Pony clubbers at Riccarton Racecourse

Fancy taking your pony for a lap around a racecourse? Here's a story you will want to read!

Have you ever wanted to have a blat around a racecourse on your own horse? It’s not often that you get the chance, but a great bunch of pony club riders had the opportunity recently – and made the most of it.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) recently launched what is a great idea to bridge the gap between pony club and racing.  While plenty of people involved in the racing industry have had great pony club experiences in the past, it is not often that these two disciplines cross over so directly.

The new “Ride to Time” programme started on Sunday August 13 at Riccarton Racecourse in Christchurch, with a second day held on the following Sunday. Keen pony club riders from Springston, Okuku, Waimate, West Melton and Bangor participated in a range of activities at the apprentice jockey training academy and on the racecourse.

The aim of the programme is to provide pony club riders with the skills to ride to optimum time more effectively and in a safe, controlled manner. These skills are needed for many equestrian sports but particularly eventing and trackwork riding.

The racing industry needs more trackwork riders, and young horse riders at this stage of their career would certainly benefit from the knowledge of racing legends such as David Walsh. Many of our top riders, including Blyth Tait and Sir Mark Todd, have considerable experience of working with racehorses. Blyth spent many hours as a youngster riding trackwork, and has been very involved (and successful) in breeding and producing racehorses. Sir Mark Todd was also very successful when he turned his hand to training racehorses. Both of these riders are masters at judging pace as well as preparing horses to peak fitness, and it is no coincidence that they have long been involved in thoroughbred racehorse training.

The day for these pony clubbers kicked off with an insight in to the thoroughbred industry, with participants given the opportunity of being coached on their “jockey style” by former New Zealand champion jockey David Walsh. They also enjoyed talks from South Island rider Samantha Wynne who described her life as a jockey, the importance of control and knowing your horse’s natural pace. Godolphin Flying Start scholarship recipient, Laura Robertson, wowed the participants by recounting the worldwide experience she is having and the career opportunities that are available. Laura herself enjoyed going through pony club, attending Springston for many years.

Laura Robertson at Riccarton before she headed off overseas on the next stage of the Godolphin Flying Start Programme (Image: Jane Thompson)

The next topic was the all-important balance, control and fitness exercises that are integral to producing well-rounded riders who are safe in the saddle. It sounds as though the pony clubbers impressed with their wall squats! The skills they learned will also be very useful in the Springston Trophy competition, which is held in October and is a highlight of the South Island pony club calendar.

The day finished up with participants taking their own ponies for a jaunt around the gallops at Riccarton and putting the skills they had just learned into practice.

Wingatui Riders will get their opportunity to participate in the programme on August 27 and September 10, with expert guidance from David Walsh and jockey Courtney Barnes.

NZTR hope to run their Ride to Time programme nationwide in the coming year, with the aim of a final being held on a race day. They are grateful to the participants and parents for joining them, as well as the Canterbury Jockey Club and Otago Racing Club for their support in allowing them to use their facilities. If you are interested in participating or would like to know more about careers in the racing industry you can get in contact with Amy Johnson. amy.johnson@nzracing.co.nz.