Going Back To The Basics Of It All

May 3, 2019

I had some pretty strong Pony Club days flashbacks when I arrived at the “Fundamentals of Equitation with Stacia Klein Madden” at Fine Idea Farm in Mt. Airy, MD, on April 27. Ponies with more hair on their legs than most warmbloods have on their whole body stood tied to two-horse trailers parked in a grass field, nibbling on haynets. Their young riders, dressed in breeches but with plaid pajama bottoms with “Iron Bridge Hounds Pony Club” emblazoned on them, groomed them and brushed out their tails.

Seeing the Iron Bridge Hounds Pony Club kids reminded me of my own Pony Club days.
Photo by Jump Media

They were getting ready to ride in the clinic thanks to having won the annual Group Video Contest during Barn Night at the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) last year. (Watch their video here!) WIHS and BarnManager join forces to offer this group clinic opportunity, which is so unique. I can’t imagine, as a young Pony Clubber, if a trainer who appeared frequently in the pages of The Chronicle of the Horse came to teach our club’s riders.

My career has led to me to some pretty remarkable places—Olympic Games, World Cup Finals, and World Equestrian Games. Venues like the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Devon Horse Show feel like a second home. But I’ve never even dreamed of riding in such places. I started the same way as the Iron Bridge Hounds Pony Club kids—with a layer of sweatpants keeping my jodphurs clean as I groomed my horse, getting ready for a Pony Club rally. My fellow Pony Clubbers and I didn’t even conceive of competing at shows like Devon or aiming for North American Youth Championships. For us, the annual Pony Club National Championships were like the Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Most of the IBHPC kids had only a vague idea of who Madden is, and I don’t think they have a good idea what life is like for kids their age who are A-circuit veterans. Equitation finals are only a news story or video on the internet, not a realistic goal. But they were genuine in their dedication to learn, and brave in their riding.

I loved watching the Iron Bridge Hounds Pony Club kids, like Maddie Moy on Bamm-Bamm, learn.
Photo by Jump Media

When one of the walk-trot ponies was unsettled by the windy day and the creaking of the indoor, her rider wasn’t fazed. She was game for continuing, but Madden decided to lunge the pony a bit to settle her and ensure the rider’s safety. When Madden brought the pony back into the center of the ring and asked the rider to hop back on, she didn’t hesitate. She went on to ride confidently, even kicking her pony into a trot. “You’re tough!” Madden exclaimed.  And she was tough—she never showed any sign of worry.

The exercises Madden had the riders do were not complex. The riding wasn’t as sophisticated as you’d see in the pony or junior hunter rings at a top show. But I loved, loved watching them all learn. As Madden said after the clinic, “They’re like sponges, and they take in the knowledge so fast.” You could see dramatic improvement from one moment to the next in all the riders. It was obvious they’d been exposed to some new concepts that they’d take home and practice. WIHS and BarnManager gave these kids such a unique and remarkable opportunity. (And if you want to try to earn this clinic for 2020, make sure to enter the WIHS Barn Night contest—the IBHPC riders are planning their video already!)

I’ve always said that I chose the best career possible–to make a living watching great performances in the show ring. It becomes commonplace sometimes, so I dearly appreciate the reminder of how special it is. Getting a glimpse of the other side of the coin, the basic kid-on-a-pony level, is always a fantastic reminder of why we devote our lives to this sport, no matter in what form. We’re all cute kids with fuzzy ponies at heart.

Molly Sorge, the managing editor of Jump Media's content, grew up eventing and achieved her A rating in Pony Club. She spent a few years grooming on the A circuit before starting a 20-year career at the magazine The Chronicle of the Horse. She joined Jump Media in March 2018.