For many young people, joining the Pony Club is considered a rite of passage, the highlight of which is the annual summer camp. Poppy Clements went behind the scenes with the Essex and Suffolk Pony Club to find out what went on at this year’s camp
During, what is fair to say, one of the hottest weeks of the year so far, many people were enjoying the sun, be it on beaches or just at home relaxing in the garden; however, for 55 girls, boys, and ponies, the last week of July was a time for fun, heat and lots of riding!
With everyone set to arrive at Shelly Hall on the Essex/Suffolk border on the Sunday afternoon, it was bound to be hectic. However, everything ran smoothly under camp organiser, Emma Barr and her many helpers, and once the ponies were settled in their new stables for the week and the children had their tents, caravans or lorries set up, there was a sense of bubbling excitement about the week ahead.
Everyone was split into four teams based on age – senior camp is for 11-15 year olds – and ability, and the teams were named after equestrian events at the Olympics – dressage, eventing, cross country and pentathlon. During the week everyone was given scores based on the cleanliness of their accommodation, stables and the turnout of the ponies; scores were also added from the results of the triathlon (riding, shooting and running or swimming) or tetrathlon (all four events) that we all did. There were also points to be gained in quizzes, tug of war and much more.
It was a full on week, being woken up at 7:30 every morning by a very loud and very annoying bell being rung right outside our caravan, to being active all day until 10:30pm when it was supposed to be lights out!
For some of the children, this was the first time they had been away with their ponies without their parents or anyone who would usually help them, so every ride was allocated a helper, all of whom had been at camp when they were younger but are now aged 16 and above.
People were put into one of six rides based on their ability. There was four and a half hours of instruction a day, and everyone was taught under the main disciplines of cross-country, show jumping and flatwork. Thankfully (for me, anyway) this year the end of week dressage competition was replaced by a musical ride competition. Every ride chose a song and came up with a performance to go with it, this turned out to be very competitive with some instructors even losing sleep over it! This was definitely a highlight of the week; everyone got really into it, wearing onesies, rave paint and anything else they could find. The ponies were dressed up as well with pink and yellow forelocks and tails, spots painted on their bums and lots more. The music chosen showed a range of music tastes, including Dizzee Rascal and DJ Fresh, Flo Rida and the Jaws theme tune. The whole of camp got to watch everyone’s performance, and we all had a lot of fun. We were judged by two dressage judges and every ride got useful feedback. Stable management took an unusual turn this year too, with some of the rides being taught in the pool because it was so hot!
For some of the more senior riders, there was a chance to make the 30 minute hack to Overbury Hall and jump some more challenging fences which was a really fun experience with many people saying it was the highlight of the week. However, the not so fun part had to be wearing body protectors in the blazing sun so hot we could have fried eggs on our riding boots!
Once again the food was really good; thanks to the head of kitchen Karen Alexander and her team of mums. We were treated to a cooked breakfast every morning, lots of options of rolls, crisps, quiche, cake and more for lunch and things like lasagne, shepherd’s pie and chicken burgers for dinner.
There were lots of activities planned for every evening, including a game of tug and war with the Young Farmers, a run with the East Anglian bloodhounds, a side saddle demonstration from Louise Craven, and a polo demonstration from James Craven’s Las Marias, who then cooked us an authentic Argentinian barbecue. We also had a visit from the Essex and Suffolk Hunt accompanied by four hounds, a bird of prey and a horse, and a talk from Chris Hunnable who competed with the British eventing team in the Atlanta Olympics. Phew, no wonder we were exhausted by the end of the week!
All of our instruction was building up to competition day on the Friday, where we had to jump round a two-phase course of show jumps in the morning and then go round a cross country course in the afternoon. Everyone got to choose from doing the Novice, Intermediate or the Open course, most people opted for the open and it was very competitive. After the competition, the ponies were taken home to enjoy a nice long rest, whereas all the riders came back for a party in the evening followed by everyone sleeping out under the stars. Saturday was prize giving, and after breakfast in bed and a lot of clearing up it was time to see whether you had won anything.
Contact The Pony Club at www.pcuk.org to find your nearest branch