From checking diagonals to changing a tire on a tow vehicle, the Horsemasters Program is geared toward providing the real-life knowledge necessary for adults working around horses.
If you're a horse-crazy adult who missed out on Pony Club as a kid, there’s good news for you. Pony Club is not just for kids anymore.
In 2001, the United States Pony Club founded the Horsemasters program, which is geared toward adults who want to improve their horsemanship skills and want to be actively involved in the Pony Club program as volunteers.
The Horsemasters program adheres to the USPC Standards of Proficiency, and members can participate in rallies, certifications and other Pony Club activities. Just as in Pony Club, Horsemasters are educated and evaluated in three primary areas: Horse Management, On the Flat and Over Fences. Members can also choose different discipline tracks, such as dressage, show jumping, hunt seat, western and eventing.
Horsemasters can become certified at the D-1 through C-2 levels, which are the beginner and intermediate levels. Currently, national certifications at the A and B level are not offered within the program.
The USPC has made an effort to keep the requirements for certification closely aligned to the certifications for regular Pony Club with some minor differences. For example, Horsemasters will not be expected to perform flying dismounts as Pony Clubbers are. However, Horsemasters at the D-2 level are expected to demonstrate knowledge of checking fluids in their tow vehicle as well as how to change a tire, which are not requirements in the regular Pony Club certifications.
Clubs in Pennsylvania
Although the program is still gaining momentum and popularity, there are active clubs popping up around Pennsylvania with others still in the developmental stages.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Region of the United States Pony Club is currently in the process of developing a regional Horsemasters program.
“I think it’s something that we’re on the fringe and beginning of and it will take off and go. There are a lot of adult groups around and there’s a lot of adults around who know they should learn a good deal to do what they are doing safely and functionally,” said Amy Lewis, of Kennett Square, PA, who is helping to coordinate the regional Horsemasters program.
The regional Horsemasters club, which will call itself the “Liberty Riders,” will be comprised of Horsemasters from Pony Clubs and Pony Club riding centers within the Eastern Pennsylvania region.
The time frame for getting the Liberty Riders up and running will depend on how active the membership is, but Lewis is hoping once the program is underway, it will become a way for adults to get involved and learn enough to become Pony Club volunteers.
“It’s an adult version of Pony Club to teach the adults enough so they can be helpful volunteers to Pony Club. The problem with volunteers is that unless they know enough they’re useless, so this way they get to learn enough so they can be really useful,” Lewis said.
Within the Eastern Pennsylvania region, there are clubs that have already developed successful Horsemasters programs.
State College Program
Lion Country Pony Club in State College started a Horsemasters program in January 2013. Currently, about 10 members participate in a variety of activities such as moonlight rides and clinics.
“We have some parents who are Horsemasters because their children are still very involved in Pony Club. Then we have other adults like myself who don’t have children in Pony Club but who want to be involved and we are all working together,” said Marianne Fivek, who took over as the group liaison for the Lion Country Horsemasters at the end of last year.
District Commissioner Kirsten Jensen formed the Horsemasters last year to serve as both a social activity and a way to recruit volunteers for the Pony Club.
“We wanted to be able to ride in clinics and at our annual summer camp and thought it would be fun to go on trail rides together - all under cover of USPC insurance. We would like to use our Horsemasters as a volunteer base for all of our Lion Country Pony Club activities. We would also like to turn this into a social group with outings to the movies, dinner, horse shows, etc.,” Jensen said in a written response.
Berks County Underway
Kari Stenberg, owner of Heron Mead Farm Pony Club Riding Center in Robesonia, PA, already sees the possibilities for the Horsemasters program she is developing at her facility as well as Horsemasters at the national level. Stenberg believes the Horsemasters program has the potential to fill an important gap that exists in the U.S. as there is no adult program in the country that focuses on both riding and horsemanship. She would like to see it become the equivalent of the British Horse Society, which offers different professional qualifications and tracks.
In addition to being a program that helps to round out the volunteer base for Pony Club, Stenberg thinks Horsemasters can be an integral program for adults who want to have a complete horse experience.
“It's a chance for adults who really want to become well-rounded horsemen and horsewomen, not just a rider. If you love to ride, if you love horses, I think you should be in Pony Club. I think you should learn to take care of them, whether you're a kid or an adult,” Stenberg said.
Horsemasters is a program that can accommodate adults at different stages of their lives and riding, whether they rode as kids and are getting back into it, just starting riding or have been riding for a long time but never had the opportunity to participate in Pony Club. They can be serious competitors, “horse show parents” or riders who simply enjoy the social aspect the sport offers.
“There are really two aspects to Horsemasters that make it an ideal program for adults,” Stenberg said. “One is being able to participate in rallies and certifications and the other is being around other like-minded adults who all care about horses and being the best horse people they can be.”
There are adults such as Fivek who was a member of Pony Club as a teenager and got involved with Horsemasters because she missed being a part of the horse world.
“I was a horse mom and then when my daughter graduated from high school, I kind of lost that connection to a group that was interested and competing and doing clinics and shows and I really wanted to get back, so I picked up riding again,” Fivek said.
Then there are Horsemasters such as Leslie Koval-Dowling, who rides with Stenberg and is one of the first members of the fledgling Horsemasters club at Heron Mead Farm. Koval-Dowling started riding just two and a half years ago after quitting her job in the fashion industry to become a stay-at-home mom to her three boys.
“After riding and leasing and now owning a horse, I thought it was crucial to know everything and anything I can find out about owning a horse and care of a horse,” Koval-Dowling said. “So I decided this would be the best way for me to start studying the books and learning more about horse care. There's so much that I didn't know about taking care of my horse that I know now.”
Lewis stresses that adults can get involved in Horsemasters at any age and achieve the goals they want to achieve.
“I know an awful lot of ladies who get to 40 years old and say, ‘Oh I’m too old now,’ but a lot of Horsemasters I know are at least 40,” Lewis said.
As for the future of the Horsemasters program, Stenberg, who was an H-A Pony Clubber, would love to see the program expand and offer A and B certifications for adults and cites Koval-Dowling as an example.
“Leslie will go as far as she can, as far as her abilities will take her… If they have a B or A Horsemasters, she’s one who may very well do that, and she would wear that so proudly and that would mean the world to her,” Stenberg said.
If you are interested in finding a Horsemasters program in your area or would like to start a Horsemasters program, contact your local Pony Club or visit the USPC website at www.ponyclub.org.
Kellie Benn lives in Newmanstown, PA and does some freelance writing in addition to her full-time job as a newspaper page designer. She owns an eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Quarter Horse mare named Pinot Noir with whom she does dressage and dabbles in eventing.