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Lisa Unleashed: Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash



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Scattered sunshine, a very low tide and a panoply of ponies populated Jennings Beach in Fairfield this past weekend. It's rare to see more than one or two other horses out on the beach during a ride despite Jennings being one of the few beaches that allows horses (and dogs) access from October 1 to April 1 each year.What is the Pony Club?Area Pony Club InformationUS Pony Club Centers: Whimsy Brook Farm, Redding, Candace Reed Benyei, center administrator, 203-938-3760 or drcandace@earthlink.net, whimsybrookfarm.com; and Access Equestrian, Bedford, N.Y., Denise Avolio, center administrator, 914-234-9000 or info@accessequestrian.org, accessequestrian.org.US Pony Clubs: Fairfield County Hounds Pony Club, Westport, Kelly Pollard, district commissioner, 203-226-9206 or kepollard@optonline.net, fairfieldponyclub.com; Greenwich Pony Club, Greenwich, Mary Bykowski, district commissioner, 203-360-0984 or mkbykowski@gmail.com; Wilton Pony Club, Wilton, Lori Kaine, district commissioner, 203-210-5007 or ljkaine@yahoo.com, wiltonponyclub.com; and Goldens Bridge Hounds Pony Club, North Salem, N.Y., Teal Hoins, district commissioner, 917-545-7217 or tlhoins@aol.com.Lisa Peterson - lifelong equestrian, show dog breeder and award-winning podcaster, communications professional and journalist - writes about horses, hounds and history at LisaUnleashed.com. Reach her at elvemel@gmail.com or @LisaNPeterson.

But upon arrival in the parking lot, we were greeted by several horse trailers, which was unusual. Once on the beach there were ponies and people everywhere! Large ponies, small ponies, and one very small pony with a flaxen mane and tail. Too cute for words! Where did this pony herd come from? A quick glance at one girl's jacket reveled the answer - The Wilton Pony Club.

Our paths crossed at various times during beach canters and walking in the waves. A woman on the ground made sure instructions were clear to the group, trotting here, not cantering there, and always staying with the group. Adults followed with a muck bucket and pitch fork, in case any pony let loose manure on the sand, which must be picked up according to the beach rules. Having fun and being responsible all at the same time.

I was overjoyed watching these kids and their fuzzy mounts, some clipped for the warm winter, tackling a new equestrian challenge. They took their ponies back and forth into the surf. Pony front legs pawing at the waves as they hit the shore. Parents leading little ones with small helmets, like a lead line class held at the water's edge, Long Island Sound stretching out behind them. It warmed my heart to see kids on ponies and horses enjoying a ride at the beach as part of their involvement with the pony club. While I didn't participate in the pony club proper as a kid, I did go to many of the horse shows held by the Wilton and Goldens Bridge Hounds Pony Clubs at their respective show grounds in the 1970s. Today, some pony clubs still hold horse shows and the Goldens Bridge Hounds Pony Club even holds an annual hunter pace in North Salem, N.Y., in November.

The nonprofit United States Pony Club (USPC) was founded in 1954 to teach English riding and horsemanship to American children. Its British counterpart was founded in the 1920s. The USPC boasts a club structure of learning to ride and take care of horses, with participants earning different levels of achievement along the way. They hold regional and national competitions as well. Today, there are a variety of Pony Club programs for young people up to the age of 25 and even newer Horsemasters program for adults. There are many opportunities for parents to participate and for adults to volunteer. Learn more at ponyclub.org.

Something common to all local clubs is the USPC mission and core values. Its mission stresses developing "character, leadership, confidence and a sense of community in youth through a program that teaches the care of horses and ponies, riding and mounted sports." In addition, its core values spell out the word horse:

Horsemanship with respect to health care, nutrition, stable management, handling and riding a mount safely, correctly and with confidence

Organized teamwork including cooperation, communication, responsibility, leadership, mentoring, teaching and fostering a supportive yet competitive environment

Respect for the horse and self through horsemanship; for land through land conservation; and for others through service and teamwork

Service by providing an opportunity for members, parents and others to support the Pony Club program locally, regionally and nationally through volunteerism

Education at an individual pace to achieve personal goals and expand knowledge through teaching others

If you or your children are interested in learning more about horses or riding, a quick search of the USPC website reveals several clubs and centers in the metropolitan region within 25 miles of Newtown. Here are the centers, clubs, and contact information:

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