I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. It has also, oddly, prepared me to hunker down with my horses at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jess Clawson, proud Pony Clubber.

Here are the top five ways Pony Club has prepared me for this unforeseeable event.

1. The focus is on the bigger picture

We are all sad that there are no horse shows, rallies, or certifications happening right now. But I’ve learned through all of the excellent clinicians and national examiners I’ve been fortunate to work with that today isn’t the only day. If things aren’t going the way we want them to, that just means we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. There will be more opportunities, so how can we learn from what is happening now and prepare for them? This mindset has helped me curb my frustration as my goals for the season come screeching to a halt.

©joiseyshowaa/flickr CC by 2.0

2. Not all learning is on a horse

I’m a studious person, so the book study element of Pony Club has always come naturally to me. It helps that the online and print resources Pony Club provides are excellent. The manuals are well structured and the illustrations are classic. I learn something new every time I crack one open—even the volume meant for beginners. This is a great time to study more about horses, whether it’s for a certification or just to become a better equestrian. Do you know all of the toxic plants in your area? The life cycle of a bot fly? Study up!

©Alexander Bogdanovich

3. Not all helping is in the barn

Pony Club stresses community responsibility. For instance, we take land conservation seriously, because if land isn’t well cared for and preserved, we won’t be able to do our sport. There might be projects you can safely do right now if your state isn’t under a stay-at-home order. But the most important thing we can do to help right now is to stay home, wash our hands, and ask our essential workers what they need from us.

©Jon Clegg/Flickr CC

4. Horse care preparedness

Some of us with horses at home might find that we have to make do without the support of the professionals we’re used to having available. If your horse twists a shoe but your farrier has COVID and your backup farrier is overwhelmed with work, you are going to need to pull that shoe yourself. What if your vet can’t come out but your horse is bleeding? Pony Club teaches its members how to handle these sorts of events in addition to basic horse management. I am confident I can keep all seven of my horses alive and healthy through this, barring real disaster. That is quite reassuring.


5. Safety first

Finally, one of the keystones of the Pony Club system is safety. If a horse or rider isn’t safe, nothing else matters. Of course, we can apply this concept to staying home and washing hands and sanitizing surfaces, but I would also urge everyone taking care of horses right now to proceed with exceptional caution. Now is not the time to go to the ER if you can possibly avoid it.

To this end, I am wearing my helmet, gloves, paddock boots, and cross country vest whenever I am interacting with horses on the ground. I do not want to burden my ER doctors with a horse-related accident if I can take these basic, reasonable precautions to keep safe.

A huge thank you to the US Pony Club system for preparing me and all of your members for coping with this crisis. None of us could have seen this coming when we signed up, but I’m so grateful we have the skills we do now.

Jess Clawson is a freelance writer, event rider, and historian living in Berryville, Virginia.