This post is going to be a little rambly, but the gist is about whether or not to let my son do Pony Club.
So I did not do Pony Club when I was a kid. As much as I desperately wanted to be part of that group of kids that showed up at the same schooling days and shows, I never was. I did get lumped in with them during the schooling days with our lovely schooling trainer but I was always the outside on the "crazy lip flipping quarter horse mare thing" and whose parents were never there (I bummed rides from adult barn mates). I had to do it all on my own with lots of hard work and a long suffering trainer that came weekly to our barn and obviously would rather teach the adults but put up with me and seemed more frustrated with my dedication than anything else.
In the end, I don't regret not doing Pony Club and feel I would not be where I am now if I HAD done PC. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE structured programs and am always trying to find someone that has "written the book" on something I want to do and I can follow it word for word and achieve my goals. Interestingly, the world doesn't really work that way from learning to knit to learning to pilot an airplane.
There is no one way to achieve your goal. When I flew a dog down from Syracuse, NY last month, I could have her route through Atlanta, DC, or Chicago. All of them got her to me in Houston, but I chose the northern most route because of the heat. Is that to say she would have died or gotten lost going the other way? Probably not but the chances by default were simply higher due to the existing and unchangeable factors.
I'm not tied to any one method, but I do know the path of least resistance and sometimes you need to step back and look at extenuating factors... such as extreme southern summer temperatures and an airline's reputation for successfully transporting animals.
So considering I'm not tied to a single "most perfect" method, I do have an open mind about things but also want it to gel with what I know from my personal experience works and what my goals are. My dressage coach lets me do things my own way and simply coaches me, rather than doing the training and a "her way or the highway" type of approach. I've learned a TON from her but she's also learned a fair amount from me. I love this two way flow of information and respect.
OK, but what about the ground level people that just want to learn?
Great question! I think for parents that are wanting to get their kid to have a broad knowledge of horses, Pony Club is the jam. It looks like a great all around program with a basis in horsemanship and safety. Who wouldn't want that?
As a parent, I LOVE when people can teach my kid and let me off the hook. I'm always doing the "training" on him so a chance to step back and clap/cheer like a really parent makes me happy. We have this in football. My kid is stupidly talented and we've gotten him in with some great coaches (and some not so great) and he's improved and I've gotten to go to the games and cheer.
My son has always wanted to do the horse thing and while I've tried to discourage it, he persists. Maybe not with the obsessive compulsive way I did at his age, but he's wanting. He's also fearless and well, who doesn't want to see a kid hauling a$$ on a jumper course having a blast? Even my safety conscious/obsessed, slow and steady self cannot ignore that. It would be fun to clap and cheer my kiddo on while he and his mount have a blast around things I did as a kid but didn't have the cheering. Not bitter, but I'd love a second chance at that for his sake/my childhood.
But I'm not sure he really needs it. Maybe it's my slight desire to live though him? Dunno but I know I'm not trying to take more on either. If he wants to help us cool out horses, I'm all for it since we need the help plus everyone likes to see kids/beginners on a sales horse to prove how safe and quiet they are.
So last night I had Sarah on Feina for a brief lesson and I was on the new horse, Luna. This was Luna's first time in the covered, in it at night, with lots of things going on. She was a rock. So willing, so sweet, so happy to just be doing something that I decided to have Pierce get on her and walk/trot her around for me so I could help Sarah more from the ground. He hopped on and... was bored. She was too easy but as a parent, I loved it. The mare did as close to taking care of him as I'd ever expect a horse to. The idea that Pierce could do some Pony Club things on her and then "move up" to another horse was tempting so I thought about it.
We had a one day "try it out" thing a few years back with the local Pony Club. The group was very supportive and welcoming. My son ate up the attention (only boy, what?) and had fun doing the activities. I didn't have too much of an issue with what they did in the riding part of the meeting except the only horse I had for him at the time was a touch too much for him. I had mentioned that and they said I could lead line him basically through it. Well, PC is strictly NO PARENTS in the ring and I had to fight to get what the arranged agreement was done (we were just "trying it out". They gave in and my son had a great time on the mare. There was some chaos in a ring of kids and horses but it was fine overall. I left feeling a bit meh about it but Son loved it.
That was the last thing we've done with PC and while I'm not against it, I'm still undecided much of the time.
The ride last night made me revisit this thinking for my son. Do I want to bother with Pony Club? Lots of top riders are A rated and learned a ton from the program. I love that it is pretty standardized and I love the ratings. What I don't love though, is the major flaw: humans. Each club seems to be built around political nonsense and parents (usually moms) that want to live vicariously through their kid(s) that never got to do horses while younger or did and haven't been able to since. I just want my kid to learn yo and I don't need momma drama.
So I was considering it and well, the meetings where a "top" trainer comes and helps out has me concerned too. When I hit it hard with the horses in 2014-2015, I went to some of these PC A rated trainers to catch up on what I might have missed from PC. Honestly, I lost my confidence with them rather than learned anything back. It's only recently I've been able to realize WHY I'm not ok with jumping when it used to be as easy as breathing. The addition of "its always your fault" and "more leg always" and "count COUNT DAMMIT COUNT RIGHT!" as well as other hallmarks of "learning to jump" had me in a twist. I NEVER put that much thought into jumping before. I was taught how to do things by feel and be effective. I can SEE a distance like no one's business, but get me over thinking about it and I'm going to miss it every time. Do I understand the concept? Absolutely. Can I do it? Absolutely. Can I count it out perfect every time? Nope. But I endured lessons where I was basically a failure if I couldn't do this "simple" thing and I had to put the horses EXACTLY where I wanted them and so on. It was nerve-wracking and really killed my confidence.
I've found my home in dressage, don't get me wrong, but sometimes the urge to go "have fun" is real and we want to get the horses out. I also think cross training all animals (and people!) is necessary for their bodies and minds so we do it. I just hate how I went from confident to not in a short 9 month period with these A rated PC trainers.
And these are the people that would be teaching my child in lessons.
Most of these trainers are pretty nice people on the surface, but I feel that there's more cursing (coming from my no filter mouth is saying something), more drinking, more suggestive talking, and basically inappropriate behavior from these people than I care to expose my kid to (see Instagram...). Is he a prude? Not at all. I curse like a sailor (especially when tired) but I would NEVER do it in a lesson/professional situation (especially for beginners) and NEVER with a child (especially one I didn't make). Do I think people need to be pushed a little? Yes. That's how we learn and get more confident. But you need to learn from mistakes not be berated for taking a chance well outside your comfort level and naturally failing. This is not a good way to learn and best case will lead to disinterest and worst case.. well.
I also don't like how a lot of the kids get "holier than though" if they ARE good and can take the beratings. They turn into little shits and I don't want that for my kid. He's a confident thing already and being a quarterback does stoke the ego but he also knows the leadership and responsibility that he has to be part of and he meets those challenges. I don't need him learning to snark adults and be disrespectful because he's fearless and gutsy (and the only boy). Conversely, I don't want him learning to be worried in situations that he's overfaced in and forced to do them anyway. We teach the horses and the dogs to try and when it gets too tough, we just break it down into smaller pieces, master those and then work to putting them together rather than just forcing forcing forcing.
But then again, that's a big reason we get some many nice horses in to fix. :/
I know many of these PC graduates have done amazing things and I hope that it's restricted to our region, but I just don't see myself making the time, training the kid, training the horse, just to have an outing that makes me want to pull my nails out and possibly go all stabby stabby on someone. Honestly, I have the knowledge and horses that if I wanted to push my kid, he could get his bronze medal by the end of 2018. That's not the experience I want from him though and honestly that really pads my resume more than his and its a lot to ask from a 20 year old let alone a 10 year old. I also want him to learn to work for things. Find the value in "fixing broken things."
While I know there are two sides to every story, things like THIS about a person that's competed at Rolex, has an upper level record, trains lots of horses and people, works with PC kids.... it makes me nervous no matter what level of truth is in this. The horse world is so secretive because people fear retribution from bullies and such. We try to be as transparent as we can about our horses and program. I don't see myself putting my kid in a position where he would have to learn from people like this person. Since we have little control over the trainers that "help," this would be a very real concern.
So while I had to do it all on my own and was a little jealous of the PC kids that had a built in group and got to play with ponies in a kid friendly atmosphere, I wouldn't trade my horse upbringing for anything. It taught me what PC is supposed to teach you: Horsemanship, Organized Teamwork, Respect, Service, and Education.
There's always more than one road on your journey.
As for my son, well, I'm just going to have him learn on our sales horses whatever he can and I know some lovely people that taught me when I was young that are kind, supportive, and I'd happily have him train with them sporadically. I'll have to be brave enough to help him learn (apparently I'm an ok rider ;) ) and know when to push him and when to let him figure it out. I'm a bit worried that he's going to be really good though lol.