Eat, Sleep and Breathe Mounted Games
This week's guest blogger is Mark Wilson, the Pony Club Mounted Games' Team Trainer. Mark gives us an insight into preparing for competitions, the highs and lows and how he simply can't ever walk away from his team!
After representing Staff College and Sandhurst Hunt Pony Club at Wembley as a boy (in 1973), the Pony Club Mounted Games became a huge part of my life. My passion for the competitive, exciting and technical sport was reintroduced when my children joined Pony Club on their own ponies many years ago. Who was to know one of these ponies would carry our team through a decade, alongside me as a trainer!
Apart from a few health and safety alterations, the Pony Club Mounted Games is still as thrilling as I remember. Maybe even more so now, with the high
standard of teams and ponies used today compared to the gun-ho strategies used when I was a child. The Mounted Games is highly athletic and dependent
on teamwork between the children and ponies. The speed and agility required develops a huge amount of confidence and a strong seat. Solid, trusting
relationships are built between pony and rider, to master vaulting at a flat out gallop.
There are several challenges in training a team in this sport, but before mastering the rules and races, the first two obstacles to overcome are:
- 1.Working with unpredictable animals
- 2.Working with unpredictable teenagers
(My 10 years service has found one of these is much easier to work with than the other. But I will let you make your own judgment!).
We have had ponies that refuse to leave the start box, will not canter or even trot! Ponies that won’t stop and turn, that buck, rear and tank……we’ve
seen them all! We’ve had tantrums and tears, thrills and spills, endless bruises and bumps, but we always seem to finish with smiles on our faces.
As the teams progress and bond together, important events are entered and more training is needed to do well against the tough competition. Our early season
practice sessions usually involve me being extra organised and set up with plenty of time to spare, waiting for the eager children and ponies to arrive.
And eventually they do; in dribs and drabs, some half asleep, some forgotten tack and some overexcited from eating too many sweets!! Half an hour later,
we are all ready to start.
As mid season gets closer, the nerves start to kick in and everyone is on the ball, early to practice and ready to make the most of every session, perfecting techniques and finalising race orders.
Competition day is here and we are all warmed up waiting to start. Our quick team talk is usually me repeating myself over and over; “accuracy”, “read
the race”, “teamwork”, and most importantly “have fun out there”. Now, this is the hard part. I have to stand back and watch to see if all the hard
work has paid off. The races usually go one of three ways:
Scenario 1: We win by miles, everyone is happy, we all cheer and our spirits and confidence
is lifted for the next race. Great!
Scenario 2: We make a few silly mistakes, but manage to redeem ourselves by the end of the
race and still get a high placing. Not so great, but it happens. (This is usually followed with hand gestures suggesting “never mind, well saved”,
“forget about that and concentrate on the next race”.
Scenario 3: Everything has gone wrong. Everything! Every team member has made a mistake,
the hatband is on the wrong child, equipment is knocked over, and they can’t get back on their ponies. Once it goes wrong, it really goes wrong! (This
is almost definitely followed by hand gestures suggesting “why do I even bother?!” “What was all that about?!” “How are we going to recover from that?!”.
That is the beauty about the Pony Club Mounted Games, every competition has a different outcome. I have learnt that no matter how hard you train, you’re
never quite sure what will happen on the day.
All in all, I must still love it, as I can’t seem to retire!!
Mark and his team will be debuting in the main arena at the show this year, so if you're a pony lover, or know someone who is, why not pop along for some fun and excitement.