By Danielle Hall
Fifty young equestrians in teams of two to three will compete in the annual Hunters Pace in Lloyds Harbor this weekend to raise funds for the Meadow Brook Hounds Pony Club.
The Hunters Pace is the largest fundraiser for the Meadow Brook Hounds Pony Club, Christina Tabacco-Webber, the District Commissioner, said. Teams complete a 10 to 11 mile course within the Caumsett State Park at either a slow or fast division. The team that finishes the course in time closest to a predetermined optimum time wins the event. Historically, a Hunters Pace was used by fox hunters to condition their horses before hunting season.
“You don’t know what the optimum time is but you try to choose a pace that is appropriate for the conditions, the footing, whether it’s hard or slippery,” Libby Courtemanche, the creator of this year’s course, said. “There is a certain pace that the horse is expected to travel at on average throughout the course so it’s a mathematical formula based time,” she said.
Pony club originated as a way for young riders to compete and learn horsemanship without paying the fees associated with competitive horse shows. A weekend horse show on Long Island can cost around 500 dollars ,while destination events, like the Garden State Horse Show can cost several thousands of dollars, according to Tabacco-Webber.
“Growing up, pony club gave me a way that I could compete with a horse but not have to go to horse shows and pay astronomical fees every weekend,” Jennifer Calogero, a Pony Club member, said.
Pony Club members compete in four rallies during competition season with the potential to travel to Nationals and a final D-rally in September. Members are judged on skills including cross-country, jumping, dressage, stadium, and horse care knowledge.
“It teaches them a lot of important life skills,” Tobacco-Webber said. “As they grow up their responsibilities get greater and greater, and that can only be good for you as an adult going out in the world and mom and dad didn’t do everything for you.”
There are now approximately 600 across the country according to the United States Pony Club website. During the late nineteenth century, the popular English sport of fox hunting began to gain popularity, and on Long Island the Meadow Brook Hounds Club chartered one of the first Pony Clubs in the United States. The first Pony Club began in 1929 in Great Britain to introduce good horsemanship habits to young riders. By 1954 the United States Pony Club, Inc was established and the Meadow Brooks Hounds Pony Club became the sixth pony club in the states a year later.
“A lot of the kids can ride a grand prix course but they can’t tackle horse,” Catrine Golia, a Meadow Brook Hounds Pony Club Committee Member, said. “Pony Club brings back an opportunity to learn horsemanship but also how to compete as a team, which in the equestrian world it’s really an independent sport these days,” she said.
This year’s competition season marks the sixtieth season of the Pony Club.