The Pony Club polocrosse committee in the UK have announced some important rule changes, regarding the height of playing horses and stock saddles, for the 2016 season. In making these changes, the Pony Club committee is trying to reflect the current trends of polocrosse players within the UK, while also ensuring that it continues to uphold the objectives of The Pony Club in terms of teaching its members to ride correctly and in a safe environment.
The Pony Club has a far wider membership base (approximately 42,000 members) than the UK Polocrosse Association (UKPA), and so far more scrutiny is put upon it and any rule changes that it wants to make, particularly in terms of safety and making sure they do not conflict with the basic principles of the Pony Club. They also have to ensure the sport is easily accessible to a normal Pony Club member. The committee are hoping that these changes will mean that competitions such as the Pony Club Championships will continue to appeal to players who also play in the UKPA, where there is more flexibility in the rules around areas such as tack, without making the sport less accessible for Pony Club members who do not specialise in polocrosse.
Firstly, the committee have removed the upper height limit on ponies playing in the Junior grade (under 16 years old on the 1st of January) so now Juniors can ride a horse of any height, whereas previously they would have to ride a pony of 14.2hh or smaller. This is designed to reflect the fact that riders do now tend to progress to larger horses at a younger age and also brings the Pony Club into line with the UKPA’s rules for their junior grades.
Secondly, they have relaxed the rules around stock saddles to allow players playing in the Junior grade to play in them. Previously only players over 16 years old were permitted to use stock saddles, as it is felt to be important for riders to initially learn to ride and balance in an English saddle and not to have their riding style changed by riding in a stock saddle. Also, the Pony Club didn’t want parents of younger players to feel they needed to buy a new saddle simply to play polocrosse in. However, the Pony Club also have to try and stay in line with what young polocrosse players want and there has been pressure in recent years from some quarters to allow junior players to play in stock saddles, as they are allowed to do in the UKPA. So in order to strike a balance between these conflicting demands the new rule states that “though a stock saddle is by no means necessary, it is permitted for players playing in the senior or junior grades”.
Finally, the Pony Club have also tried to deal with the troublesome area of non open ended stirrup bars on stock saddles, which for years have been a problem area. The idea of open ended stirrup bars is that in the event of a rider falling, their foot going through the stirrup iron and being caught there, the stirrup leather will pull off the saddle and the rider won’t be dragged. However, a number of stock saddle designs don’t have open ended stirrup bars, instead fixing the stirrup leathers to the saddle tree on solid bars. The Pony Club will now allow this design but only if the rider wears cage stirrups, which should stop the riders foot going through the stirrup iron and getting trapped in the event of a fall. By doing this the Pony Club are aiming to allow some riders the opportunity to use their preferred stock saddles, while still keeping them safe.
Pony Club polocrosse has seen an increase in activity in the last 12 months, with more Branches and Centres taking up the sport and the hosting of the first ever Pony Club Home Nations, which saw teams of all ages from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete. The Pony Club have said they intend to hold this competition on a bi-annual basis with the next one due in 2017. They are expected to announce soon more details of the 2017 competition and the intended selection process for the teams.