A golden occasion: Pony Club celebrates 50 years, looks to future

Erin Snyder, 14, of Adamstown, leaps over an obstacle atop Romeo, a 9-year-old Bay Paint pony, Friday at the Frederick Pony Club in Ijamsville.

When 13-year-old Hannah Watkins first started riding horses, she was scared to jump.

As she effortlessly flew over a series of three jumps, it was hard to see any remaining fear.

"There's a kid sitting on top of 1,200 pounds of horse that could just as easily launch her into the Bush Creek and take off down the road," said Tommy Smith, a sponsor of the Frederick Pony Club. "But they're both together, relaxed, and she's learning to talk to that horse."

Hannah's horse trots slowly past her, watching friends across a field in the Ijamsville countryside. Commuters fly up the highway just a mile away, but all seemed peaceful at Moxley Field, home of the pony club.

It is one of about 10 such clubs in the capital region and it is part of an international association.

As the Frederick club celebrates its 50th anniversary, Smith, who has been involved since the beginning, hopes it can continue to teach riding as a sport while being fun for its young members.

"I'm having too much fun to quit," he said.

The 12 members of the club, mostly 11 to 15 years old, agree with his sentiment.

"I've been told that riding's not a sport before, but I don't know many other people that would get on and jump the three jumps we just did," 13-year-old Camille Weed said. "It was only my second time riding that pony, but Tommy really helped me."

Members and their parents say the club has fulfilled its mission to "provide a program that teaches riding, mounted sports, and the care of horses and ponies, thereby developing responsibility, moral judgment, leadership, and self-confidence."

The children must learn conditioning, health care, expense monitoring, anatomy and grooming.

"With riding lessons, you may learn how to ride," Smith said. "Pony Club teaches horsemanship."

Members say it is time to expand -- but to do so, they must improve their facilities.

Though Frederick is one of the few clubs in the area that owns land, the usable fields have shrunk over the years. Buildings have leaky roofs, members cannot open the stable doors, fencing is insubstantial and a dirt lane onto the property is sometimes too muddy for horse trailers.

With repairs and improvements, including cross country jumps and better parking, the club could hold horse shows again.

"We need to fix it up to bring that sort of activity here," said Cheryl Sherman, a Pony Club district commissioner. "As dilapidated as it's become, it's ours."

Sherman is soliciting help from the community in the form of Eagle Scout projects and donations, she said. She is willing to post advertising on the property for any business willing to help.

The club already shares its fields with the LUYAA soccer club to split maintenance costs.

"We would love to share it with the equestrian community if we can get it back to what it was," Sherman said. "In the past we've had people donate, but it's tough right now."

Susan Jones, a Pony Club district commissioner, said she would like to expand membership, which is open for children up to 21, but it has been hard because owning a horse is expensive and people are hurting financially in the current economy.

Owning a horse costs between $400 and $1,200 a month and leasing one costs $150 or more per month, depending on the terms.

"It's the truck, the trailer, the maintenance of the horses," Jones said.

But that should not stop people for participating in Pony Club, she said.

Members share horses or borrow each other's informally. Some clubs also have horses that members may use, though the Frederick club does not.

Jones said for people who stick with it, the costly hobby can turn into a career that helps horse enthusiasts earn a living.

Smith said he would never have decided to become a school teacher without Pony Club because he realized he enjoyed teaching while helping others learn horsemanship with the club.

"I had something of my own and I was good at it," he said. "There has never been a day without horses in my life."

DETAILS

- To join or help the Frederick Pony Club, contact Cheryl Sherman at 301-651-3404.

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