Pony Club Camp Texas Style
by Ute Carson
Pony Club News, No. 32, Winter 1987

Editor's Note: Although most of the country is experiencing the throes of winter, it's never too early to begin thinking about warmer weather, Pony Club camps, and mounted activities. The following article captures the essence of what happens at a Pony Club camp.

Every camp organizer dreams of finding the perfect location for camp. The ideal conditions for a Pony Club camp are diverse and depend largely on sound footing to guarantee safety for horse and rider. Weather can make or break a Pony Club camp. A few drops of rain won't deter eager participants, but prolonged downpours squelch cross-country ventures, as well as outdoor jumping. Dressage work may also be limited when a pony has to use its agility to kick off mud instead of turning on its haunches.

This past summer, members of the Tejas Pony Club in Red River Region planned a five-day camp in the lush, hilly countryside near Belleville, Texas. The owners of Pine Hill Farm offered solid, well-kept stables at a minimal fee and al lowed campers to pitch tents. Adults took turns at night duty, and parents volunteered to deliver evening meals. Middays were spent on outings to Belleville to swim and otherwise escape the noonday heat. Campers had a strenuous two-hour riding session every morning and again each evening, so a quick dip in the Wayne Hotel pool and a tasty hamburger was needed to refresh and restore depleted energy. Riders were responsible for their own breakfasts and snacks.

Having ventured through torrential rains, we arrived at camp with horse and trailer to discover that a call canceling camp had been placed after we had al ready started our trek. We couldn't decide whether that was a good or a bad omen. In any case, the other campers found themselves in the same predicament. Once at the farm, who wanted to turn around and brave the same weather conditions again? So, we all stayed.

During the next five days, one thunderstorm from the Gulf and another from western Texas collided over us and poured down more rain than the water- soaked ground could absorb. Puddles, damp meadows, muddy brooks and run-off ravines created by the rushing water became natural obstacles for horse and rider. With several days of rain and mud underfoot, why did we depart at the end of our stay feeling that the camp had been a resounding success?

Sure, the sun favored us with its rays so that riders and mounts got drenched no more than once each riding session. But the success sprang from the upbeat, positive attitude each participant displayed in the face of adverse weather conditions. Changes in plans and schedule adjustments were taken in stride, as when all cots were moved into empty stalls. Bedding down next to chomping, snorting ponies lent a cozy familiarity to the stall rooming adventure.

Tejas Pony Club was fortunate in its selection of Regis Webb as camp instructor. Regis obliged participants who wanted to learn something other than what they were taught at their home stables. She was versatile; her competence ranged from flatwork to jumping, as well as from cross-country riding to stable management. During inclement weather, she came up with contingency plans, moving from arena to stalls for a talk about pony ailments or a conformation demonstration.

Although it is important to leave camp with a sense of accomplishment, achievement is only one of the ideas underlying Pony Club. The club's goals and standards encompass a wider range. Comradeship is important, and there is no better place to experience helpful- ness, cooperation and collegial criticism than at a camp gathering. Tejas Pony Club had two age groups at Pine Hill, which represented various competencies within each level. While the instructor was occupied with one group, the older and more experienced riders helped the younger ones. The younger ones, in turn, had models to look up to.

"It's like being with an older sister," my nine year old daughter commented. The value of Pony Club camp lies foremost in shared experiences, not in competition. With support and a bit of pressure from the group, one of the girls whose pony had refused to jump, and thus intimidated her, learned to take several of the cross-country jumps with confidence. After accomplishing a special feat, younger riders were filled with pride when praised by older members. Campers learn by watching and listening to one another, as well as from individual instruction. In addition to learning skills, participants are exposed to new types of activities. One mother organized games, which spurred the group to invent other activities.

Pony Club camp means roughing it, rolling with the punches, and being a good sport in spite of being tired. It instills rider confidence, and teaches fellowship and responsibility, and demonstrates that a pony's needs always come first. Riders must feed their mounts before they can eat. Before riders can rest their own wobbly legs, they must first hose and walk their ponies. But camp is also laughter and talk after lights out. It deepens children's understanding and love of their ponies and adds to the list of shared adventures.

Ute Carson is a teacher and free-lance writer, as well as a Pony Club mother, who lives in Galveston, Texas, with her husband and three daughters. Her stories and essays have appeared in journals and magazines around the country.

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