I started Pony Club games at Iveagh at four years old, riding my first pony ‘Jack’, still on lead rein. Our trainer, Gwen’s granddaughter, Eva, kindly did all the running through the bending poles with me (much to my mum’s relief!). Sometimes, she even let me ride without holding onto the reins – but only if her granny wasn’t watching! It was at this stage that my love of mounted games took hold.
I then progressed to the Iveagh Junior Games Team from the ages of nine to 11. While playing on the junior team, we won the Area Games competition twice, qualifying us for the Northern Zones in Scotland, where we came second two years in a row, which then qualified us for National Championships at Cholmondeley Castle in England.
These ferry trips across the Irish Sea, dining in the luxurious surroundings of the Truckers’ Lounge with my team mates, will always stand out in my mind; we competed during the day and in the evening we went swimming in the nearby sea with our ponies; at night time, we camped beside our corralled ponies, drinking hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows on our campfire listening to Sam McIlroy’s rendition of the Frog Song (don’t ask!), which was unsurprisingly one of my many highlights!
Competing at Championships was an amazing experience at the age of nine; catching a lift on the buggy Shirley McCombe was driving, as she detoured off the official route to pick us up at our camp, was another highlight!
I then progressed to the Senior Games Team with my games pony, ‘Sonja’ and was selected twice for the Northern Ireland Games team to compete at the Royal Windsor Horse Show (RWHS) against teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This represented the pinnacle of my Pony Club Mounted Games career; I was so disappointed when the RWHS, like so many other events, was cancelled in 2020, but thrilled to be able to compete there this year in front of the Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Wessex, in what is my final year of Pony Club Games.
Competing at Windsor is an amazing opportunity, the thrill of competing in a sport I love on my amazing pony, ‘Sonja’, in front of thousands of cheering people, will be something I shall never forget. It was during the many Windsor training sessions over the years that I made so many good friends with like-minded games enthusiasts from all the other Area 17 branches – we have become a real community, encouraging each other along the way and, most importantly, having lots of fun!
I would encourage everyone to give games a go; it is fast paced and competitive and, most importantly, great fun; it is something you can easily do on your regular Pony Club pony, particularly at junior level – the ponies love it too! It’s also great for improving your balance as a rider and complements the other disciplines offered at Pony Club.
If you would like to try it out, contact your local Pony Club branch.