Simply put, the United States Pony Club is:
- the best thing you can do for any young, aspiring equestrian
- a necessity for any future horseman
- a fabulous organization for girls and boys a like
- an excellent outreach and educational program
- a wonderful foundation for equestrians of all levels and disciplines
- the greatest equine program your money can pay for
- pretty much perfect
Hello there! My name is a Madison Ritsch. I am a C-2 Traditional, H-B Horse Management Pony Clubber from the Eagle River Pony Club. I am the Chair of USPC Rocky Mountain Regional Youth Board, the ERPC Youth Leader, and so much more. Let’s just say this: I have been in Pony Club since 2014 and I will never stop.
In January 2014, I joined the United States Pony Club. I was half way through 7th grade and was quite an inexperienced rider. I was competing in Walk-Trot Hunter classes on my Quarter Horse that I was leasing. My best friend had been in Pony Club for a year or two and she absolutely loved it.
I was really thrown into Pony Club in high gear as the annual Quiz Rally was being held in March. I did not know how rally worked, I had very little horse knowledge, and I really only knew two people: my sister and my best friend. Despite this, I loved Pony Club from the beginning. Granted, feeling uneducated is never a good feeling, but I loved what Pony Club stood for; I loved the purpose; I loved knowing where it could take me.
My first Quiz Rally was quite the experience. I was the oldest one on my team, but probably knew less than the 3 other 8 year olds I was teamed up with. I competed as “Unrated” which means that I answer as a D1 because I had not yet completed a rating. Miraculously my team pulled out 2nd place out of about 8 teams (I honestly have no idea how that happened).
Over the course of the 2014 summer, I completed my D1 and D2 ratings and moved up to the 2′ hunters on my lease pony Charley. That year was a blast. I absorbed so much basic knowledge and had a great time getting to know other members from around the state of Colorado.
2015 was an insane year. I completed my first ever eventing show just three weeks before Charley was kicked in the head and fractured her skull. I was supposed to compete in another show three days after Charley’s injury, but I did not have a horse. My trainer kindly called up the owner of one of the horses she used to compete and asked for a favor.
And now we have Timberline, aka Timby. Timby was a 16.2 hand 16 year old Pinto Paint gelding that had competed Novice two years prior. However, he had not been off property or competed in two years… and my little 13 year old self was about to be the one to do it.
I don’t think I have ever “clicked” with a horse so fast. Well, that might not be true, but we did have a great relationship. He was such an easy going horse. On my first day riding him my trainer had enough faith in us to let me jump a 3′ uphill cross country jump (keep in mind I was showing in 2’3″ eventing and had never ever jumped that high lol).
Fast forward a bit and Timberline and I finished in 4th on our dressage score at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in the Elementary division, placed 5th in Beginner Novice at the Colorado Horse Park Horse Trials, and moved up to the 2’9″ Children’s Jumpers at Strang Ranch where we placed 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
I concluded my 2 month lease on that handsome horse by passing my D3 Pony Club rating!
March of 2016 brought another year of Quiz Rally and my first blue ribbon at a Pony Club event. Having had not competed the year before and only having had competed as unrated was quite the change. I was confident enough to ask up a level or two for a lot of the questions helping our team gain some extra points.
After Charley spent some time recovering from her injury, we came back ready to attack the 2016 season. We competed at the Colorado Horse Park Spring Horse Trials and got 13th in Beginner Novice, the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials (6th in BN), the Colorado Horse Park Summer Horse Trials (2nd in BN), and the Area IX Championships (10th in BN).
In the midst of all of that we completed our C1 Pony Club rating and competed in the 2’9″ Children’s Jumpers! We ended up winning Grand Champion at the Colorado Western Hunter Jumper Year End Show at that level.
It was in the late fall/early winter of 2016 when I also began teaching meetings to my club! Teaching has given me the chance to become more comfortable speaking and presenting and has helped me find a true passion for being a mentor and leader.
In 2017 I went back and competed at the annual Rocky Mountain Regional Quiz Rally where my team and I brought home yet another first place ribbon! My first time competing at the C level was intimidating, but I have always been so passionate about Horse Management that asking up a level never phases me.
This season Penelope and I had a really rough time connecting. She is not a very confident horse when it comes to leaving the group and being alone so cross country proved to be a big struggle. With that in mind, I obtained my C2 HM certification and decided to wait to finish my C2 until I felt like we were ready.
2017 was also my first year competing at a mega rally and, man, I was hooked! I stabled managed for my club’s D level show jumping team and had such a fun time being there to support some of the younger club members. I ended up winning the “Best Stable Manager” award and was asked to travel with a Pony Club from Aspen as their Stable Manager at the 2017 Pony Club National Championships.
So in July 2017, I spent two weeks traveling and competing with the Roaring Fork Hounds Pony Club. Being asked to help out another club was an amazing honor. Although the competition was stressful and intense, that was one of the greatest experiences of my life! Early mornings, long days in the hot and humid Kentucky weather, and learning to work with a group of girls and moms that I had never met was an adventure. At the end of the competition week, my team and I finished 5th Overall and 5th for Horse Management out of 17 (ish) of the best teams in the nation! I am so lucky to have been asked to be a part of such an incredible journey.
While at the USPC Championships, I attended the 2017 USPC Festival. Okay, okay, let me say this:
- Best $200 I have ever spent
- Best clinic I have ever been to
- Most motivating experience I have ever had
- Literally heaven for me
As I said before, Horse Management is so important to me (hence why I enjoy being a stable manager and groom so much). For 2.5 days I attended a 6 hour biomechanics seminar from Dr. Gerd Heuschmann and a 2 day H-B/H-A prep clinic. The biomechanics session was so fascinating. We learned about horse and rider movement in classical vs modern dressage – something I have never had the chance to learn about. The H-B/H-A prep clinic was honestly one of the most beneficial educational experiences I have had in my life. The point of the camp was that if you went to every session of it (it was broken down into categories so you could pick what you wanted to learn about), wrote everything down, and learned everything they taught you could pass your H-B or H-A depending on what level session you went to. Because I was a C2 HM I went to the H-B clinic.
For me, the H-B seemed impossible, like a rating that I would not pass for at least another 2-3 years. But going to this clinic changed everything. I had all the knowledge I needed in my finger tips. I met other Pony Clubbers in my same position who were just months away from taking their tests. I was inspired and encouraged to push myself. I absorbed every word those clinicians said as if they were worth their weight in gold. Everyone around me had the same goal I did and I loved that feeling. My time at the 2017 National Championships was priceless. I truly learned the power of Pony Club and all that it has to offer.
I made it my goal to take the H-B test in 2018. Only 3 girls in the Rocky Mountain Region had taken this exam and passed it the first time so my goal was to fail less than 3 sections (the maximum amount you can fail without retaking the whole thing).
And take it I would.
2018 was by far the biggest one of my riding career. I accomplished 3 of my biggest riding goals ever in a 3 month period and I am still mind boggled that I accomplished all that I did.
Let’s start off in February. February 2018 brought the annual Rocky Mountain Region Pony Club Quiz Rally, and this one was one of the best ones yet. As a C2 HM, I was asked to teach at the RMR Horse Management Clinic before the competition started. Having had attended the clinic as a student for the past 4 years, I knew I wanted to teach on something new (most of the topics were basic, not engaging, and repetitive). From the second I was asked, I knew I wanted to teach on teeth. This was my first experience teaching to so many people – about 60 kids – and I had such a great time!
Following the clinic, the competition began. I was the highest level competitor at the competition which was a lot of pressure. Competing at a higher level meant that I would have to ask for harder questions, questions above my level, to be awarded the same amount of points as a competitor asking for a question at my level (agh points are weird sorry!). Despite this, my team and I brought home our 3rd straight first place finish and I came home as the highest scoring competitor of the competition.
In May 2018, I began working on a project with the USPC advocating for water conservation. I researched, taught, and presented the importance of water conservation as it relates to water tables and the environment, the effect it has on forest fires, and how that relates to the equine community. I continued this project for about 5 months as I presented to Pony Club members, 4-H members, Girl and Boy Scouts, and more from all around Colorado. This amazing project gave me a chance to be a part of something greater than myself, and I loved all of it!
Penelope and I continued training through the spring and competed in our first eventing show of the season at the Event at Skyline. After an outstanding weekend, P and I finished on our dressage score of 26.9 to bring home a 2nd place ribbon and a nationals qualification!
For the next month, we geared up for our first novice at the Event at Archer and checked that off my goal list as well! Although the show was rough as Penelope’s herd bound-ness showed through, we finished with a double clear stadium round knowing what we had to work on for the next show.
A week later, Penelope crushed it at our first 3′ Jumper show, taking home the win and yet again proving our strength in show jumping.
For the RMR Mega Rally, I chose to Stable Manage, yet again, and had a blast doing so! I feel like it is so good to give back and support the younger members of my club who spend so much time looking up to and supporting me. As stable manager of the ERPC Show Jumping Team, we ended up 2nd in HM and 2nd overall! The girls crushed it even after moving up a level.
Following Mega Rally, I attended the Pony Club/Young Rider camp with Vicki Baker. This clinic gives Young Rider hopefuls and competitors to get some training in and allows other Pony Club members to learn from these riders! The Pony Clubbers also have a riding camp of their own and do some horse management prep.
On July 14th, Penelope and I passed the arena section of our C2, only needing to find a cross country course to school on to complete the certification. That same day I also left to groom at the North American Youth Championships at Rebecca Farms. Unfortunately, my team mate’s horse came up lame and was unable to compete. I was lucky enough to still be able to attend, watch and help out some of my fellow Area IX riders competing in the horse trials, and work with Kerrits! My time at Rebecca Farms was one of the biggest highlights of my summer last year. I totally recommend the venue for anyone!
After returning from the competition, I had one week until my H-B testing. I was petrified. On August 4th, I had my H-B examination with 3 national examiners who flew in to test 10 girls from the Rocky Mountain and Intermountain regions. I was tested from 8am to 4:30pm on topics ranging from nutrition, anatomy, tack, and so much more. I had to perform a full body confirmation exam on a random horse, mimic pulling a show, analyze feed samples, etc. I ended up being 1 of 2 candidates to pass the exam out of 5 total HB candidates. While presenting my land conservation project on the importance of water usage during my rating, I was asked my an examiner to present at the 2019 Equine Symposium in Connecticut! What an honor! Achieving a national rating was my lifetime Pony Club goal and I am so mind blown at how quickly I went from being unrated to nationally certified. If you believe it, you can do it!
Two weeks later, Penelope and I went down to Strang Ranch, cross country schooled with an examiner, and completed my C2! Yay!
And before we knew it we were at the American Eventing Championships. Dressage was not what I expected, cross country was epic, and show jumping was perfect. Little P and I brought home a 10th place finish. Not only did we qualify for and compete at the AECs, but we placed! Agh, the 2018 season was so outrageous and I am so thankful for my family and pony who helped me accomplish all that I did.
Overall, Pony Club has provided me with so incredibly much. It has given me the chance to become a better rider, a more knowledgable horse woman, a passionate leader and mentor, and so much more. Pony Club has allowed me to educate others, give back to the community, and become more involved and connected to the world around me. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions for future Pony Club blog posts, let me know! I am so passionate about the USPC and would love to share more with you all.