The U.S. Pony Club may be limited to riders age 21 and under, but adult riders ha ve their own chance at the unlimited and innovative educational opportunities of the international club format through the innovative Old People’s Riding Club.
An adult version of the junior club, OPRC was created – starting in Maryland – in 1998. It spread like wildfire around the nation, with several local chapters finding solid footing and a fertile and eager audience in Virginia’s horse country.
The Piedmont c hapter was established in 2000 by founding president Betsy Burnett of Warrenton. “We’ve had as many as 60 members,” Burnett said in between rides during the club’s festive and well-attended Christmas Musical Dressage production last weekend at Woodruff Shires west of Warrenton.
“I grew up with the U.S. Pony Club, and was so thrilled when [OPRC founder Hope Jacob of Maryland] came up with the notion of an adult pony club,” said Burnett. “There are so many riders today who don’t grow up on farms, learning about horses from living with them and doing pony club through their junior years. OPRC fills those gaps of horse management and horsemanship knowledge.
“Plus, look around here. Everyone is having a ball,” Burnett added, motioning to a group of six riders – anything but pony-aged mounted on everything but ponies.
The riders were laughing and joking as they decorated their horses for the musical ride, painting their horses’ hindquarters with red glitter and adding jingle-bells to bridles and breastplates.
“It’s fun, too. And that’s the biggest part of it, especially when you’re a working adult. You have limited time to enjoy your horses. It’s fun to ride with friends, and have a ‘goal’ to work for like this holiday quadrille, or a summer competition. I love the musical rides. It’s contained but creative,” said Burnett.
“This is the fourth year we’ve done this holiday musical ride,” said current Piedmont president Sue Knox, owner of Woodruff Shires. “It has been so popular. The riders love it, the horses love it, and the spectators appreciate the time the (participants) put in preparing for a real show.”
Like many OPRC activities , the drill team demonstration focused on developing riding skills while sharing with friends of similar age and mindset. “We’re all just horse-crazy girls, underneath it all,” said club member Robin Garbe. “I love riding with friends.
“It’s a little silly to ‘decorate’ your horse, if you’re a grown-up,” said Garbe as she hummed a Christmas tune while painting a red heart on her horse’s substantial bay rump. “But it’s fun, and that’s the most important part. We’re all laughing and having a great time. That’s the whole idea.”
In addition to regular monthly lessons, like the junior pony club, the adult version offers horsemanship lessons with visiting professionals like veterinarians and farriers, field trips to stud farms and area horse events, and summer camp opportunities.
“I created the OPRC because so many riders of today didn’t get a chance to learn through the U.S. Pony Club system,” said national club founder Jacobs. “It was in response to a need. Everyone, of any age, can benefit from learning from horse experts. The Pony Club model is just perfect for everyone to build knowledge of horse care in addition to riding.
“Plus, riders, especially adult riders, learn more , and faster, when doing it with their peers. The ‘team’ aspect of it – with rallies during the summer and holiday quadrilles during winter – really adds to the camaraderie.”
Other Virginia chapters of the OPRC include Crops and Canes in Clarke County, the Shenandoah Mountaineers in Winchester and the Still Hot To Trot club in King George.
. Information on the national club is available online at www.OldPeoplesRidingClub.org