STARS First Rating Session

A firsthand account shows why the Old People's Riding Club (OPRC) is attracting enthusiastic adult riders nationwide.
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A firsthand account shows why the Old People's Riding Club (OPRC) is attracting enthusiastic adult riders nationwide.



Linda and Quest.

© Gale Wolfe

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A group of nearly 30 adults in the Southern Tier is discovering it's as much fun to work toward personal achievement in Horsemanship as it was when they were teens. The opportunity was created on July 8, 2001, when the Southern Tier Adult Riding Society (STARS) was formed as the first New York chapter of the national Old People's Riding Club.

Old People's Riding Club (OPRC) follows the policies and guidelines of the United States Pony Clubs, and was featured in a June 2001 article in Practical Horseman magazine. Members need only be over the age of twenty-one to join an OPRC chapter, whereas twenty is the maximum age for the United States Pony Clubs.

As a teenager I "Pony-Clubbed" as a member of the Bridlespur Pony Club in St. Louis, Missouri. I learned to clean bridles until they gleamed, clean stalls until they smelled like high-class hotels, and clean my horse until Mom would almost let her come in for the night (almost!). I learned proper feeding, conditioning, warming-up and cooling-down. I learned equine first aid, and understood when it was essential to call the veterinarian. I rode dressage tests, jumped hunter courses and pushed hard against the clock on rugged cross-country courses. I studied and worked to pass increasingly more difficult "ratings", in which a stern examiner tested my knowledge and evaluated my performance. I was chosen to be on the team of five Pony Clubbers representing the St. Louis area in the three-day regional competition at the Ponca Hills Equestrian Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

More than anything, I had the time of my life.

Thirty years later, I'm getting to do it again. Like many horse-crazy kids, I grew up, got married and settled into a job and raising children. Horses were part of my childhood, but not part of my schedule or budget as an adult.

That changed in the summer of 2000, when I bought my Thoroughbred mare, Quest. But horse showing had become much more expensive in the intervening thirty years and I wasn't sure a blue ribbon would justify the cost. Worse, I wasn't sure I remembered everything I used to know and I couldn't afford for either Quest or I to get hurt.

That's where STARS came in. The focus is on safety, education and fun. All types of riding are welcome (saddle seat, Western, hunt seat) and there are non-jumping options available at all rating levels. Already STARS has had an instructional clinic with Dr. Patrick Tersigni on equine spinal adjustments and a Centered Riding clinic with international riding teacher, author and artist Susan Harris of Cortland, New York. Other plans include trail rides, hunter paces and a day at the Finger Lakes Race Track. We'd learned that as adults, we were more interested in learning and improving than in ribbons.

So there I was on a recent Sunday, with butterflies in my stomach, checking my watch every two minutes. At exactly 2:20 p.m., I was going to be examined for my combined D1-D2 rating. Quest had been brushed until her reddish-brown coat reflected the hazy afternoon light filtering through the barn's door. I kept repeating the obscure equine anatomy terms to myself like a personal mantra: stifle, gaskin, fetlock, hock, pastern. Would I sit deep, keep my eyes up, my heels down, remember to breathe? Would Quest's adolescent enthusiasm erupt into bucking when we moved to the huge outdoor arena, or had she gotten it out of her system late that morning in the round pen?

And then the Examiner was introducing herself. "Gale Wolfe", she said as she reached to shake my hand. "I'll be examining you today as a candidate for the D1-D2 ratings. Shall we begin?"

Of course, this calm serious woman was the same Gale I had seen in her bathrobe early on a Saturday morning, checking on a thirty-year-old trusted gelding with a swollen tendon. The same Gale who owns the stable where Quest lives (Gale's Equine Facility, Big Flats, New York). The same Gale who can find something to make you laugh even when you've lifted the 300th 50-pound hay bale up two feet to the next pair of tired hands.

"Yes, let's begin," I mumbled, and remembered to breathe. I'd felt a bit silly that morning, asking my ten-year-old daughter to quiz me on material from my thirty-year-old Pony Club Manual, wondering if I wasn't making too big a deal of this. Now I was glad I had. With the number of hours I devote to my horse, it was worth learning to do it well.

Time flew as the examination proceeded. I was a proud fourteen-year-old again as I demonstrated how to groom, tack up and lead a horse, and answered questions about feeding, routine veterinary care and anatomy. We entered the indoor arena and I mounted and worked Quest in big loopy circles to loosen and relax her. With two other candidates, I demonstrated my ability to ride at a walk, trot and canter. We headed outdoors.

Quest seemed to know it was an important occasion, because she was all business in the outdoor arena. The jump course is her passion and she charged the fences like a steeplechaser. We pulled up to regroup and reconsider our readiness. Gale suggested we try the second line again, and that I sit back and really take hold of her after the first fence. I did, and she easily braked from a hand-gallop to a working trot, as though she'd known better and was just waiting for me to catch on.

We floated out of the fenced arena to the trail ride, heading to the top of a hill at the north of Gale's property. Trotting up a steep incline and jumping a log forced a long-submerged giggle from somewhere near my heart. The Examiner had tested seven candidates that day, and she was happy to be aboard Skippy watching the late-afternoon sun light the group of mares grazing in the pasture below. One of the horses shied a little on the final return stretch and two others joined in, but all three candidates remained balanced and secure in their saddles. It had been a good day to be tested; it felt wonderful to have passed.

Completing their D1 ratings were:

  • Chip Shumway
  • Tina Turk
  • Monika Wood
  • Jane Marie Law
  • Laurie Baker
  • Pam Schneider
  • Linda Nichols

Completing their D2 ratings were:

  • Chip Shumway
  • Tina Turk
  • Laurie Baker
  • Pam Schneider
  • Linda Nichols

Rating certificates are recorded at the national level of the Old People's Riding Club and recipients receive a colorful certificate to recognize their achievement.

For more information on OPRC visit the website at www.oldpeoplesridingclub.org. For more information on STARS, contact Gale Wolfe, (the chapter's secretary) at Gale's Equine Facility, 796-9821, or STARSofOPRC@prodigy.net or STARS President Ms. Sandy Murray at smurray@stny.rr.com