14th June 2018
The Isle of Wight Pony Club...A Brief History, to Now.
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 8o’s the DC was taken over by Carolin Cambell then 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…..!!
22nd May 2018
Celebrating a Local Equestrian Hero...The Life in a Day of a Rosette Maker.
As I pull up on the steep driveway of ‘Hobbit House’ nestled in the beautiful village of Whitwell a cheerful “Hello!” calls out to me and Julie Hoskyns of Hobbit Rosettes is standing before ‘The Hobbitry’. She invites me into her bright workspace, a lovely duck egg blue, washboard clad, garden room with light coming from every aspect.
Reminiscent of times as a child visiting the haberdashery with my mother, I see a wall of ribbon, in all the colours you can imagine anybody wanting a rosette or sash made in. Racks of coloured centre discs, machines for printing in gold on the rosette tails, stamping designs on the centre discs and for making the ‘frilly’ bits in the middle.
As Julie starts to make a demo rosette for me in bright yellow ribbon she tells me that Hobbit Rosettes was, in fact an accidental start up, having run the print section of a large stationary company and deciding to set up a printing business from home, which she did for 8 years, she bought a foiling machine and started doing rosettes as something to ‘keep her occupied in the evenings’. 5 years on and it is a thriving business with rosettes the size of dinner plates and her creations having been sent as far afield as Australia, made for any event that you could imagine.
With both of us being keen equestrians, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to horses, Julie, always one with a sense of humour, likes to think of herself as Dressage Diva/Olympic hopeful. Her days of carriage driving are now over, which all started when her husband bought her a pony and carriage, and an instruction book. Following the instructions in the book Julie taught herself to drive. Moving over to the Isle of Wight, she then started to drive a pair, taking it up competitively at 1 day events and club level (she says, embarrassingly) did rather well and was often in the ribbons. Selling this pair and buying larger ponies Julie set about going to the Nationals, International and World Driving champs. They were selected in 2007 for the Worlds and what could have been a Silver medal, but for a cone down, Julie and her team finished in a very respectable 11th place.
I then ask Julie, what is her favourite part about making rosettes? She says she loves receiving feedback from customers who have not only bought the rosettes for an event they are running, but from the people who have won them! You always know if you have won a hobbit Rosette, as it will have a stamp on the back saying so. The worst part, she tells me is burning yourself on the glue gun, especially when it goes under your finger nails, is torture!
Julie, not one for relaxing in her spare time is currently the President of the local Rotary Club contributing to a fantastic effort for the annual Christmas shoebox appeal. Co-organises an annual charity horse show, which always achieves record entries, something that gives her great pleasure especially when everyone goes away happy, having had a great day with their horses and ponies. I have attended this show before and personally it has such a friendly and fun atmosphere and a good day was had buy all!
The thing that most stands out to me about Julie is that she will do her utmost to make the best rosettes, that her customers love and are proud to give out at their events and the people who win them have something special to go home from an event with. She points out as we sit on the decked veranda looking West towards the Hoy monument, in the evening sunshine, that anyone from equestrians to pig or poultry exhibitors often put there life, soul and bank balances into getting there animals up to show condition and for what? Well, if it’s a Hobbit Rosette it will be a beautiful handmade ‘frilly’ that Julie has put the time, care and attention to detail into making.
Making showjumps for the local branch of the Pony Club is also something that Julie likes to set about doing in her spare time, she says she enjoys the challenge! She does however then hand them over to be painted. Taking up a City & Guilds course in Welding because she wanted to ‘build’ her own horse box along with a short course in recreational bricklaying when outside building works around the home needed doing.
Julie recently bought herself a new horse, Mija after giving up the carriage driving seat to get back in the saddle as something to do a bit of everything on. She has even been known to partake in Adult Pony Club Camp with aspirations for BSJA. Julie has been attending dressage competitions but has recently started jumping Mija which is something she would like to do more of.
If I had to sum up Julie, in short, I would say she is one of life’s gems. Always willing to help, with a joyful disposition. Nothing ever being too much trouble.
It seems all the best people live in Hobbit Houses…
15th May 2018
Exploring Our Beautiful Bridleways
We are mid way through May and the sun is shining, as I sit in my garden relaxing with a cup of well known, Yorkshire brand tea, the first thing that springs to mind is…what perfect hacking weather!
Some beautiful sunshine and a cool breeze to keep the fly’s (and perspiration) at bay. This got me thinking about all, of the wonderful places I have had the pleasure of hacking and others not yet explored on the beautiful island that I live.
It’s a Monday, my day out of the shop and I feel this could make the perfect subject for a blog, so with map in hand, flask of tea and my trusty, Patterdale terrier for company, I get in the car and go for a drive of discovering bridleways, some new to me and some already ridden but always worth a visit, along with my inspection hat, looking out for anything impassable that might need reporting to the local Bridleways group and Rights of Way.
All have their own speciality, whether it be a long steady canter, you are after, a cooling paddle through a ford, an amble through leafy lanes providing perfect pony snacks along the way, some woodland shade or a good blast up a hill, I think the Isle of Wight can tick everyone’s box for hacking requirements. Not to mention fabulous beach rides, but that’s for another blog, for another day!
To make the most out of hacking, particularly if you plan to go some distance, its all in the planning. If there are parts you have never visited before then pre hack checks are a must. There is nothing worse than going for a hack to find, after some distance that your path is impassable, whether it be blocked access, which should be reported in any case, a fallen tree (un-jumpable) or something I encountered not so long ago, a track riddled with badger sets, not only were the holes a cause for concern but any amount of weight and the ground would surely be at risk from collapse!
Even if it is a route you regularly ride, the countryside is a great one for constant change. A new rabbit family may have moved in along your favourite canter stretch or, which I am sure provides endless entertainment for our farmers, is when they leave large implements, strategically placed around the countryside, making way for perfect (who the bloody hell left that there!) spooking opportunities.
Gateways can also be a cause for making, what should be a nice hack into a Le Trec obstacle course! Everyone has their own way of ‘doing’ gates, in my opinion practice makes perfect and the more you can make going through gates a good experience for your horse the better. How many of us when at home, lead fully tacked up horses through gates, when riding them through would be a perfect training opportunity?
Hacking attire, its simple really, long boots or chaps, for, if you have never caught your shin on a gate latch whilst your horse decides to rush through, you will have never felt the need to projectile vomit whilst mounted (if still applicable after having gone through the gate)! Sturdy breeches and long sleeves, whatever the weather, for any overgrown trails you may encounter and of course Hi Viz, not just for riding on the roads but if the worst were to happen and an air ambulance is out looking for you they sport a better chance of finding you from above! A mobile phone is a must not only for the obvious, but for taking those ‘between the ears’ shots that personally, I never tire of when they appear on my newsfeed. Finally a drink, unless you have planned your hack so well there are pubs enroute!
Last, but not least, enjoy this glorious weather with your horses, while it lasts, and if like, for some, hacking fills you with the utmost of dread, don’t feel like you have to do it, stay within your comfort zone, whatever that may be, but most of all have fun with your horses!
All I know is that when I dreamt of riding as a child, all I had aspirations of doing was going clear round Badminton and to be able to hack for hours across beautiful countryside. The hacking, I feel I have firmly in the bag...I’m still working on the Badminton part…..