The group formally known as the United States Pony Clubs was founded in 1954, modeled on (but independent from) the British Pony Club. The latter group originated in 1928, when members of the British Horse Society started a group for children. (The word "pony" in the name refers to the age of the members, not to the size of horses they ride.)
The ideal of Pony Club, in essence, is a happy, comfortable child on a happy, comfortable horse. The organization's mission statement also targets "responsibility, moral judgment, leadership, and self-confidence" as qualities to be developed in members. A standardized curriculum enables local club leaders, called district commissioners or "DCs," to stay faithful to Pony Club values and objectives.
Three USPC manuals--each volume of increasingly complex information--cover all aspects of horsemanship, including horse husbandry. A separate reading list has been vetted by consultants to make sure the recommended books are age-appropriate for each level.
Pony Clubbers progress through a rating system, much as Boy and Girl Scouts do. Children graduate from one level to the next only when they've demonstrated they have all the knowledge and skills commensurate with that level. Members who attain the highest levels--B, H-A, and A--have met standards of competence that are recognized throughout the horse world.
Regional and local dues vary, ranging from zero to about $75. The minimum age for membership is set by each club; most place it around eight but are flexible.
Members needn't own a horse or pony, but they must have access to one. Some clubs meet in barns where horses are available for rent; other clubs help members find suitable mounts to buy, lease or borrow. The only other requirement of membership is a pledge of parental involvement.
Members receive both mounted and unmounted instruction; most clubs encourage members to take additional lessons apart from Pony Club.
For more information and to find the local club nearest you, go to www.ponyclub.org.
This article originally appeared in Growing Up With Horses, published by Equine Network.