A couple of days before the May Bank Holiday IWPC show I visited the IW Pony Club HQ at George’s field, Whippingham, named after a young member of the pony club, George Lacon of Norris Castle who tragically died at a young age and whose mother was a great supporter of the Pony Club.
I was greeted by a hythe of activity, fronted by Pony Club DC Kirsty Snodgrass, in preparation for the coming show and summer season of camps.
The Pony Club has a rich history, going as far back as 1929 and grew out of ‘The Institute of the Horse’, which had been set up to encourage riding. Having run events for adults, they started to organise paperchases and gymkhanas for children, and on the 1st November, 1929, the Institute of the Horse started a Junior Branch of their organisation, known as The Pony Club, this was “for the purpose of interesting young people in riding and sport, and at the same time offering the opportunity of higher instruction that many could not obtain individually”.
Each county was divided into Districts, the same as the Hunts, each under a District Commissioner, helped by a Local Committee.
The Isle of Wight Branch of the Pony Club was formed in 1931 and developed with the introduction of a tie, tests and instructor training. Membership grew steadily but was unfortunately disbanded due to the war.
When the war ended the club was reformed with Mr. Cowper-Blake M.R.C.V.S. being the DC succeeded in 1956 by Dr. Howie-Wood and Mrs. Doreen Carr, who ruled the members with a rod of iron and military precision! Lateness was out of the question, and you were severely reprimanded! Your parents were informed, and a letter of apology was requested forthwith!
There were only a few lucky children that had access to their own ponies or could borrow one, so working rallies were held in association with the local riding establishments. This process carried on right the way through to the turn of the century when Jen Thomas a formidable Master of Horse from Starbell Riding School taught hundreds of children in and around Gurnard and would bring all her ponies annually to the camps. You would hear her voice and presence making sure order was kept on the horse lines and no-one would dare to step out of line!
The annual camp took place at Gatcombe Farm. Horse boxes were a luxury and only one or two large horse boxes were available, most people hacked, some all the way from Ryde to the campsite! Ponies were tied up in riding schools with an extra line for individuals and after the tuition they were turned out just like today but with hind shoes on and left to sort out the pecking order.
Camps were held for 10 days, rain or shine with the youngest members being 11 yrs. Washing and toilet facilities were limited, latrines as they were called, were holes in the earth with a bucket and a lid placed on top. It was some unfortunate person who had to empty them every day.
Riding in bad weather was the norm and very heavy white riding mackintosh with straps for the legs was compulsory, but if your baggy Calvary twill jodhpurs got wet Jen Thomas and a friend were nominated to gather them all up in the evening and dry them in the laundry at Whitecroft Hospital. When they returned the next morning, they could be the same size or smaller depending on the heat of the dryer.
The dye on your hat had a rather catastrophic effect as it was expected for you to look smart. If you were to dye your hat black or blue and it rained you ended up with streaks down your face.
According to the minutes, the Pony Club was an integral part of the farming community and many farmers and farms were badgered to lend their land.
The social highlight of the year was the Pony Club Ball held at the Hotel, Ryde Castle.
Lectures were held in the winter for potential instructors and in return they would be expected to help at rallies and the camp, however mainland instructors were hired to raise the standard and to judge the dressage competition at the One Day Events.
In 1968 a new venue for camp was offered at Norris Castle by kind permission of Mrs Lacon. Facilities were still limited with latrines, but the dairy was transformed into a kitchen and the cow shed became the dining room. For all this luxury the camp fee increased to £8.00!
In 1968 the pony club was affiliated to the British Sports Society. The Triathlon team was sent to the mainland and the Riding for the Disabled, organised by Mrs Ellis, was run in conjunction with the Pony Club.
In 1970 there were further developments, a cross country course was built at Redway Farm and for the first time, a junior camp was introduced there for 3 days.
In January 1971, when 7 children of varying degrees of disablement started to ride, they were given Pony Club badges to wear and made honorary members of the club. Specialist new equipment was required for the ponies. The venue was Lake Farm, then owned by Veronica Benson and it was agreed to give her the princely sum of £36.00 per annum.
1974/5 The field adjacent to Padmore House at Whippingham was put up for auction and the owner of Norris Castle, Mrs Lacon offered to give the Pony Club £2000 towards purchasing it in memory of her late son George. Immediately a committee meeting was called at The Bugle Hotel 0n 10th February 1975. They estimated the field would cost £5,500. The Sport council was contacted, asking for a grant of £3000 leaving a further £600 to find. It was exciting, sudden and scary for the committee but a good acquisition and an amazing opportunity and so close to Norris Castle for the use of the cross-country course. The sports council rejected the application, but the Department of Education and Science accepted the application and granted £3000.
The day of the auction arrived, bidding started and the field was eventually purchased for £4,300. The remainder was spent on clearing and reseeding the site. Later on a plan to erect a kitchen and toilet block for The Pony Club was approved.
A plaque was placed in the middle of the building with the words ‘George’s Pavilion’. It still has a spelling mistake but too late to alter, so it remains to this day. There is a photograph of George with his dog hanging on the kitchen wall, a great reminder of how the facilities came about.
On the 30th Anniversary in 1976 the annual Spring show took place for the first time at Georges Field. In the late 80’s the DC was taken over by Carolin Cambell, Trish Collins, Di Rann, Karen White and then of course our current DC Kirsty.
After chatting with Kirsty and the team it really comes across how fiercely proud of the Pony Club’s heritage they are, the support for each other, camaraderie and team work is second to none.
The emphasis in 2018 is to grow the membership, particularly the minis and youngsters, bringing a new generation of pony clubbers through the ranks, with structured learning, that also includes non-equestrian badges. The Pony Club, welcomes members, no matter their background.
The Pony Club has a bright future, with a recent, extensive restoration project to upgrade the washing facilities, where, what was just the floor to be pulled up and replaced, turned in to a complete overhaul with new toilets and showers and an accessible toilet with wet room area, upon further investigation parts of the roof also needed to be replaced, so in true Pony Club style fundraising was organised, funds were gained, and work began. They have some amazing instructors and training, meaning that many members have gone on to compete on the mainland.
The Pony Club would not be what it is today without it’s rich history and staunch supporters from times past and at present. I have included the link below to The Pony club Facebook page if you would like to find out more. The IWPC has a Facebook group that you can join and you will find them at 'The Isle of Wight Branch of the Pony Club'.
I have to say, that somehow, when you enter George’s Field you are transported back to times gone by, of joyful days spent with ponies and like minded pony mad friends….and long may it continue…..!!