A BORDERS pony club is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, Scotland’s oldest such equine organisation.
The Duke of Buccleuch’s Hunt branch of the Pony Club is marking the historic milestone with a number of planned events throughout the year. The highlight is a grand reunion of members on Saturday.
The event is being staged at the Duke of Buccleuch’s Bowhill House, outside Selkirk, and will include a display inside a marquee of photos and other memorabilia from the last eight decades.
Anniversary co-ordinator Michael Scott-Watson, whose sister-in-law, Helen, is current branch district commissioner, says for those still riding and with access to a horse, there will also be a leisurely guided rideout around the estate, lasting approximately two hours.
“The rideout is open to all past and present members of the Duke of Buccleuch’s Pony Club, instructors, DCs, their families and friends, and is free,” he told TheSouthern.
“The main aim of the day is to gather as many people from as many generations as possible to socialise, reminisce and have fun,” added Michael.
Founded in England in 1929, the Pony Club is an international voluntary youth organisation aimed at youngsters interested in ponies and riding. It is represented in 18 countries and boasts a membership of more than 110,000.
The aim of the Pony Club is to encourage young people to ride and to learn to enjoy all kinds of sport connected with horses and riding.
It provides instruction in riding and horsemastership, educating its members to look after and take proper care of their mounts.
The club also aims to promote the highest ideals of sportsmanship, citizenship and loyalty to create strength of character and self-discipline.
Membership is available to all those aged under 21 and, between then and the age of 25, they can become associate members.
The eighth Duke of Buccleuch presided over the formation of the branch in 1931.
In less than a year after its formation, the branch membership stood at more than 100 youngsters, thanks largely to the efforts of the late Eildon McConnel, later Mrs Eildon Watherston, a highly respected equestrian figure in the Borders.
She was one of the original instructors at the first camp in 1933.
After the Second World War, she was instrumental in getting the club going again and became the pony club’s first DC.
Her goal was to teach good “old-fashioned” horsemanship, something she achieved with great success.
Today, the Duke of Buccleuch’s branch has around 150 members ranging in age from just four to 25 years.
Members come from Kelso, Galashiels, Hawick, and Selkirk, and many have achieved great success in their chosen discipline, including Kelso-based event rider Charlotte Agnew, who has successfully competed at Badminton Horse Trials and Chatsworth.
Others who have tasted competition success include eventer Henny Cooper, from Kelso and Jedburgh’s Emily Galbraith.
The ever-popular rallies are the backbone of the education provided by the Pony Club.
There are mounted rallies where ponies and riders are taken for lessons in groups by qualified instructors, as well as unmounted rallies where children learn how to take care of their ponies and master general horsemanship.
To encourage the younger members, there are also mini-badges awarded for progress and there are opportunities to be part of a team in eventing, dressage, show jumping, tetrathlon and mounted games.
The highlight of the year for many children is Pony Club camp and the branch ran three – a smaller one for six-year-olds and under; a junior camp for 11 and under, and the senior camp for over 11 years.
With many members still keen supporters of the local hunt, there are also children’s meets and visits to the hunt kennels.
But as Michael, a former branch member, says, while the main aim of the branch originally had been to teach youngsters how to ride so they could join the hunt, that is no longer the case.
He said: “The attraction today is a combination of various factors. The rallies are very popular because the costs of instruction are shared and the camps are popular because you get to spend several days riding with your friends.
“The social side is all part of the appeal. Spending three or four days riding with your friends is great fun.
“It’s not so much about the hunt these days, because many youngsters grow up and move away. But many of the members do go on to competitive riding such as eventing.”
For more information visit www.branches.pcuk.org/dukeofbuccleuch