Families and children are so busy these days, it’s a wonder they find time for their hobbies! Horses, as we know can offer great rest and recharge time. But when it comes to the push, families often find them one commitment too many. It could be due to lack of time or financial pressures, or the combination of the two not balancing out.
My daughter had a pony from the age of 3 until recently. At a Prep School, she did not finish until 4:30, if there was a match or club, even later. There was no time to ride after school due to lack of light, but even in the summer, she was barely able to hold herself together from tiredness. And then there’s the homework, reading, spelling!
Understand your members
Some pony club members will have regular access to indoor schools and floodlit ménages. But many don’t. As the children get older, those ‘with’ tend to progress more rapidly. Leading to discouragement for those ‘without’ as they become more aware of peers.
So it’s important to know your members, what are their interests and ambitions? They might not be the same as the parents though! (More on this later). Having this information enables you to tailor your offer.
Some children are ultra-competitive and others just love the ‘being’ with horses. That’s why it’s important to buddy like-minded children in camps and rallies, matching them with a suitable coach. A well-matched coach will meet them at their level, ensuring they feel comfortable and keep coming back for more.
If you get your offer right with the little ones, you will build a stable base for your club. This is a great time when the children and parents have a bit more time. School has not kicked in fully and mothers are more likely to be on a career break. Nurturing, both parents and child at this stage, allows them to get to know the committee and the ethos of the branch. Keep the emphasis on fun for the children and the parents at this age!
Setting the tone
In some Pony Clubs issues between parents, volunteers and coaches can manifest. We have all met the pushy ones or the parent new to horses, who looks like a rabbit in headlights at rallies. All this can be ironed out at the start of the membership by hosting adults only get together’s. You may like to set it up as a social with guest speakers. To make it seem less preachy, use titles for the speakers such as:
- How to encourage young people in sport.
- What equipment to invest in for your pony club child that will save you time and money.
All with some wine and nibbles at a nearby pub!
This is a useful website and there is even a Parent in Sports Week. This could be a useful date to add to your calendar of events. It will be easier to have these conversations backed up by a National campaign get involved on twitter using
When it comes to organising your diary of activities, it’s a good idea to plan your activities for an entire year. This enables you to delegate fairly/and within comfort zone of your committee members. It also gets in people’s diaries making them more committed to your activities. Plus it’s also easier to update your pages on the Pony Club website in one hit.
If your planning badges, who do you know who can help out from outside the committee? A pony club is a wide network of equestrian people. If you run an active Facebook Group, I’ll bet you’re only a degree of separation from that person who could help you to do the carriage driving badge!
Get creative, Get Liked!
There are now so many badges to do, but try and make them as fun as possible so the information sticks. For the working dogs badge, ask children to bring their dogs to an unmounted session/dog show (on leads). Help them identify the ‘working’ dog breeds, it will be fun if someone brings their Chiwawa! The police dog handling unit and guide dogs for the blind can usually attend if you contact them in advance.
Use this link to request a guide dog speaker.
Get everyone to donate some dog themed cupcakes as you will need to raise money for the guide dog to come. Or perhaps ask everyone/or a particular crafty mum, to make up some doggie treat bags to sell?
The more visually stimulating your activities are. The more likely members will share the day on social media channels. And the more likely their network will comment, like and share. It will also improve the likelihood of getting featured in your local horse magazine or by The Pony Club Headquarters!
Click here for some more inspiration on Pinterest to get your creative juices flowing.
Challenging teens and the inevitable drop off
This is the time when pressure from school really kicks in, as well as hormones and peer pressure.
What once had been a fun thing to do at weekends, now is seen as bit lame! Sport England have recognised this for all sports. Their insight and research shows a significant drop off between the ages 14-25. Once children leave education, the bank of Mum and Dad often stops funding the horse. It could be some time before they come back, if ever!
These are the profiles/personality types that Sport England has identified in young people:
For further reading, I recommend this link.
What opportunities are there in equestrian?
The governing bodies of equine sport have been encouraged to develop programmes that meet the needs of this age group by Sport England.
It’s worth looking at Young Equestrians by The Pony Club. The principle is for young people to take responsibility for their own learning and have a say in what they do. Although it been more commonly adopted by the Pony Club Centre Membership scheme (via Riding schools), it is still very relevant to branch members. This programme works hand in hand with Young Equestrian Leaders Award (YELA). This initiative was set up by The Riding for the Disabled, to help lower the average age of their volunteers. YELA is a bit like The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DoE), in that you are recognised for your volunteer hours. This helps young people build a CV, when it’s so hard to get a job without experience, plus it also bolsters their UCAS points.
Could you get funding?
Another factor that could be holding back your club is if your equipment! Do you have a set of showjumps that you can move between the venues you use, or do you have the correct equipment to train for additional activities such as mounted games?
If not you could be eligible for funding from Sport England small grants. You will need to be able to clearly demonstrate how this equipment will increase participation. Check out this page for more details.
Sport England funding streams are constantly reviewed. This funding stream has been available for some time and it currently open for applications. I’ve seen several PCs awarded grants. However, it may be subject to change as they roll out their 2016-2021 strategy.
If you would like to listen to a training video specifically aimed at the equestrian market applying for grant funding check it out here.
Do your facilities meet members needs?
Another thing to check are the facilities you hire, are they easy for your members to get to? Are they safe? There are often reasons why an event or competition is less well attended – but you need to ask your members in order to get this insight. Don’t assume it’s always forthcoming.
Branches can rely too heavily on the generosity/in-kind use of member’s fields or land, this can give short term benefit for cash flow. However, long term it can put off some parents or potential members who would prefer their children to ride in an arena, on a surface. This cost more money toward hire fees, but could increase overall profitability of the branch long term.
Support for your club, coaches and volunteers in your local area
In each English county, you will find a ‘County Sport Partnership’. A collective of sport development professionals, funded by Sport England. These groups range from county to county and offer a range of services to support clubs.
Some of the things on offer relevant to Pony Club branches:
- Workshops to improve your volunteer retention
- Professional development for coaches
- Access to local funding pots
- Local awards where you can nominate one of your coaches, volunteers or riders.
Find your local CSP here.
I do hope this has inspired you to help more young people into equestrian sport but more importantly to discover the love of horses and finding that bond!